Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Two-Track Hypothesis of Voter Decisioning

Earlier this campaign season, I began to question the polling methodology being used, especially when compared to historical norms. Polls released at the same time, claiming to use the same methodology, were publishing results well outside the range of their margins of error, demonstrating fundamental mistakes in their models. While some of those polls played fast and loose with racial, economic, and age demographics, and at least one major poll grossly over-sampled unemployed adults and another poll which had published its demographic internal data through 2006, for this election stopped revealing that data, the most common disparity between poll models has been political party affiliation. These have come in two flavors – polling groups which have oversampled democrats in the belief that democrats will dominate the actual voting to a degree not seen in most Americans’ lifetimes, and polling groups which do not weight their samples for party affiliation but merely report the proportion of party affiliation of the people contacted. The first assumption is based completely on subjective prejudice and in some states is wildly variant from the actual election support from the 2006 (last federal) and 2004 (last presidential) elections. The second assumption is absurd on its face. To illustrate, I could have taken a poll at the Democratic and Republican conventions this year, and covered pretty much all of the census demographics, including gender, age, education, work background, geographic hometown, urban/suburban/rural split, religion, and so on. Yet I think we can safely say that polling only democrats or only republicans would produce a poll which would be absolutely useless in telling us how the nation really felt; political affiliation is undeniably a significant vector in voter support for a candidate. You do not have to be an expert in political analysis, to understand that democrats and republicans will overwhelmingly support their party’s nominee for president, and so increasing the proportions to favor one party in representation will unavoidably skew the results in favor of that party’s nominee.

I have noted before that history shows a remarkably stable proportion of party affiliation, the democrats generally outnumbering the republicans by between 2 and 4 percent. A poll, therefore, which assigns 10 to 15 percent higher participation nationally by democrats in a presidential election is simply unsupported by any historical sample in decades. This raises a valid question, though: Why then are so many people taking part in polls calling themselves democrats? The answer to this question is important to understanding not only why I believe the polls are wrong for the most part, and why the election strategies of Barack Obama and John McCain have always been different by need as well as design.

If you look at the kinds of arguments between democrats and republicans, especially between liberals and conservatives, you may note that the dialogue generally breaks down early. This is not only because common ground is so hard to find, but because the motivations are different. Someone rang a bell in my head earlier this season, when they noted that Obama supporters generally support him because of how he makes them feel. The person I was speaking with, was explaining this as one reason why Hillary Clinton did not win the primaries early on; she did not make democrats feel excited the way that Barack Obama did. I have also noted that people who are still undecided, frequently say that they have not yet made up their minds, that they have questions for which they want answers from the candidate they are considering. In a nutshell, these are the two types of decisioning with voters; some make their decision largely on emotion, while others make their decision largely on intellect. That’s not a democrat/republican thing all the time, nor is it that one type produces winners more often than the other, and it’s not that people are one or the other; I believe we all react both emotionally and intellectually for or against a candidate, and our personal balance makes the decision. But it does explain how support is collected for a candidate, as the emotional commitment is made far earlier than the intellectual buy-in; in fact I suspect that almost all last-minute deciders are heavily influenced by intellect rather than emotion. If a candidate is charismatic he can win over the emotional base, but an experienced candidate is more likely to claim the intellectual base. When a candidate is able to address both types well (a Reagan or an FDR, for example) then you see landslides. If a candidate is grossly unqualified in one of those venues, then he may lose in a landslide (like McGovern or Goldwater).

If this theory is correct, then obviously Barack Obama has the advantage in emotion-based campaigning, while John McCain has the advantage in intellect-based campaigning. Obama’s lack of experience makes it very difficult to build a case for him on accomplishments; he simply has no resume. McCain’s lack of glamour makes it very hard for him to gain, much less hold, the attention of anyone not already inclined to give him a chance to make his case; he simply does not sparkle. The question at hand, however, is which approach is more effective in this year’s campaign. The polls would seem to indicate that Obama grabbed most voters’ attention, won them over, and they never gave McCain a serious look. That, however, ignores an obvious side-effect of the emotion-based voter. Pollsters this year have – among themselves – remarked about the difficulty in getting responses from people they contact. Some of this is blamed on new technology and the fact that many people spend less time at home to be contacted, but it is also an important historical fact that democrats have traditionally always been more interested in taking part in polls than republicans, and this year the emotion-based voter is much more inclined to take part in a poll to discuss how he feels, than an intellect-based voter who wants to make sure of his vote before he tells anyone else about it, and who in any case has no particular interest in talking to a stranger about how he feels. As a result, the polls may be feeding off their own assumptions, using the circular logic that the results from their skewed polls justify the bias. If I am correct, more than a few polling groups will be doing a lot of work come December and January to try to figure out what went wrong. The fact that the practices at these groups do not include applying a Deming loop, is a warning sign they missed years ago, so I am skeptical about their ability to learn. The worst-case scenario from my point-of-view, is that the effect of these invalid polls might dismay republicans enough to stay home and not vote, creating the sort of disparity in voting patterns to indicate the polls were right, so that they might never consider that their bias could be creating the effect. We shall see. Obviously, I have to admit that I could be wrong, so in the event that Obama wins all 60 of the states he calls America (where he gets the additional ten states, he has never made clear), I will be reviewing my own work in the interest of honesty and that same Deming loop I was just talking about.

