Tag Archives: Polls

Not to bring up polls again, but…

Yes, I know I blogged earlier that I didn’t want to blog on polls, because they’re unreliable this year due to the complete absence of solid and consistent standards, demographic balances, or turnout models from one poll to the other. However, I’m going to blog on polls once again before the election is over, and I’ll be staying true to my word because it’s another blog post on polling unreliability.

OK, I also know it sounds like I’m trashing a field of professional study of which I was a part for some time, but I’m really not; I still believe in the basic soundness of political polling. I simply think this year’s election dynamics are unique in their unpollability. However, there is an area of political polling in which I have never had any faith, at least not since I knew what they were. The area is that of the damnable exit poll.

More wonkery, notes of caution for Obamacolytes, and reasons for optimism for McCainiacs, below the break.

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America’s newest “ex-Marine” panics

Rep. John Murtha is drowning.

Camp Murtha has hurried out a mass mailing to the Congressman’s donor list begging for an additional $1 million so that he may cling to his seat for two more years. Such a cash infusion would supplement the eleventh-hour ad buys the DCCC have suddenly dumped on his district in an effort to save some of the votes their candidate is hemorrhaging. If his “racist, redneck” statemates decide they haven’t blown all their spare cash on Cheetos, Mountain Dew, and tractor pull tickets, perhaps they will come to the rescue of this pitiable, vestigial relic. Or perhaps not.

(Speaking of Murtha’s “racist” and “redneck” comments, check the latest mailing from his opponent Bill Russell, who is obviously having a ball with this. Bringin’ Jeff Foxworthy up north!)

A new Dane & Associates poll (H/T Miz Michelle) shows the race a statistical dead heat, with Murtha hanging onto a 1.8-point lead (45.5% to 43.7). With this many voters still undecided about a thirty-plus year incumbent, Murtha’s got plenty to worry about.

Republicans, on the other hand, finally have something to look forward to.

Are Murtha’s days numbered? Polls say maybe.

Rep. John Murtha, whose claims to fame include Abscam conspiracy, slandering Marines, smearing half his own state as racist, and serving up enough pork in Congress to supply Oktoberfest, may be watching his custom-gerrymandered seat slip away.

One poll recently released has Murtha’s Republican opponent, Bill Russell, pulling within the margin of error in the upcoming election, while another poll leaked to Miz Michelle by her Pennsylvania source shows Russell with a comfortable lead.

No need to remind me that I just tossed up the world’s longest freakin’ post on how I think the polls this year are about as useful for toilet paper as they are for predicting elections. However, given that Murtha is a guy who has held this seat since 1974, who typically considers a 2-to-1 victory margin on Election Night a squeaker, who lives in a district with a 63% Democratic registration roll, and who is running in a “we all hate Republicans worse than liver worse than root canals” year, it is absolutely unheard of that Russell, a Republican Iraq hawk who won a spot on the ballot with a write-in campaign, could be giving Murtha the race of his life.

I don’t think it’s petty of me to note how anxiously I am looking forward to seeing Murtha assuming long overdue civilian status, bringing with him little but his shredded dignity, his Abscam souvenirs, his various coffee mugs from his favorite defense contractors, and his pending slander suits.

UPDATE: Commenter MommaMT (see below) is kind enough to alert me that the “worse than liver” expression is not quite apt in significant parts of Pennsylvania. I hope my substitution is satisfactory.

Could the polls be wrong? It’s happened, but…

A bunch of people, both live and over email, have asked me why I don’t blog more on poll results, especially given that I worked in the business for a number of years.

Admittedly, I’m blogging a lot less on poll-related topics than I did, say, a month or more ago, which is a bit counterintuitive in light of the avalanche of poll results that comes in the last couple of months before an approaching presidential Election Day.  Since mid-September, pollblogging on WitSnapper has been especially rare, and even then I’ve typically done so only to comment on the misuse or shoddy execution of polls.

There’s a pretty simple reason: taken as a whole, the polls for this race have been entirely unreliable, and my estimation is that it’s because of pollster panic.

In addition, if McCain were to overtake Obama in the last couple of weeks in defiance of the polls, it wouldn’t be the first (or even second) time in modern election history.

Details and further links below the break.

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Oh, man, I hope Rudy ad-libbed that…

…because if he did, it’s the most memorable impromptu line I’ve heard from any politician, Republican or Democrat, in years.

