Saturday, October 11, 2008

Highlights of the Palin Inquiry in Alaska

The loons have already gone off screaming down the road, but it’s important to know the facts of the panel press release. From the AP article:

Headline: Panel: Gov. Palin abused power, but firing was legal

“Monegan's firing was lawful, the report found, but Palin let the family grudge influence her decision-making”


Ok, what was that “grudge”? Moneghan had refused to take action against Trooper Wooten. So what did Wooten do that annoyed the Governor?

“Wooten had been in hot water before Palin became governor over allegations that he illegally shot a moose, drank beer in a patrol car and used a Taser on his stepson. The Palins said they feared for their family's safety after Wooten made threats against them.”


So before Palin was even Governor, Wooten was abusing his stepson, and so the threats he made against the Governor’s family would reasonably be taken seriously. Can’t really see why the democrats think this is unreasonable, actually.
So, the panel found she over-stepped authority. The loons are screaming for her arrest and jail. What could happen to Palin?

“Branchflower said Palin violated a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Lawmakers don't have the authority to sanction her for such a violation, and they gave no indication they would take any action against her. Under Alaska law, it is up to the state's Personnel Board — which is conducting its own investigation into the matter — to decide whether Palin violated state law and, if so, must refer it to the Senate president for disciplinary action. Violations also carry a possible fine of up to $5,000.”

So, the worst she faces is a fine, and right now there is nothing to indicate the board is inclined to punish her at all.
So, the left trumped up a case, and when they finally got something that kind of, sort of helped them they went screaming exaggerations and some outright lies down the road. In other words, normal leftist behavior. But it sure reminds us of how much they fear Palin.

Why McCain Is Still Able To Win

Thanks to everyone who has written in, I appreciate being able to make a difference. But I still hear a lot of worry and doubt from republicans about whether McCain can really win the election. This article is one reminder about why this race is still a very close race, and why you not only must not give up, but why you can make a big difference in this home stretch.

I wrote Friday about the fact that in seven of the last eighteen presidential elections – 38.9% - the polls were wrong by a big margin on the race, and so even a big lead for one candidate does not guarantee diddly. I have discussed the principles of statistics to show why the present polls have a critical flaw somewhere in their methodology, since the results are not in line with the confidence criteria. But there’s another way to take apart a poll to see whether it is useful as a barometer for opinion.

The widest lead enjoyed by Obama in the major polls Friday, was the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll. Gallup has been in the business longer than anyone else still doing polls, so it appears reasonable to consider Gallup’s reports to have solid credibility. The problem, of course, begins with the fact that so many other polls show the race being closer. But let’s look at that Gallup poll to see if we can learn from it.

Friday’s tracking poll had Obama up by ten points. But that lead is actually the result of two separate tracks, one for Obama and one for McCain. 51 to 41, so they say.

OK, that’s their starting number, the one they put in the headline. What drives those numbers, I wonder? I always want to see the internals, but Gallup has been getting sneaky, they release that data later, generally a week afterwards. The most recent detailed support by party I have is from the week ending October 5, when Gallup had Obama leading 50-42. I also note for reference that Gallup showed Obama leading 50-42 on September 28, 48-44 on September 21, and McCain leading 47-45 on September 14. The party affiliation for those dates should help us see where the changes came from.

Let’s start with Gallup’s base support for the race, conservative republicans for McCain and liberal democrats for Obama. Here’s how that looked:

Sep 14: McCain 95%, Obama 94%
Sep 21: McCain 93%, Obama 95%
Sep 28: McCain 93%, Obama 95%
Oct 05: McCain 94%, Obama 95%

Pretty comparable, noting to show a reason for changes. Next up, cross-party support, conservative democrats for McCain, liberal/moderate republicans for Obama:

Sep 14: McCain 17%, Obama 16%
Sep 21: McCain 19%, Obama 15%
Sep 28: McCain 19%, Obama 15%
Oct 05: McCain 16%, Obama 19%

Well, Obama got a boost going into October, but this is a pretty small group, hard to see it swinging the overall vote by the way we’ve seen. That leaves the independents:

Sep 14: McCain 38%, Obama 24%
Sep 21: McCain 31%, Obama 22%
Sep 28: McCain 31%, Obama 22%
Oct 05: McCain 32%, Obama 23%

McCain has a good advantage here, so that cannot explain the deficit. As I explained before, the only way this can be happening, is that Gallup has weighted the democrats more heavily, assuming that they will be a greater portion of the voter population this year than in past elections.