I would like to make a few points in closing this article. If I am wrong and Obama is really crushing McCain, there are certain indicators which will show this. First, the early voting should be much, much heavier among democrats than republicans, and the youth vote we heard so much about should be a big part of the early voting. Second, we should start to see pan-demographic support in the polls for Obama in all geographic and age groups, since this happened in Reagan’s 1984, Nixon’s 1972, and Johnson’s 1964 landslide victories. And third, since Obama enjoys strong support in heavy-population states like New York and California, if he is going to collect 340 or more electoral votes, we should see evidence indicating he will reach 57 or 58 percent popular support nationally. Conversely, strong republican turnout in early voting is an indicator of stronger McCain support than has been indicated. If McCain continues to hold support in the same demographic groups he held in mid-September, again this indicates a much closer race, and since so many of the “red” states are less dense in population, any indication of a close popular race would support expectation of a close electoral race as well, since McCain could strategically win the electoral race as Bush did in 2000, with less popular support nationally than Obama but winning the necessary electoral votes.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Across the top of my personal blog, I have the following axiom: ”A man must be accountable, else everything he does counts for nothing.” I did not write that in hopes of lecturing anyone, so much as it was to remind myself that I am responsible for what I write, and that I have a duty to remember what I owe to my readers and who I am meant to be. I put that at the top of my blog after I received an email from a Marine on active duty in Iraq, who had read my work and found it uplifting. I owe that guy an honest report every time, as do I owe it to everyone who takes the time to read my thoughts and analysis. I’m not perfect at it, but it’s there to remind me what I’m doing here as a blogger.

So, this week I have suddenly received a lot more attention than a guy like me ever usually gets, because some of the bigger luminaries have mentioned me. Some on the left have misquoted me and mocked me (so now I can give folks an accurate sense of how Sarah Palin must feel after a Couric interview), some on the right have taken comfort in my work, and some are just giving readers a chance to hear me out (thank you, Mr. Blogosphere).

Some folks cannot resist sending me emails to reinforce their point. A few folks, in emails and in comments to articles, have been trying to goad me into betting on the election. One fellow in particular tried to claim that if I did not put money up against him, that this would belie my ‘accountable’ claim. Of course he’s quite wrong; betting is not about accountability, it’s about greed, and about the morality of gambling on the outcomes of pivotal events in human history. I suppose such people could find an excuse to gamble on anything. Perhaps such people watch the news for a body count from the day’s murders, in some grotesque version of a ‘numbers’ game. Perhaps the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is, for them, amusement and an opportunity to gain some coin. Perhaps for every family praying for a lost child to return, there is a gambler putting money down on when the body will be found. For me, a national election is a solemn duty, a responsibility to put the best-qualified candidate into office, not an occasion for turning profit or focusing on personal gain.

The reason I am writing today, is that accountability is something this country badly needs to see more often from leaders. The present financial crisis has come about because so many people in finance, banking, and Congress have hid their actions and lied to cover their tracks. We are threatened by enemies who had America for it’s existence and founding principles, yet there are those whose first cuts would be against the defenders who have prevented 9/11 from happening again. It is up to us who are regular citizens, to speak out against the lies and for the defenders of our nation and its infrastructure.

As I wrote before, Accountable Americans understand duty. Accountable Americans respect sacrifice. Accountable Americans recognize the men who have put others first, and they recognize those who would put themselves first, and they are not fooled. In times of hardship, it is not McCain but Obama who would increase taxes and create higher unemployment by making it harder for smaller companies to hire and keep employees. It is not McCain but Obama who would increase opportunities for illegals in the U.S., who would principally take jobs held by minority citizens. It is not McCain but Obama who has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from private sponsors, whom he refuses to even identify, since the public would naturally wonder what sort of promises he made to get all that money.

It is not Obama but McCain who has suffered in service to his country. It is not Obama but McCain who has given generously to charity out of his own pocket. It is not Obama but McCain who has fought to protect the lives of unborn children. And it is not Obama but McCain, who when made aware of vicious comments about his opponent, immediately, directly and repeatedly called for his campaign to operate by ideals of respect and courtesy, asking hard questions but refraining from personal smears. These facts are undeniable, and make clear which sorts of character are present in each man.

Accountability means we recognize which candidate hides where he gets his money, and which has been honest about his past. Accountability means we vote according to what is right for the nation, not what we can get out of it. Accountability means we think about our families and the ideals of our nation, not the opportunity to punish some folks for success and threaten those who ask inconvenient questions.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Secret Poll October 23 2008

Hello again, and time for another edition of the Secret Poll. The election remains winnable by either John McCain or Barack Obama, the keys coming down to turnout, the independents, and just plain not giving up. It will take at least 10-14 days for results to show up in the polls; anything showing up in the near future will be in response to prior activities and statements, and some things done now may be too late to show up in time for voters to recognize their meaning. Then again, Obama's 30-minute infomercial on November 3rd could be important in making up minds.

So, once again, 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%

October 12: McCain 42.68%, Obama 45.31%

October 19: McCain 43.49%, Obama 46.03%

McCain regained support among independents, but republicans are beginning to fade, possibly believing the ‘cannot win’ hype. The undecided portion remains very important at 10.48%, and with just two weeks to go it appears that the undecideds are waiting to be sold on a candidate, or they may decide not to vote. 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, the Independent vote is essentially tied, with about 24% of Independents still undecided. Whoever wins the most of that vote will win the election.

Undecideds – Overall, 10.48% 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.

