Saturday, November 22, 2008

Watch Those Polls

Sure, the presidential campaign is over for now but the polls haven't gone away, particularly the kind that Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight identifies as a kind of push poll through skewed questions.

Numbers Guy faults it too. Zogby’s Misleading Poll of Obama Voters

During a campaign, pollsters can build credibility by forecasting election results accurately. Afterward, they can build revenue by using that credibility to attract private clients. These private surveys often have an agenda, and their numbers can’t be tested against an objective standard, such as votes. Such surveys can test pollsters’ standards of conduct.

Zogby International recently conducted a survey for a critic of president-elect Barack Obama and then, together with the sponsor, interpreted the numbers from the survey in a misleading fashion.

Then there was this little harmless-sounding poll the AP reported on Saturday, showing us once again how ignorant Americans are about their own political system. I happen to agree with that assessment, so was reading through the story about how we're all going to hell in a handbasket but found some strange writing. First, the story cited multiple problems with answers but didn't give the questions. Then suddenly, it dropped in this loaded gem:

The question that received the fewest correct responses, just 16 percent, tested respondents' basic understanding of economic principles, asking why "free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government's centralized planning?"

Doesn't the wording strike you as odd? So I looked up the outfit that ran the poll, a group called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and noticed the names of several conservatives rotating across the top of the page, including Whittaker Chambers, William Buckley and others.

The group, of course, is entitled to push any idea that it wants. But along with the loaded attempt of the Obama poll, cited above, makes me, once again, say polls should be reported extremely carefully and the source--and its motivation--spelled out.

And on a side note, is it me or is it especially tacky for a cable movie channel to be showing that fantasy film, "JFK" today?

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