I have read from a lot of people who say this means that the polls are trying to lie to us, but that’s not valid, at least not in the case of professional polling groups who need to protect a reputation for accuracy and integrity. To understand how Gallup would honestly believe more democrats would be likely to vote, we have to infer that from evidence we are not shown.

Polls always release results from a respondent pool, but they do not tell you – although the NCPP says they always should – what proportion of people agreed to answer the poll. If a lot of folks refuse to take part in the poll, that’s an important piece of information. If Gallup is getting pushback from people they are trying to contact, they may be interpreting that in a way that may skew their political weighting.

Now one thing I do not buy, is the idea that Obama has 51% support. Not that he could not get that much in the vote, but if that is true it would mean that his support has risen six points in three weeks. What would cause that to happen? It’s not going to come from the democrats, he already had their support. It’s not that republicans would swing over and support Obama, the numbers tell us that and in any case, the parties are very partisan this year. And the independents have not changed in Obama’s favor, in fact he’s a point weaker with them than he was September 14. So what’s driving the bigger numbers? The only explanation is that more democrats in the poll are being counted, which means that Obama’s growth is artificial. In real terms, it means that republicans have become more passive, and the balance reflects a loss of McCain support on both tracks, his own support and Obama’s.

Why would McCain’s support drop? He’s come out weak in most conservative’s minds, letting Obama slide on outrageous lies. Republicans will still vote for him, but they will be less happy about it, and some may not vote at all. Also, while I think all three debates have been effective for McCain and Palin, it will take time for them to show any result, and republicans have to reinforce the messages of competence, intelligence, and sound judgment.

Why is this good news? I mean, this helps explain why Obama is ahead, but how does this help McCain win? Basically, it comes down to three key facts. First, if republicans get back into the fight, we can bring things back in line. It really is that simple, that is republicans match democrats at the poll, John McCain wins and Barack Obama goes back to being a first-term Senator. Second, it’s something we can control. Convincing republicans to get more active in supporting McCain is not all that easy this year, but it’s easier than convincing independents who are varied and stubborn, and it’s very good news that Obama has still not sealed the deal with a lot of democrats. Third, it must be said that in the present financial crisis, John McCain not only missed an opportunity, but fumbled at least twice in his answers. But Obama failed to capitalize on it, his answers have been no better and for many people only emphasized his inexperience and na├»ve understanding of the economy. If John McCain gets out and presses a clear, sound economic policy, he can turn this into a great advantage.

We are in the final weeks of a long, long battle. We are tired, bitter at the cost and some of our losses, but we can come out with a clear victory. It will be rough, these last 24 days, with all the dirty tricks from ACORN and the ACLU, all the lies in the media and hard-left interviews. But for all his advantages and biased allies, Obama has failed to close the deal. That door is open, and we can get there if we stick it out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pollitics

Pop quiz: What significant quality relevant to opinion polls do the presidential elections of 1936, 1948, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1992, and 2000 all have in common?




Answer - In each of these elections, the results predicted by polls either late in the summer or at the time of the election were significantly incorrect.

Just a reminder, that polls are an artificial attempt to capture a reflection of the public mood at a specific point in time, and are not trustworthy predictors, especially in an unusual condition. Very few people would dispute this year is unusual, on many counts.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

State Poll Accuracy

I have spent a great deal of time analyzing faulty procedures in the national political polls for the presidential race this year. I have noted proofs of invalidity and the significance of party affiliation weighting in the published claims of such polls. But a number of people have observed that Barack Obama is also leading in a number of state polls, and they quite reasonably ask if those polls are valid or not. The chief difficulties in the state polls, are the facts that there are so many polling groups performing state polling (Real Clear Politics has reports from 49 different polling groups on state polls for the presidential race), there are different demographic norms for each state, and whatever is skewing the national polls is likely to be influencing reported state results as well. But while the past does not guarantee the future, I did find some interesting points in the 2004 state polls.