Cooking Polls – State Poll Edition

My articles on polling have received a great deal of discussion. Most of it has been emotional in focus rather than factual, and I am amused by those blogs which reference the articles but ignore the context and substance in order to attack something I never even said. There have been a few reasonable questions, however, and one of them addresses the state polls. The national polls are all over the place, but what about the state polls? Don't they show Obama leading in most states, and don't the state polls basically agree? Those questions are good ones, and so state polling is the focus of today's article.

The first thing that jumps out at you if you read the state polls, is that there are a lot more polling groups doing polls at the state level, than at the national level. Also, most of the polling groups which do national polls, do not also do state polling, probably because it is expensive and difficult to try to cover all of the states on a consistent and timely basis. I have written before that national polls often focus on urban centers, which means that many of the states would require a functionally different methodology to work than what is used nationally. State polling tends to be smaller in respondent pool size, smaller in budget, and less frequent. Some polling groups only do one poll for the whole campaign, and it's common for even major groups to do a poll only once a month.

So anyway, I'm looking at the state polls and I notice that there's there's quite a range of opinion there, just like the national polls. California, for example, is all about Obama, but it ranges from +24 down to +16, which is statistically significant. No, it hardly means Cali is in play, but that degree of variance in a deep blue state indicates on the state level much of what I have been noting on the national level. Moving ahead alphabetically, Colorado looks pretty stable, but on the other hand RCP only shows a single poll done there all month. Something to think about, that. Even the Obama people admit Florida is hard to call, polls there taken in October show anything from Obama +8 to McCain +5. Indiana is just as weird, running from Obama +10 to McCain +7 in October polls. Iowa is like Colorado, an important state but with only two polls done there this month. Minnesota is strange as well, with a range of 18 points between reports from the eleven polls done there in October. Looking at Missouri, there have been nine polls done and they range from Obama +8 to McCain +3. Even in safe states there's some hinkiness, as New Jersey has a range of 15 points between polls taken in October. Like California, it's not in doubt but the volatile range of results is sending a signal about the polls' validity, just like the national polls. I don't think I need to go through all of the states to show what I'm saying here, go check out RCP and drill down to specific polls on specific states. The state polls are showing the same volatility that I noted in the national polls, and there's likely a common reason for it.

A reader mentioned Survey USA earlier this week, and I'd like to use them as an example of what I mean. First off, I like Survey USA for making internal data available; it really helps me take apart their process to see what they were thinking. And I found an interesting trend, something which is consistent with the national polls and which explains both the volatility and the invalidity of the current model.

2006 was a bad year for republicans, a year when republicans stayed home and democrats used the opportunity to win a number of close races and take over control of the House and Senate. In a number of states, therefore, it's not surprising that democratic party supporters gained a few points (usually 1 to 3 points) relative to 2004 in voter participation. So I went back and looked at voters by party affiliation, and compared those balances to this year's weighting by Survey USA. In thirty-six states, the party affiliation weights for democrats used by SUSA was five points or more higher than in 2006, a high-water mark for democrats. In twenty states, the party afiiliation weights for democrats used by SUSA was ten points or more higher than in 2006, and in eight states, the party affiliation weights used for democrats by SUSA was thirteen points or more higher than in 2006. Significant battleground states affected by this bias are as follows:

Pennsylvania: D+5 in 2006, SUSA using D+19, 15 point variance
Indiana: R+14 in 2006, SUSA using R+1, 13 point variance
Nevada: R+7 in 2006, SUSA using D+6, 13 point variance
Colorado: R+3 in 2006, SUSA using D+9, 12 point variance
Iowa: R+2 in 2006, SUSA using D+10, 12 point variance
Virginia: R+3 in 2006, SUSA using D+9, 12 point variance
Ohio: D+3 in 2006, SUSA using D+13, 10 point variance
Missouri: R+1 in 2006, SUSA using D+7, 8 point variance
North Carolina: R+1 in 2006, SUSA using D+5, 6 point variance

I've looked at the publicly available records on historical election participation, 2008 new voter registrations, and the Census information on these states, but I can find no valid reason for such large and arbitrary changes in political affiliation weightings. I would therefore submit that the models being used for many of the state polls have design flaws, which threaten the credibility of their published results.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Odds at Ends – The Pew and Battleground Polls, with a Gallup Chaser

I’ve laid out a pretty harsh accusation against the polls this year, by claiming that all the major polls are far from accurate. The cause of this, in essence, has been that the polls made some key assumptions about turnout, the independents, and the undecided voters. Assumptions which they never tested, and now are finding cannot be trusted. Poll results vary wildly from one another, and not just at different times. The variance for current polls listed at Real Clear Politics for this morning ranges from the Pew poll which advertises a 14-point lead for Obama, to the Battleground poll which says the lead is only 2 points. The variance is too great (and there are polls relatively close to both ends, demonstrating proof of statistical invalidity for the published confidence level) for even the casual observer to accept as a reasonable. There are four polls which show a 10 point lead or greater for Obama, and another five which show a 6 point lead or less. It is mathematically impossible for so many polls to be valid, yet disagree to such a degree with valid methodology. I said this when McCain was ahead, again when Obama climbed in front, and I am repeating it yet again. The starting point to discussing the polls this year, is understanding that the methodology in common use is flawed, and is producing results which cannot be depended upon.

