As you can see, Montara Fog is experimenting with online polls.
We’re not the first. The Half Moon Bay Review does polls. But when they chose a serious topic a few months ago the forces of good and evil here on the coast (you can pick which you prefer for which) quickly discovered ways to vote once, twice, thrice, just as fast and just as often as you could say “clear cookies.” It was a little embarrassing, and not even for the obvious reasons. Coastsider also ran a presidential poll (without double-voting).
The Review, though, seems to have retreated from serious polls. Today’s is “Best Song for Halloween?” with obvious choices as “Monster Mash” and “Thriller” mixed in with non-Halloween songs that were apparently chosen by title alone by someone unfamiliar with the music, such as Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)”.
The problem, as I suggested above, is that these polls aren’t “scientific.” Even if you can avoid cheating (our polls do a good job at reducing cheating to a minimum–simply clearing you browser’s “cookies” won’t do you any good) many problems sill remain. Self-selection, for one. Only people who come to the site and are motivated to vote show up in the results. No random selection here. Another problem is that people can see the results of the poll before voting and thus a feedback loop kicks in with the poll itself informing you how to vote. It gets all circular. Dude.
I’m not even going to mention that some candidates are more organized than others and are getting their people to vote more than they otherwise would on their own. (This may actually have a corollary in real world “get-out-the-vote” efforts, though.)
But all that is o.k. We know this and thus are not fooled. Our online polling is what it is, and it is not what it is not. It may not be a scientific measure of likely voting results (although we’ll see about that on November 6th!) but it is certainly measuring something. I’ll let you ponder what that might be.
Like I said, it is an experiment…
Yummy photo of bear cookie by Darin Boville