Not every polling group which is publishing polls this year also polled and published in 2004. And many of the polling groups are limited to only a few states, or just one. The Field Poll, for example, is only concerned with California. So I limited my analysis to nine major polling groups which conducted state polls in a large number of states in 2004. I was looking for polls which released polls just prior to the election, and which also released polls during the first two weeks of October of 2004. The results of that examination are presented here. I hope you will find them illuminating.

Survey USA

Survey USA conducted polls in 30 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 30 polls, in 8 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 5 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 23 states his support was under-estimated. In 5 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 10 points wrong. In 10 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 19 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 14 times, off by 5 points or more in 6 states.

Survey USA conducted polls in 30 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 30 polls, in 14 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 3 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 23 states his support was under-estimated, In 11 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 11 points wrong. In 6 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 19 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 14 times, off by 5 points or more in 7 states.


American Research Group (ARG)

ARG conducted polls in 7 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 7 polls, in 3 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 4 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 6 states his support was under-estimated. In 1 state poll the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 3 points wrong. In 1 state Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 5 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 2 times, off by 5 points or more in 1 state.

ARG conducted polls in 49 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 49 polls, in 40 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 11 points wrong. In 2 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 45 states his support was under-estimated, In 23 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 9 points wrong. In 8 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 32 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 28 times, off by 5 points or more in 24 states.


Rasmussen

Rasmussen conducted polls in 11 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 11 polls, in 3 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 5 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in all 11 states his support was under-estimated. In 3 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 5 points wrong. In 1 state Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 8 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 3 times, off by 5 points or more in 2 states.

Rasmussen conducted polls in 31 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 31 polls, in 19 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 10 points wrong. In 2 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 29 states his support was under-estimated, In 13 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 10 points wrong. In 5 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 23 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 12 times, off by 5 points or more in 9 states.


Mason-Dixon

Mason-Dixon conducted polls in 21 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 21 polls, in 11 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 7 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in all 21 states his support was under-estimated. In 14 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 1 state Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 20 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 6 times, off by 5 points or more in 2 states.

Mason-Dixon conducted polls in 19 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 19 polls, in 11 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 7 points wrong. In 1 state Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 18 states his support was under-estimated, In 15 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 2 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 17 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 8 times, off by 5 points or more in 4 states.


Zogby

Zogby conducted polls in 13 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 13 polls, in 9 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in all 13 states his support was under-estimated. In 3 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 6 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 4 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 10 times, off by 5 points or more in 4 states.

Zogby conducted polls in 15 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 15 polls, in 12 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 8 points wrong. In 1 state Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 14 states his support was under-estimated, In 5 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 11 points wrong. In 5 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 7 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 10 times, off by 5 points or more in 8 states.


CNN

CNN conducted polls in 6 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 6 polls, in 4 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 5 points wrong. In 2 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 4 states his support was under-estimated. In 4 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 3 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 3 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 5 times, off by 5 points or more in 5 states.

CNN conducted polls in 11 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 11 polls, in 4 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 4 points wrong. In 2 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 7 states his support was under-estimated, In 6 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 2 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 9 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 9 times, off by 5 points or more in 3 states.


Research 2000

Research 2000 conducted polls in 9 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 9 polls, in 5 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 5 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in all 9 states his support was under-estimated. In 0 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more. In 2 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 7 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 4 times, off by 5 points or more in 2 states.

Research 2000 conducted polls in 12 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 12 polls, in 11 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 7 points wrong. In 1 state Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 11 states his support was under-estimated, In 5 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 6 points wrong. In 2 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 8 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 6 times, off by 5 points or more in 5 states.


Quinnipiac

Quinnipiac conducted polls in 3 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 3 polls, in 1 state polls the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 3 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in all 3 states his support was under-estimated. In all 3 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 5 points wrong. In 0 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in all 3 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 1 time.

Quinnipiac conducted polls in 5 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 5 polls, in 0 states support for Bush was off by 3 points or more. In 1 state Bush’s support was over-estimated, in 2 states his support was under-estimated, In 3 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 12 points wrong. In 0 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in all 5 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 3 times, off by 5 points or more in 1 state.