A quick word here about validity. Opinion polling relies on statistical math, which depends on certain key tests. When a group of respondents exceeds a certain size, a pattern of responses emerges which is generally symmetrical, with few outliers. A p-test can be done to confirm that the results are consistent with the requisite conditions. This produces what is known as a confidence level, which in common words means the likelihood that the process, if repeated using samples from the same data pool and using the same method, will result in the same conclusion. This is called reproducibility, and it is the most signifcant test for human behavior testing. The confidence level basically sets out how often the same results should be expected to repeat. The most common published level of confidence in opinion polling is 95%, which predicts that the same method used at the same time will produce results within the published margin of error no less than 19 out of 20 times. RCP is listing twelve major polls with variances from each other which cannot be covered by the MOE, which proves the model is invalid by its own definition. One poll as an outlier could be explained, but the range is too great to explain the variance between the rest.

People have specifically asked me about the Pew and Battleground polls, since their twelve-point variance is the largest. I will have to say that in both cases, the error has been the same – disregarding historical norms in favor of introducing subjectively chosen demographics, things like over-sampling urban areas, younger voters, and democrats which creates a false image relative to the voting demographic. But to get a sense of the numbers, I would like to examine the Pew, Battleground, and Gallup polls in the context of their direct movement, and in reweighting their party affiliation to historic norms.

First, here are the recent results from Pew:

Sept 17 – 46% Obama, 44% McCain, 10% undecided
Sept 30 – 49% Obama, 42% McCain, 9% undecided
Oct 13 – 50% Obama, 40% McCain, 10% undecided
Oct 20 – 52% Obama, 38% McCain, 10% undecided

Pew is showing what is effectively a zero-sum game, with Obama gaining directly at McCain’s expense, with around 10 percent remaining unsure each time.

Now, the Battleground trend:

Sept 25 – 45% Obama, 47% McCain, 8% undecided
Oct 3 – 45% Obama, 41% McCain, 14% undecided
Oct 9 – 48% Obama, 38% McCain, 14% undecided
Oct 16 – 47% Obama, 40% McCain, 13% undecided
Oct 22 – 49% Obama, 47% McCain, 4% undecided

Battleground shows support movement more independent between the two candidates, and the most recent undecided numbers are much lower than what we saw before.

OK, with that in mind, let’s check the Gallup numbers for the same range of dates:

Gallup Daily Tracking
Sept 14: Obama 47%, McCain 45%, 8% undecided
Sept 21: Obama 48%, McCain 44%, 8% undecided
Sept 28: Obama 50%. McCain 42%, 8% undecided
Oct 5: Obama 50%, McCain 42%, 8% undecided
Oct 12: Obama 51%, McCain 41%, 8% undecided
Oct 19: Obama 52%, McCain 41%, 7% undecided

This model appears to be similar to Pew’s, zero-sum balancing with a constant undcided portion.

Gallup ‘expanded voter’
Oct 8: Obama 52%, McCain 43%, 5% undecided
Oct 15: Obama 51%, McCain 45%, 4% undecided
Oct 21: Obama 52%, McCain 42%, 6% undecided

This model allows a smaller undecided portion, suggesting that undecideds are pressed for a clear decision. Also, Gallup has admitted that this model has no precedent, and uses over-samples of urban and youth voters, in the presumption that they will sharply increase participation this year.

Gallup ‘traditional’
Oct 8: Obama 50%, McCain 45%, 5% undecided
Oct 15: Obama 49%, McCain 47%, 4% undecided
Oct 21: Obama 51%, McCain 44%, 5% undecided

This model removes the urban and youth voter overweights, but otherwise is the same as the ‘expanded voter’ model. This is because Gallup abandoned the true historical model, and so can only attempt to recreate it to some degree by using data sets it knows have been corrupted by invalid methodology.

Now, let’s see what happens to these results when the internal data is reweighted to historical party affiliation norms:

Sept 17: 46-44 Obama becomes 45-46 McCain
Sept 30: 49-42 Obama becomes 48-44 Obama
Oct 13: 50-40 Obama becomes 48-43 Obama
Oct 20: 52-38 Obama becomes 50-42 Obama

Bear in mind that this accepts Pew’s polling methodology, which may have over-sampled other demographics besides just democrats. For example, in the Oct 20 poll Pew undersamples seniors and oversamples the 50-64 age group, oversamples high school only education by a large amount, and fails to note regional breakdowns or the urban/suburban/rural split. These are critical points which Pew fails to address, and which hshould make the reader wary.

Sept 25: 45-47 McCain becomes 44-47 McCain
Oct 3: 45-41 Obama becomes 46-44 Obama
Oct 9: 48-38 Obama becomes 48-41 Obama
Oct 16: 47-40 Obama becomes 49-42 Obama
Oct 22: 49-47 Obama (no internal data to reweight yet)

Battleground does not change much, but this reinforces that something odd has happened in the recent poll, most likely among independents.

Next to check is the reweight of Gallup’s polling:

Gallup Daily Tracking (d=daily, e=expanded, t=traditional)
Sept 14: 47-45 Obama (d) becomes 43-44 McCain
Sept 21: 48-44 Obama (d) becomes 43-42 Obama
Sept 28: 50-42 Obama (d) becomes 43-42 Obama
Oct 5: 50-42 Obama (d) becomes 44-41 Obama
Oct 12: 51-41 (d), 53-43 (e), 51-44 (t) Obama becomes 47-39 Obama
Oct 19: 52-41 (d), 52-42 (e), 51-44 (t) Obama becomes 45-42 Obama

Note that the reweights of these polls using historical norms are much more consistent with each other.

