Published on September 19th, 2019 | by Bibhuranjan


How Straw Poll Votes Can Be Manipulated

A poll is a great way to capture popular opinions. It may not be as regulated as other methods of surveying a large audience segment, but it is still very effective in capturing sentiments and trends. Straw polls are often associated with political campaigns and their marketing efforts, but the same polls are also used by people from all walks of life.

In recent years, however, polls have been deemed unreliable. At the very least, more people doubt the results of polls and surveys than ever before. The recent election hacking and the fact that online votes can now be manipulated with things like Strawpoll bots are among the triggers that caused this level of distrust.

A Closer Look at Straw Polls

Before we get to how polls can be manipulated, we must first take a closer look at the different ways they are used. Straw polls are often unofficial, mainly used to understand the popular opinions in various circumstances. In everyday life, we see straw polls being used to choose the most popular Instagram posts, winners of an internet quiz, and to measure votes for a political candidate.

Straw polls are also used in more formal settings, including in US politics. Political entities often use them in a targeted way, particularly for capturing the opinions of those who are already interested in specific subjects. The main differentiator between straw polls and controlled polls is the voting controls, meaning participants have little to no limits when casting their votes.

Some polls are extremely popular. The Republican Party regularly uses polls like the Texas Straw Poll to measure sentiments and other vital political metrics. There are no ways to verify the results of these polls, but that doesn’t mean they are not used in a more serious way. In fact, straw polls often have the ability to attract a large number of voters thanks to their popularity.

Straw Polls Are NOT Definitive

One of the reasons why straw polls aren’t used more frequently for traditional data collection purposes is the fact that they can be manipulated. As the title of this article suggests, straw polls don’t always reflect the actual trends shown by the voters. When manipulative data is added to a straw poll, the results of that poll may show deviations from the norms or expected results.

The simplest way of manipulating straw polls, especially online strawpolls, is by casting multiple votes. Most polls don’t even limit the number of votes that the audience can cast on a single poll, which means you can swing the results of a poll to one side through means like vote flooding.

Some polls restrict the number of votes you can cast by limiting votes based on things like username, email and IP address. These restrictions are also easy to bypass. With an IP address, voters can use proxy IP addresses to cast multiple votes. There are temporary email addresses that can be used just once. Even creating multiple users is relatively easy.

Learning from the Last US Election

The 2016 election and the way it was manipulated by different entities are clear examples of how polls can be manipulated. What many don’t realize is the bigger impact that their results have on the actual ballots.

Polls tend to shape public opinion in a surprisingly effective way. When people see poll results favoring a certain candidate or political party, their opinions are shifted by a small margin. Show enough data in favor of one party or candidate, and you can shape public opinion in a massive way.

There is also the fact that polls are used for targeting purposes. When you vote in an online poll, information like your IP address and email address are captured. The people behind those polls can use details about yourself for targeting purposes. They can deliver content designed to change your opinion in a way that suits them.

It is also difficult to negate the fact that polls are used for the sole purpose of collecting data. Those straw polls about mundane topics found on Facebook are used to gain access to personal details, which are later used to target specific people. Changing the prevailing opinion of the general public becomes easier with that level of access.

Straw Polls for Positive Purposes

There are ways you can protect yourself – and the straw polls you run – from these manipulations. For example, check if every poll has set up IP blocks to prevent vote flooding. Also, consider hiding your IP address behind a proxy server to protect your own data.

You can go a step further and separate the email addresses (and social media accounts) you use for polls and other online activities with the ones you use for personal purposes. Lastly, if you are creating polls, make sure you impose sufficient restrictions to really get valuable, actionable results from them. This way, you can always capture relevant insights from your voters.

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Editorial Officer, I'm an avid tech enthusiast at heart. I like to mug up on new and exciting developments on science and tech and have a deep love for PC gaming. Other hobbies include writing blog posts, music and DIY projects.

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