Fox News

Fox News conducted polls in 4 states just before the 2004 election. Of those 4 polls, in 1 state poll the published support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 8 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in all 4 states his support was under-estimated. In 2 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 5 points wrong. In 1 state Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in 3 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 3 times, off by 5 points or more in 1 state.

Fox News conducted polls in 3 states during the first two weeks of October 2004. of those 3 polls, in 1 state support for Bush was off by 3 points or more, as many as 4 points wrong. In 0 states Bush’s support was over-estimated, in all 3 states his support was under-estimated, In all 3 state polls the published support for Kerry was off by 3 points or more, as many as 5 points wrong. In 0 states Kerry’s support was over-estimated, in all 3 states his support was under-estimated. The margin between the candidates was off from actual election results by 3 points or more 1 time.


SUMMARY

Even this brief examination reveals that the state opinion polls were often wrong, and often to a materially significant degree. In 2004, both Bush and Kerry's support were commonly under-estimated, but in several groups' work, all of Bush's support was underestimated and Kerry's support was much more likely to be over-estimated. The margin was also often wrong, and to a significant degree. State polls, therefore, are not proven to be a valid predictor of election results.


[ the dominant source for this examination was the archive of 2004 state polling results, provided by Real Clear Politics]

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Secret Poll, October 8 2008

Hello again, and time for another edition of the Secret Poll (in case you are wondering where that comes from, my daughter is a fan of The Secret Show – if you are a parent of an 8-year-old you know what that means, if not ahh well, nice to have the parents of grade-school kids getting to be special).

As I wrote last week, this election is winnable by either John McCain or Barack Obama, the keys coming down to turnout, the independents, and just plain not giving up. Last night, during the second debate and this morning covering the result I was seeing a lot of negative comments, some of them flat out quitters. That is just plain working for the other side and there’s no excuse for it. It’s whiny, juvenile, and downright un-American.

So, with that said, here’s the recap of where I think the true numbers have played out, and where we are now:

August 31: McCain 41.77%, Obama 41.06%

September 7: McCain 42.45%, Obama 42.04%

September 14: McCain 45.71%, Obama 39.62%

September 21: McCain 44.48%, Obama 42.06%

September 28: McCain 42.73%, Obama 41.62%

October 5: McCain 44.09%, Obama 43.96%

Both McCain and Obama lost a little support after the first presidential debate, but recovered a bit. The race is still very, very close.

The keys, again, are the following

Turnout – if one party clearly does a better job getting its base to vote, that party will clearly win. More than ever, your vote matters.

Independents – Right now, McCain leads in the Independent vote by 38% to 31%. That, however, means that 31% of Independents are stil undecided. Whoever wins the most of that vote will win the election.

Undecideds – Overall, 11.95% of voters are still undecided. It’s slowly resolving itself, but there will still be a large pool of voters waiting to be convinced just before election day. Finishing strong could make all the difference.




The Secret Methodology

As a rule, I despise aggregate reports, like CNN's "Poll of Polls", which has no statistical validity whatsoever. This is because an aggregate of polls makes a number of bad assumptions, such as the idea that all published polls are equally valid, equally accurate, and that somehow mashing them all together and then parsing them into an average will reveal the true state of things. I also despise the idea that daily "tracking" polls are as accurate as polls which come out less often. Oh, I hear the claims but really, which is more likely to be correct, the term paper a student puts two weeks into, or something thrown together overnight? Same thing, folks.

So anyway, what this 'secret poll' does, is it takes the party affiliation support from those major polls which properly report that information, reverse-engineers the weighting back to the raw data (or it just takes the raw data in the rare cases where that is provided, thank you CBS News), and reweights it according to historical affiliation norms. The results show what I believe is a far more accurate image of actual support and more importantly, the development over time of a base for a candidate. It's just a tool for general information, not something you should bet money on, but I think it's worthwhile. Take it as you will. - DJ

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bwa Ha Ha

Lorie pointed out that CBS has a new poll, so I went and had a look, and it’s funnier than the comics. Sure, I generally like CBS because they have a consistent methodology, and because they always publish their questions and party breakdown. This allows me to reverse their calculations and see how they got their results.