The next thing I suggest is looking at comparable metrics. First, base party support:

Support for Obama by Democrats
Pew: 87% 92% 91% 91%
Battleground: 82% 81% 83% 86%
Gallup: 86% 86% 86% 87% 88%

Support for McCain by Republicans
Pew: 90% 86% 91% 89%
Battleground: 85% 82% 80% 81%
Gallup: 84% 84% 82% 82% 84%

Note that Pew reports the highest support within each party. Note also that McCain’s support by republicans is reported to be dropping.

Next, independent support:


Pew: (for Obama) 38% 38% 45% 51%
Pew: (for McCain) 45% 46% 37% 33%

Battleground: (for Obama) 32% 38% 41% 43%
Battleground: (for McCain) 40% 36% 34% 33%

Gallup: (for Obama) 22% 22% 23% 33% 27%
Gallup: (for McCain) 31% 31% 32% 25% 34%

Note that Pew reports a commanding lead for Obama among independents, while Gallup shows McCain in consistent advantage.


Pew: 08% 07% 08% 07%
Battleground: 15% 15% 15% 14%
Gallup: 16% 16% 15% 14% 14%

Battleground and Gallup agree that there is a lot of the population still waiting to be won over. The election is certainly well within any reasonable boundaries of doubt.


It’s difficult to work with limited internal data, especially when the polling group has altered more than one category of demographic. But it is interesting to note that when the reported data is reweighted to a consistent historical norm, that even the varied results from three different polling groups start to trend in the same way. Obama supporters can take comfort from the indications that his lead stands up to inspection, albeit not as large, while McCain supporters can take heart in the evidence that the election is not at all decided, that the level of turnout, the choice of the independents, and which way the undecideds break (including the choice to stay home) is a vital part of the decision still to be resolved.

Pew’s data comes from here

Battleground data comes from here

Gallup’s polling reports come from here

Gallup’s internal affiliation numbers are reported here

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gallup and New Coke

The polls are wrong this year, very wrong. I have been saying this for months, and I have backed up my claim with both statistical and anecdoctal support. The claims I have made have inspired some, caused others to laugh in derision, and brought others to test their assumptions and revisit the hard data. Along the way, there have been a lot of questions about how and why the polls could be wrong. The most common complaint, is that for all of the polls to be wrong, there would need to be some sort of conspiracy, or else an incredibly stupid decision made across the board. Well, I am not a big believer in conspiracies, but I do think that the polling groups have fallen into a groupthink condition. I wrote earlier about the fact that of the major polling groups handling national and state polls, all of them are based deep in pro-Liberal, anti-Conservative territories.

Here’s that list of headquarters again, just to punch in that point again:

Poll Headquarters
ABC News 77 W 66th St, #13, New York City, New York
CBS News 524 W 57th St, New York City, New York
FOX News 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, New York
Gallup 901 F St NW, Washington DC
Hotline 88 Pine St, 32nd floor, New York City, New York
IBD 12655 Beatrice St. Los Angeles, California
The Los Angeles Times 202 W 1st St, Los Angeles California
Marist Institute 3399 North Rd, Poughkeepsie, New York
Mason-Dixon 1250 Connnecticut Ave #200, Washington DC
Newsweek 251 W 57th St, New York City, New York
The New York Times 1 City Hall, New York City, New York
Pew Research Center 1615 L St NW, #700, Washington DC
Quinnipiac 275 Mount Carmel Ave., Hamden Connecticut
Rasmussen 625 Cookman, #2, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Reuters 3 Times Square, New York City, New York
Survey USA 15 Bloomfield Ave., Verona New Jersey
TIPP 690 Kinderkamack Rd, Oradell, New Jersey
Washington Post 1150 15th St NW, Washington DC
Zogby 901 Broad St, Utica, New York

As I wrote then, it needs noting that all of the major polling organizations are based in locations where liberals are strongest and conservatives weakest, where ‘democrat’ and ‘republican’ take on meanings wildly different from the rest of the country. The people making the executive decisions at these polls, most likely including the wording and order of polling questions, whether to focus on urban or suburban areas, the weighting of political affiliation, and the definition of ‘likely voter’, are most likely in regular contact and association with the most liberal factions of politics. It does not mean that they have deliberately skewed their decisions to support Obama, but it is obvious that there is an apparent conflict of interest in their process modality.

I want to stop here and direct the reader back to the ethics of polling. The National Council on Public Polling is, and I got this from their site’s welcome page, “an association of polling organizations established in 1969. Its mission is to set the highest professional standards for public opinion pollsters, and to advance the understanding, among politicians, the media and general public, of how polls are conducted and how to interpret poll results.”

NCPP members identified on the front page include ABC News, CBS News, Gallup, Hotline, Ipsos, the Los Angeles Times, Marist, NBC News, Pew, Princeton Survey Associates, and Survey USA, along with many others. This effectively promises that the major polls will abide by NCPP rules, something you should consider when matching the principles against the polls’ actual statements.

The NCPP has also posted a list of 20 Questions a Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results, which I strongly recommend every one to read and memorize. Those questions include these very important queries, that I fear most people do not often consider:

2. Who paid for the poll?
In many cases, the poll we see in the papers and on television, was paid for by an agency known to be biased. For example, does anyone really expect CBS News or the New York Times to be even-handed, especially in light of their behavior since 2002?

7. Who should have been interviewed and was not? Or do response rates matter?
This is a sore spot for polling groups, because frankly most people do not have the interest to stop and take an 8-to-10 minute interview, especially from someone they do not know calling them up when they are likely to be busy doing something else. It’s been established as well, that democrats in recent years are more willing to take part in polls than republicans, possibly due to perceived bias on the part of the media. But it is quite important to know if the pollsters were getting one person in ten to take the poll, or only one person in fifty, because the people not interviewed matter just as much as those who do participate. Yet I have never yet seen a poll this year that publishes response rates.

