One of my first professional work was for a music paper called Pop-Rock where I did some illustrations and wrote and drew a comic strip. As in many such music publications, every six months or so was poll season. Those polls were meant as a way of finding what the reader wanted to read about, but the picture it gave was a very distorted one. It may seem obvious, but one has to realize that the opinions gathered are only from the few readers who bothered to answer and put the extra effort of mailing in the form (remember, this was before the word “mail” had a prefix). One has to be a dedicated fan in its most rabid er… in its purest form. Like for call-in radio programs, only a small segment of the readers will make his duty vote for his favourite and the silent majority will remain, well, silent.
Yup, this picture is as close to reality as a swimsuit issue magazine cover after a Photoshop treatment.
What was polled was usually Band of the Year, Album of the Year etc., but at one point though, they went a bit further and had a poll for Best Band of All Times. While it’s nothing unusual these days where the internet is always in need of content (ANY content), it was that one that really convinced me those polls are bogus. The year I saw the first of such polls was the years of Pink Floyd‘s The Wall with it’s never ending “We don’t need no education” playing Ad Nauseam on the radio. Well, guess who won for Best Band of all time? I mean, having the Floyd in the best band of all time is debatable, but The Wall was also chosen as Best Album of All Time. We could mention the word zeitgeist, but some people will think we’re talking about a stupid movie.
It was also in that same years were, in the female rock performer of all time category, you had the choice between Pat Benatar, Ann Wilson from Heart and …a blank “Suggestion” field. Guess who won? The soprano who ad libbed on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. If memory serves me, that year was the first time in many years that Ian Anderson lost in the “winds / Brass Instrumentalist” section. Who won? The sax player on Dark Side of the Moon.
Of course, these days it takes less effort to vote, so it seems easier to sample the whole of your readership. One caveat of the electronic poll though is one can cheat. It is possible to vote multiple times. I’ve once seen a poll in my town’s local newspaper where 400 votes were added overnight. So, the question is: which poll type shows the better efficacy and do they matter at all?
May be we should do a poll about it…