First off, it’s more fun if you play along at home, so here’s the poll address.

OK, now let’s keep it simple and start with page 14, the last page. Let’s read together the last two sentences in that poll:

”Every registered voter is included in the likely voter model, and is assigned a probability of voting, which is used to calculate the likely voter results. The sum of these probabilities is the effective number of likely voters.”

Pfft-pfft-bfft-bwaaaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

In those two sentences, the folks at CBS are admitting that they MADE UP THEIR STATISTICS ON LIKELY VOTERS!!! There are no real voters who were asked if they were likely to vote in this poll – not even one! Remember, these polls are how the media tells us what they claim we are thinking, and here at the end is a disclaimer saying that at least a portion of their major findings is fabricated. Just something to keep in mind as we move along, nothing to see here, move along.

Also on page 14, just above that comedy about CBS making up their ‘likely voter’ database, is the list of respondents. Let’s mark that, and total up the participants and their proportions:

...................... Unweighted ....... Weighted
Total Respondents .... 957
Registered Voters .... 875 ................ 821
Republicans (RV) ..... 248 (28.3%) ...... 233 (28.4%)
Democrats (RV) ....... 320 (36.6%)....... 311 (37.9%)
Independents (RV)..... 307 (35.1%)....... 277 (33.7%)

Why is this important? Because let’s go look at page 8 and look at the support by party affiliation:

...................Obama ......... McCain
Republicans........ 7%............ 86%
Democrats ......... 85%........... 10%
Independents ...... 39%........... 44%

CBS released a poll headline, remember, saying Obama was leading McCain 47% to 43% among Registered Voters. So let’s apply the math of the weighting and see how they did:

Obama:
Republicans: 7% at .284 = 1.99%
Democrats: 85% at .379 = 32.22%
Independents: 39% at .337 = 13.14%
Total : 1.99 + 32.22 + 13.14 = 47.35%

McCain:
Republicans: 86% at .284 = 24.42%
Democrats: 10% at .379 = 3.79%
Independents: 44% at .337 = 14.83%
Total: 24.42 + 3.79 + 14.83 = 43.04%

OK, now we have to stop here and ask if those number make sense. Well, for one thing, I like that CBS tells us the exact unweighted numbers. It tells us, for example, that 89.55% of the people they reached said they were registered to vote, and we know that the poll was done over the weekend by telephone, and that the total respondent pool was below 1,000 people. Looking at the detail on page 8, we also know that urban areas figured heavily in the poll (look at the white vote, and the conservative/moderate/liberal breakdown of support). By the way, the claim at the bottom of the page by CBS that the poll has an overall margin of error of only “three percent” is not statistically true, as there are less than 900 valid respondents; the actual MOE would be 3.5 percent.

Why do I think the actual numbers are better for McCain? Let’s look again at those specific supports by party affiliation and reline them.

BASE SUPPORT (Republicans for McCain, Democrats for Obama)
McCain 86%, Obama 85%, McCain +1

COUNTER-PARTY SUPPORT (Republicans for Obama, Democrats for McCain)
McCain 10%, Obama 7%, McCain +3

INDEPENDENT SUPPORT
McCain 44%, Obama 39%, McCain +5

Huh.

Well, there’s one way that Obama comes out on top and CBS told you on page 14. But what happens if we use the historical party affiliation from, say, the last federal election in 2006? Let’s see:

Democrats: 38.5%
Republicans: 35.5%
Independents 26.0%

Obama:
Democrats: 85% at .385 = 32.73%
Republicans: 7% at .355 = 2.49%
Independents: 39% at .260 = 10.14%
Total : 32.73 + 2.49 + 10.14 = 45.36%

McCain:
Democrats: 10% at .385 = 3.85%
Republicans: 86% at .355 = 30.53%
Independents: 44% at .260 = 11.44%
Total: 3.85 + 30.53 + 11.44 = 45.82%

Well within the margin of error, to be sure, but a very different picture, also plainly to be seen.

The lessons are the same as always: Pay attention to the details, note trends within polls rather than aggregating disparate poll reports, and never forget that every media outlet is selling a story, and every poll is bought by someone for a specific purpose. The election is something far different from any poll, and we must not let ourselves be dismayed or misled by what anyone tells us in the media.