14. What questions were asked?
This is a big one that a lot of folks miss. I have noticed in the details, that all of the polls are asking about the public’s opinion of the economy, and of their opinion of President Bush, even though he is not running this time. Also, I have noticed that many polls ask a question about John McCain just after asking about the voter’s opinion of President Bush, subtly linking the two men. For comparison, no questions have been asked about approval of the specific performance of either Majority Leader Reid or Speaker Pelosi, and no other politician is linked to Barack Obama in the same way that polls link President Bush to John McCain. This is a clear violation of the NCPP’s guidelines, yet it is done in absolutely every poll I have seen. Further, polls taken since Labor day have not mentioned foreign policy at all. There are no questions regarding Russia’s invasion of Georgia, nor of Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, nor about China’s intentions viz a viz Taiwan, even though these are current events which have great significance in a presidential race, yet all of the polls are ignoring them. Again, the economy-only focus betrays a bias which violates the principles of the NCPP.

I have already written extensively about polling groups manipulation of demographic weights, so I will only summarize here that in addition to party affiliation, various polling groups this year have produced polls out of demographic balance with Census norms for urban/suburban/rural participation, minority race representation, age, employment status, and income range. It should not be difficult to imagine how these manipulations might invalidate the results published by the polling groups.

When people reach this point in the discussion, an obvious question comes up; surely the polls want to be accurate, and they would have to understand that this fiddling with internal data to create a false image would destroy their credibility? And the answer to that can be phrased in a two-reminder of just how stupid people can be – “New Coke”.

In 1985, the Coca-Cola company dominated the beverage industry around the world, and it’s flagship product was its first, the Coca-Cola soft drink, literally an icon of Americana. It would seem to be the most obvious of strategic decisions, to leave the base of the company alone. Instead, in a move never explained let alone justified by the company, Coca-Cola announced that they were eliminating Coca-Cola, and replacing their number 1 product with a new formula, called “New Coke”. Everything about the promotion was an unmitigated disaster, and later that year Coca-Cola re-introduced what they claimed was the “original formula”, named “Coke Classic”. The company tried to push “New Coke” on a public that never wanted it, and eventually gave up the next year. The “New Coke” strategy and promotion have become textbook lessons on the worst possible way to listen to customers and meet their expectations. Pretty much everything was done the wrong way, especially the arrogant way that Coca-Cola assumed their customers would accept the elimination of their favorite drink. Near as I can figure it, the essential problem came down to the fact that the company’s marketing people made all the key decisions internally, without once stepping out into the real world to test their assumptions. What seemed a great idea in development, failed miserably in Reality. Obviously, Coca-Cola never wanted to enrage its customers, to drive them to Pepsi, or to put a bullet in their stock value, but that all happened because they made an incalculably stupid strategic decision, and they lacked an effective Deming loop to test assumptions and correct the process.

This is actually not all that uncommon in business. So many people saw Enron as a company made up of crooks, that they failed to notice that Enron did have a Code of Ethics; the problem was similar to Coke, in that too many people never tested their assumptions, and by the time they realized something was wrong, it was too late to repair the damage.

This brings us back to the polls. The thing most folks forget about polls which get published in the media, is that the polls’ first need is not to accurately reflect the election progress and report on actual support levels; it’s about business. A poll needs clients to survive, and the media – always – wants a good story more than they want facts. So polls sell that story, and what would actually be a gradual development of support, with modest changes brought about as the public learned about candidates’ records and positions, is instead sold as an exciting roller-coaster race, careening madly all over the place. If a candidate appears to be popular and charismatic, he might be allowed a strong lead, or the poll might tighten things from time to time just to keep attention on the polls. That’s where that whole “bounce” thing after the conventions comes from – do you really think republicans or independents got more excited about Obama because of his convention, or that democrats and independents were more likely to vote for McCain because of the GOP convention? When you think about it, it should be obvious that these bumps are artificial unless there is a clear cause to show a change in support. And when you take apart the polls and drill down to the raw data, what you find is a close race with a gradually declining but still large pool of undecided voters, which is consistent with the known facts and actions we see from both campaigns.

Obviously, though, the polls want to finish as close as possible to the actual results, but this year they have a problem. There has been unprecedented manipulation of demographics, corrupting even the raw data to the point where effective resolution of public opinion is doubtful. This might be described as an honest mistake, if one is willing to accept greed as an honest motive. Gallup, for example, who has more experience than any other polling group and who therefore should have known better more than anyone else to fiddle with the weights. In several past elections, Gallup and other polls have learned from operational blunders.

In 1948, Gallup screwed with the weighting, assuming the republicans would turn out much in much larger numbers than the democrats, but they were wrong, and badly miscalled the election. In 1952 Gallup assumed the other way, that the race would be tight and down to the wire, but they blew that call as well. In 1976, Gallup assumed the opposite, that democrats would overwhelm republicans because of Watergate, but when it became obvious that republicans would vote anyway, Gallup had to change its model to show their participation more accurately. In 1980, Gallup called Carter ahead until the very end, when they grudgingly granted Reagan a small lead, yet another case where Gallup’s assumptions were well off the mark. In 1996, Gallup overstated Clinton’s support and understated Dole’s support throughout the campaign, and in 2004 Gallup called the race too close to call. This year, trying to gauge the effects of Barack Obama’s ‘rock star’ charisma, Gallup decided to abandon historical norms and overweight urban and youth voters, and to over-sample democrats all campaign long. This model, dubbed the “expanded voter”, has proven a disaster for Gallup, so much so that the group reintroduced a more historically balanced model, which they call the “traditional” model. The problem for Gallup, however, is that their methodology became so skewed throughout the campaign up to now, that it may be impossible for Gallup to correct its procedures before the final election poll. In the light of past blunders, this year missing the call may not be unreasonable at all to expect.