Rudy Giuliani, my former mayor from my former city of residence, was in Ohio Saturday remarking on Sarah Palin’s performance at last week’s debate.  (Link via Hot Air Headlines.)  He said she did a “terrific job,” that she made conservative columnists that had been calling for dumping her (Kathleen Parker, George Will, David Frum) “look like a bunch of jerks” now, and dismissed post-debate snap polls as stacked against Republicans.  That last bullet point drew the following maxim from the Mind of Rudy:

Republicans never win polls, they win elections.

Even if I were the most die-hard, starry-eyed, cult-enraptured Obama voluptuary ever to traipse across the green, green earth, I would still go to my grave wishing I had thought that one up.

Where does AP get its poll samples??

Attention:  No matter what the AP says, Obama is not leading McCain by 7 points today, and there has not been a 12-point swing in Obama’s favor since the GOP convention.  At least, such a thing can’t be determined by the most recent poll from AP.

I’ve said before on this blog that some things can be measured by polls, and some can’t.  Of course, presidential preferences among voters can, but only if you do it right:  among other things, you have to be careful to keep your sample constant, or at least credibly reflective of available public data.  Newsbusters has uncovered the methodology of the last two presidential polls conducted for AP by GfK Roper, who has a history of this kind of sloppiness (and yes, I call it sloppiness…unlike Newsbusters, I doubt it was deliberate “cooking,” as they put it).

AP/Roper’s poll of 9/5-10 measured a party division ratio in that poll’s sample of 31Rep/33Dem/36Ind, which sounds about right coming out of a GOP convention (since not all states register voters by party, national polls ask respondents the party with which they affiliate or identify most closely, and that is a more subjective question than simple party registration).

The sample for their 9/27-30 poll, during which Nancy Pelosi was blowing the bailout vote with her ridiculous, spiteful, childish floor speech just before her bill went down, swung wildly in the Democrats’ direction to 29Rep/40Dem/31Ind.  That measure is entirely counterintuitive, especially given that Barack Obama did nothing to distinguish himself during that negotiation and vote.

Democrats normally enjoy a national party registration advantage (they were ahead in raw numbers even before they lost both houses of Congress in 1994), and it’s hardly unusual for registration numbers nationwide to fluctuate from one year to the next, but a nine-point swing toward the Democrats in party identification, in three weeks?  That just doesn’t happen, and for AP/Roper to try to sneak these poll results into the media stream while burying their party balance stats is inexcusable.

The AP/Roper poll after the GOP convention showed McCain ahead by 5 points.  I would never argue that McCain hasn’t noticeably lost ground nationally since then, but this follow-up poll by the exact same pollster showing Obama now ahead by 7 doesn’t even pass the laugh test, when considered in light of the crazy swing in party affiliation.  Unfortunately, it’s already been factored into the RealClearPolitics average, and become part of the conventional wisdom.

When the only tool you have is a hammer…

One of my favorite sayings is from Abraham Maslow:  “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.” In other words, people tend to approach problems in a manner dictated by their own strong points or expertise.

As someone who was once an analyst for a political pollster, I know how powerful the temptation is to try to explain any given thing by taking a survey on it (a temptation shared, I’m sure, by journalists), and there is indeed a broad range of questions that can be answered with the right poll, to a considerable degree of accuracy.  However, with due respect to the polling staff at Stanford U. and AP/Yahoo! News who took this one, the question, “Are people voting the way they are out of racism?” is not one of them.

The strength and pervasiveness of any given person’s or group’s tendency toward racism is unquantifiable, and therefore resistant to statistical analysis.  Directly asking complete strangers about their own attitudes toward race, given how dicey a subject it is, is unreliable.  Doing it in an online poll, the samples of which are by definition self-selecting and thereby not random, makes the findings even more unreliable.  On top of all that, making it a sample of “adults,” the single loosest acceptable methodology in polling (as opposed to “registered voters” or “likely voters”) makes it more unreliable still.  Using a pattern of questioning no one else uses, robbing you of any objective mode of comparison, and you might as well not bother.

Not that any of this ever stopped the AP, the analysts for which looked at the results of this online survey, polling self-selected adults, using techniques that have undergone little if any peer review, about matters that defy efforts to pin them down statistically, and concluded that white racism may well cost Obama the election.

Click on the link above to read the AP’s release.  They have also uploaded a PDF file containing the complete topline of responses, for what little those are worth.  Read also the details of their wackadoo methodology.

Someone please inform the AP that no matter how vast or comprehensive a poll you may think you’re taking, not everything can be measured by a poll.