Monday, October 06, 2008

No Article Today

I spent all day with a judge and a number of lying lawyers (is that redundant?). Any post I could produce would be unsuitable for civil discourse.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Stand with President Bush

There are some folks who seem to have a perfect hand at internet writing. Some, like Victor Davis Hanson, hold impressive academic qualifications, while others, like Hugh Hewitt, used radio and blogging together to become major forces in the blogosphere. Then there is Glenn Reynolds, who simply wrote so much so well and so succinctly about so many things, that he simply became a site everyone read. The rest of us have succeeded to minor degrees, myself included, although I have a habit of picking fights with people. I was going to say it was an ‘unfortunate’ habit, except that I believe that most of those fights needed to be had. Hence I receive precious few Christmas cards, though fortunately I am taken seriously by so few people, that almost no one regards me as a serious threat to their political ambitions. I am annoying, nothing more.

But I am the sort to stand up for causes, especially when I see good men left deserted by those who once claimed to be loyal. In this case, I got into a disagreement regarding the – now common – habit of heaping blame onto President Bush by republicans, who not only believe the lies from the Left but forget that the President was one of very few people to warn the nation years ago that this sort of crisis was coming. I am an accountant, and while I cannot claim to be the equal of Bernanke or Paulson, I have been following the events which brought about this crisis for three + years now, and my MBA studies have reinforced understanding of the economic pressures at work. Bush was and is right, and the many who are howling outrage against him now are completely, utterly, shamefully wrong.

As is the case with so many important issues, President Bush was dead on from the start. But his supporters deserted him, questioned his judgment when they themselves did not have a clue, and they cut his legs out from under him. This disintegrated the GOP unity, along with other extremely foolish defections by people with large egos and no sense of duty.

I will not question the President in this case for even a moment, because he was left totally abandoned. Not a single House or Senate republican went along with President Bush, even though none of them had a background which qualified them as well as Bush to understand the forces at work and none of them (except McCain) had lifted a finger to stop this crisis from happening, much less carried the issue to the public the way Bush did. At the point where he was presented with the bill, Bush had two choices, neither of them palatable. He could either sign a bill loaded with things he would never have chosen to support, or he could allow a bad situation to become a catastrophe.

You may either believe me or not, but if this bill had not passed, the Dow and the Dollar would each lose at least 25% of their value before the year's end. By election day, things would be so bad that nearly every House and Senate seat would go to the Democrats because of the way the media has falsely laid blame, and you would see 2009 usher in an era of Socialism such as you would not have believed possible, unless - like me - you have studied similar crises in England, Japan, Russia, and Italy. Confidence was already fragile, and I do not think many people understand what was happening in European and Asian markets. To be blunt, a number of major nations were about to dump US Treasury notes, and the projections of consumer confidence would mean the worst economic collapse since 1932. Bush, as always, did the right thing, and as usual even the people who wanted him to do it, needed him to do it, made sure all the blame and none of the credit was laid at his name. Many republicans have believed the lies of evil men and deserted a good and honorable President, who also happened to be right again. The President has earned better than that from people who claim to be his friends. My loyalty is not so timid, nor my judgment so capricious that I believe men I know to be liars, rather than a proven friend and defender of the nation.

The Sordid Business of Opinion Polls

As I was riding the Park n Ride to work one morning last week, the bus passed a fortune-teller’s store, which had gone out of business. The place had been doing poorly for a very long time. As I pondered the painted word ‘psychic’ on the side of the building, I wondered why the medium did not know this was going to happen. For all of that, there are many fortune-tellers who make good money, telling folks stories which sound good, which is what the customers really want. Of course, there are many people who won’t be taken in by horoscopes and fortune-tellers; they know better than that. Yet, many of those fine people read the poll reports in the papers and watch the polls in television, so they will know who’s going to win the election. They believe the claims of people they do not know about what will happen in the future, just because they like the story.

I have followed opinion polls for some years now, and I have great respect for a poll which is properly done, and properly reported. Unfortunately, there are a lot of polls which get published without providing readers or viewer with the proper context, and worse there are a number of major polls which hide vital parts of their internal data. The media, it must be remembered, is not and never has been in the business of reporting facts. Instead, they want to sell a story, in order to claim lots of attention which will increase readership or ratings. And in this election, the media has overwhelmingly been biased in favor of Obama.