So OK, Gallup is having a bad year, but what about the rest? Well, there the phrase to consider is follow the leader. Gallup has been doing this stuff for longer than anyone else, and the other polls have often fallen into the habit of chasing what they see Gallup do. But for an objective look at their performance, I direct you to another of my past articles, where I noted the NCPP’s record on poll accuracy. From what I see here, if Gallup is having problems, it’s likely just as bad or worse for everyone else.

So, could I be wrong? I have to be honest and admit that I could. But in that case, we’d have to ask why the polls do not generally agree with each other, why Gallup is trying to spin three different models at the same time to get a grasp of the picture, why McCain and Obama are both so interested in Pennsylvania, yet neither is working very hard in Ohio right now. We’d have to explain why McCain-Palin rallies are now attracting thousands more people than Obama-Biden rallies, why Letterman suddenly found it cool to have McCain on his show and SNL decided they wanted Palin on theirs. We’d have to explain why there are not a lot of Obama signs visible, but we hear about his army of lawyers getting ready. We’d have to explain why McCain and Palin appear to be so relaxed while Obama and Biden look like they’re worried.

What I think is happening, is this – the polls’ headquarters were based deep in liberal territory, where the assumption was that Obama’s candidacy would actually create a groundswell of pro-democrat voters unseen in the country since 1932. That McCain is more experienced with the key issues than Obama was ignored, that the historical significance of the debates shows that the effects appear several weeks later was also ignored. That the economy could be as reasonably blamed on the democrat-controled Congress as on the republican President was never considered. That character would be a salient factor in the decisions of voters was rejected out of hand.

The polls are wrong. Make your own mind up, because your vote will matter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yahoo, Indeed

Last week, the Associated Press once again proved they are cheerleaders for Obama, rather than honest reporters of fact. This is illustrated in this case by the AP/Yahoo poll released, touted as evidence of Obama’s continued dominance in the election, when in fact the numbers from that poll confirm the tightening race as it nears the end. Of course, you have to go looking for the link to the actual poll detail, and then you have to dig through and find the relevant results. But there are some interesting details indeed in this poll, details which should be considered in weighing the claims made by the Associated P.

Starting with the big question, who folks will vote for, the poll in question VOT3B tells us that Obama gets 42% of the support, and McCain gets 39%. Another 4 percent want someone else and 15% say they are undecided, which tracks with what I have been seeing in other polls. This tells us two very important things. First, 42 percent is not going to win, so both Obama and McCain have a lot of work to do, no matter what the media says. And with only 3 points separating them, the 15% undecided pool means that either candidate could reach a clear majority, or fail miserably. If you want to know why Obama is stressing, I bet it’s because his own private polls are warning him about similar conditions.

Now, I generally don’t like polls which press ‘leaners’ to pick a candidate, since we cannot say how sure they are about someone if their first statement was ‘I don’t know’. But the AP/Yahoo poll notes that when pressed, more went to McCain than to Obama (question VOT3BA).

The poll gets hinky when AP/Yahoo asks again who the respondents prefer in question PRES. The response from “all adults” is 44-42 Obama, but the “likely voters” are posted as 49-44 Obama. The problem here, is that nowhere in the poll does the group explain how they defined “likely voters”, nor are there any questions which clearly define the sub-group, nor do we even know how many respondents are classified as “likely voters”. The top of the poll identifies “1,769 adults; 1,528 registered voters. 873 Democrats; 650 Republicans”, but that’s it. Since we have seen a 3 point separation in the base question, and we know undecideds broke for McCain, it gets a little weird for AP/Yahoo to go from there to expand Obama’s lead to 5, and since they never explain how they got there, the reader would do well to ask why they hid that part of the methodology.

LV5 asks if the person is registered to vote. 86% say yes, so that tells you that unless the question was only asked of registered voters, one of every seven answers is irrelevant.

LV6 asks how often the person votes. 74% say always or nearly always, so another one in eight respondents (and one in seven registered voters) are not sure if they will vote this year, on the basis of their admitted practice.

LV31. goes on to ask if the respondent is “certain to vote” using a 10-point scale. Only 66%, about two-thirds of the respondents, say they are certain to vote. So we must be even more skeptical about the quality of this respondent pool.

VOT3BB asks if the respondent might change their mind, and 14% say they may change their mind.

PID1 notes that the party affiliation split for the poll was 40% Democrat, 27% Republican, 21% Independent, and 12% undecided or other, which actually creates a DRI split of 40/27/33, as usual for this year far out of balance with historical norms.

PARTYID goes further, noting that 49% of the respondents consider themselves Democrats, 37% Republicans, and just 14% other or Independent, a contrast to PID1 which is not explained.

Looking at the end-poll demographics, more information is revealed which helps us see the bias. 22% of respondents are identified as 18-29 in age, versus 17% in that age group’s actual voting in 2004. In this poll, 13% of the respondents did not complete High School, versus only 4% of voters in 2004 who did not complete High School. 31% of the poll respondents have a High School diploma as their highest education, versus 22% of voters in 2004 in that category. The overweight is obvious.