Before I continue, I need to go back and say again how a poll should be properly done. There are two major authoritative poll accreditation bodies;

The National Council on Public Polling (NCPP), and
the American Association for Public Opinion Research(AAPOR). Any valid poll should include a disclosure that it complies with NCPP or AAPOR standards of methodology, but most do not do so.

The NCPP has published a guide for journalists to use when discussing the report from an opinion poll. Some of the questions they say a journalist should ask include

Who did the poll?
Who paid for the poll and why was it done?
How many people were interviewed for the poll
? (This, by the way, is why the state polls are less statistically valid than the nation polls. They usually involve a much smaller poll of respondents than the national polls use)
How were the people chosen to take part in the poll?
What area were those people from?
What was the response rate to contact attempts?
(almost no one answers that one)
How does the poll describe the results?
What questions were asked, and how were they worded?
What order was used for questions?
(this is an old, old trick – if a controversial issue is asked just before a certain candidate is named, often this creates a false connection between the candidate and the controversy in the mind of respondents)
What events are likely to have impacted the poll results?

The plain fact is, that almost no media outlet or polling group reveals the answers to all of these kinds of questions. And that damages their credibility as valid reflections of the public’s opinion.

The AAPOR warns that polls almost always fall into one of seven categories of sponsorship:

1. Academic institutions
2. Federal, State and Local Governments
3. Media Organizations
4. Non-profit groups or Foundations
5. Special interest groups
6. Businesses and Corporations
7. Political campaigns, consultants, and candidates


They also warn about many of the same problems in poll reporting as the NCPP, and the AAPOR goes further to warn that many of these sponsors may be biased, even when they claim to be objective. The first question, in any poll result, is 'who benefits’?

This brings me to Rasmussen. In an earlier article, I rather harshly said that Rasmussen was in it for the money. I have always asked the questions recommended by the NPCC/AAPOR, and in doing so I have noticed how some major polls refuse to answer important questions. I learned a long time ago that if you had enough information, you could work out the mechanics of most major conclusions. I found Gallup, AP-Ipsos, and CBS News very open about their methodology and the internal data of their polls. But I have always been disappointed in the secretive and sometimes disingenuous behavior of Zogby, NBC, ABC, and Rasmussen. As it happens, Scott Rasmussen has enjoyed a lot of success at his business, but if you want internals it will cost you, and if you want to reverse-engineer his polls to test for bias, he simply won’t allow you a way to have all the information needed. That, again being blunt, strikes me as both mercenary and essentially dishonest. And therefore, no matter what his polls say I will always see a little red flag next to his published claims. My rule of thumb is very simple – it does not matter whether the poll says what I’d like to hear, it matters whether all the supporting data is available.

Another thing that is troubling, is the desire for instant gratification. For example, Sarah Palin clearly beat Joe Biden in the debate they had last week (although ardent democrats are just as sure Biden triumphed), and so there are people on both sides looking at the current polls for signs of their guys big win. But there are two reasons why you will not see that, at least right now. First, even the invalid daily tracking polls take their results from three days of polling, which means the first poll with full post-debate reaction will not be released until Monday. And I have to warn you that the polls will not reflect an immediate valid effect – if they show a sudden jump for either side it is far more likely to mean that the polls have – once again – changed the party affiliation weights, a practice as dishonest as putting one foot on the floor while you weigh yourself. The reason is because while people do change their minds, historically it has always been a few people at a time and in small steps. One proof of that is that as popular as Presidents Reagan and Clinton were, neither saw a major shift in party identification during his Administration. People supported the man, not necessarily the party, and in this election it would foolish indeed to imagine that people who supported Biden were also becoming more pro-democrat than before, or that those who supported Palin were becoming more pro-republican than before. After all, the biggest statistical group of undecideds consider themselves to be independents, and while they will come over to one candidate or the other, that does not lock them in with the whole party. Party identification should be a static measure for the duration of a campaign, and manipulating party affiliation is simply cheating the results to create a story out of imagination.