Whites in the poll made up 69% of the pool, versus 77% of voters in 2004. Hispanics in the pool counted for 13%, versus 7% who voted in 2004.

In the poll, 84% of respondents live in urban areas, versus 30% of actual voters in 2004.

In the poll, a staggering 41% of respondents do not have a job.

And finally, 58% of respondents to the poll make $50,000 a year or less, versus 45% of the actual voters in 2004.

This poll is biased in six distinctly invalid ways relative to known demographics, and even then the AP/Yahoo poll admits the race is close, though they do everything they can to hide that conclusion in the press release.

Critics may claim that this is just one poll, to which I invite you to suggest another poll with complete internal demographic data. I will indeed be looking for just such polls, and you can count on a full dissection and report. For here, I consider this poll to be an intriguing example of how spin and deceit are hiding the true state of the race --- that is, unless you expect all of the behaviors of past elections to be completely abandoned this year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

God and the Election

Over the past few weeks, I have received more mail than I recall ever receiving since the last presidential election. A lot of it is predictable, but I have also received several missives telling me that I am doing ‘the Lord’s work’ in my posts about the election being a lot closer than the media pretends, and my observations of historical trends, the value of the undecideds and independents in this year’s race, and the fact that we won in 2004 and lost in 2006 largely due to turnout by republicans. Well, I consider myself a God-fearing man, not to claim that I am anywhere the man I’d like to be, so it occurred to me that I need to address where I see God standing with regard to this election. If you’re not a believer, you might just want to give this one a miss – no offense, but it’s a faith thing, you either follow that path or it makes no sense to you.

Now, some folks like to assume that God’s on their side. That’s a bad idea, thinking that God has to go along with us. What we need to do, actually, is make sure we are listening to God and going His way on decisions and actions. In this election, it would be wrong to imagine that God “votes” for someone in the sense that God is brought around to support a human political opinion. But it is valid for us to consider what God wants us to be and do in this situation, and to think and act in accordance with those precepts.

As a follower of Christ (though again I have to make clear that I am poor at the practice), the first precepts are to not judge the hearts of other people but merely their actions, to walk humbly and seek God’s will in all things, and to count freedom ahead of peace, justice ahead of freedom, and mercy above all of those other ideals.

If you’ve read the Bible, you know that God sometimes allows evil men to rule. If you have watched the news for awhile, you know that sometimes evil is allowed to win for a time. I cannot say I understand why that is so, the notion of ‘free will’ seems a pale and shallow concept to explain why innocents should be made to suffer, why injustice should be allowed – even for a short time – to win, or why the people should suffer because of an evil ruler. But it is undeniably so, that this happens at times. So I cannot say that God would not allow an Obama presidency, even if I believed all the evil that some says is ready to spew forth from such an administration, coupled as it would be with near-complete control of Congress and the connivance of a corrupt media. I do not say this to dismay you, but to warn you that our actions matter a great deal in this election, all of us, and I will return anon to this warning. We cannot assume that God will not allow the wrong decision.

We should also learn the lessons from the Bible about the critical value of faith. When Elijah stood up to an evil queen and an army of false prophets, he felt alone and deserted, and even God’s own voice was not enough to console him, until the Lord explained to Elijah that there were thousands of good men in Israel whose faith was true, and who depended on God through Elijah for confirmation that they were right and would prevail. I am no Elijah, but even so I tell you plainly that America is a nation of believers in truth and light, and they do not hold with attacking ordinary citizens for asking inconvenient questions, they do not approve of a media which literally digs into trash to find tools to use to slime one candidate while ignoring legitimate inquiries into another’s character and actions. They do not forget history and they do not embrace the replacement of family and the individual with the government and the collective. Americans who fear God, do not forget duty. Americans who trust God, do not mock sacrifice. Americans who follow Christ, are not impressed with men who would replace God with their own image. Therefore, when we are presented with a situation where one candidate appears to be clearly in line with God’s will and the other major candidate would oppose that will, we must first test our assumptions, and if they hold true we must stand with the one who follow the Lord’s will.

Democrats have long run on claims that they better follow the ideals of goodness, touting concern for the impoverished, the protection of minorities, and standing against greed. Barack Obama is running on basically those same themes. But in times of hardship, it is not McCain but Obama who would increase taxes and create higher unemployment by making it harder for smaller companies to hire and keep employees. It is not McCain but Obama who would increase opportunities for illegals in the U.S., who would principally take jobs held by minority citizens. It is not McCain but Obama who has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from private sponsors, whom he refuses to even identify, since the public would naturally wonder what sort of promises he made to get all that money.

It is not Obama but McCain who has suffered in service to his country. It is not Obama but McCain who has given generously to charity out of his own pocket. It is not Obama but McCain who has fought to protect the lives of unborn children. And it is not Obama but McCain, who when made aware of vicious comments about his opponent, immediately, directly and repeatedly called for his campaign to operate by ideals of respect and courtesy, asking hard questions but refraining from personal smears. These facts are undeniable, and make clear which sorts of character are present in each man.

There will come a day, I believe, when we will stand before the Lord and have to account for all we have done, said, and even thought. It seems to me that it would be far better for me to explain why I supported a man whose actions were aligned with the Lord’s teachings, than why I stood by and deserted him when the campaign became difficult.

My advice to us all is simple: Take it to the Lord in prayer, listen humbly for His answer, then act in faith and hope. We shall not fail to see a good result from that course.