....LMB: "Smoking Poll"....

September 18, 2004

I am generally skeptical of polls because I just can't buy into the idea that you can interview 1000 people and then say that your results will accurately reflect the opinions of 290 million other people who happen to live in the same country. Mathematical, statistical and pollster friends have tried to convince me otherwise, and maybe they're right. But it seems like a ridiculous leap of logic to me.

But there is recent evidence that we should be skeptical of current election polls, not because of my brand of philosophical suspicion, because of basic design flaws.

First, we have this column which claims that pollsters, who usually do all their surveys via telephone, do not include cellphone numbers in their phone number lottery. If you've got a cell phone and a land-line, no problem. But if you only have a cell phone, you will never be polled. According to this article from back in April, over 8 million Americans fit that category, and the number is growing. The final piece of the puzzle: most of these 8 million are young people, and most young people tend to vote Democrat. So by ignoring cell phones, pollsters may be missing many Democratic opinions.

Secondly, we see that the highly respected Gallup Poll is skewing their sample. In their "polls of likely voters", they are assuming that 40% of those coming to vote will be Republicans and 33% will be Democrats. Meaning that they make sure that 40% of the people they poll are Republicans and 33% are Democrats.

I don't dismiss this idea out of hand; what if this 40:33 ratio is a historical trend? It would only make sense to make your polls follow suit. But the blogger linked to above researches this further, and finds that since 1992, the ratios of Rep to Dem have been 34:34, 34:39, 35:39 (granted, this is according to Zogby Polls, a rival of Gallup). Just using anecdotal evidence, I think that Democrats are going to flood the fucking polls this year because they are so angry at Bush. If the ratio this year isn't at least about equal, it will be because Kerry does something amazingly stupid, like announce publicly that he worships Satan.

And finally, we have evidence of some kind of slant in a recent NYT/CBS poll. After asking if they were voting for Bush or Kerry, the pollsters asked who the subject had voted for in the last election. 36% said Bush, 28% said Gore, and 32% said they didn't vote. That is amazingly skewed. If it was going to be representative, it should've been like 50% didn't vote, 25% said Gore, 24% said Bush. That's very fishy.

I'm not saying "look at the right-wing pollster conspiracy!" I'm saying "don't trust opinion polls!" And, to some extent, "maybe Kerry is getting more votes than we think." Of course, if our media was worth a damn, they would semi-regularly do stories about the limitations of polls, or analyze what questions were asked, who was asked, and what those results actually mean in the real world. But polls are such great, easy news stories, why would they fuck up a good thing?

Posted by Jake at 10:07 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I've been emailing and posting these same exact sentiments for months: One thousand people polled in a country of 290 million??? Don't make me laugh.

Thoughtful people have replied to me that these polls are ultra-scientific and supposedly pinpoint the groups and subgroups they must hit to get a respresentative group. To this I say, You're fucking dreaming!

The NYT did something new today that I actually agree with. They gave three poll results which didn't claim to cover the country as a whole. They polled Jews, Asians (probably too diverse a group, but it's a start), and one other group, I forget which. The numbers they came up with for Jews felt right to me.

Also I'm SO tired of people replying that to poll more than 1000 people would be too "costly and time-consuming." OK, then SHUT UP! Don't poll. If it's too costly and time-consuming to do it right, don't do it at all.

I'm fucking MAD asnd I'm not going to take it anymore!!!!!!!

Posted by: Ivy Hamlin at September 22, 2004 01:14 PM

I've been emailing and posting these same exact sentiments for months: One thousand people polled in a country of 290 million??? Don't make me laugh.

Thoughtful people have replied to me that these polls are ultra-scientific and supposedly pinpoint the groups and subgroups they must hit to get a respresentative group. To this I say, You're fucking dreaming!

The NYT did something new today that I actually agree with. They gave three poll results which didn't claim to cover the country as a whole. They polled Jews, Asians (probably too diverse a group, but it's a start), and one other group, I forget which. The numbers they came up with for Jews felt right to me.

Also I'm SO tired of people replying that to poll more than 1000 people would be too "costly and time-consuming." OK, then SHUT UP! Don't poll. If it's too costly and time-consuming to do it right, don't do it at all.

I'm fucking MAD asnd I'm not going to take it anymore!!!!!!!

Posted by: Ivy Hamlin at September 22, 2004 01:14 PM

And I couldn't agree more with all those sentiments about the polls. We have an election coming up in Australia, and there are now almost daily polls on some policy or other! WHY!!

Posted by: Helga Fremlin at September 26, 2004 02:59 PM

Polls, by their very nature, have Heisenberg problems up the yang, and that's if they are done according to the scientific method. And while it's nearly impossible to get an unbaised poll, skewing results is simple. By adjusting the wording of the question, the tone of the interrogator's voice, the hour of the call, or the order (and topic) of qualifying questions.
There is only one poll that actually counts and that one only counts some of the time.

Keep up the good work. You are the 5th estate.

Posted by: Oliver McNaughton at October 4, 2004 12:56 PM

That is ironic that I stumbled into this website this morning. The reason being that I was actually watching poll numbers on tv this morning and was totally buying it. The media is just as skrewed up as our government. It seems like there is no trust in anything we watch on tv.

Posted by: K.L at October 19, 2004 10:20 AM

That is ironic that I stumbled into this website this morning. The reason being that I was actually watching poll numbers on tv this morning and was totally buying it. The media is just as skrewed up as our government. It seems like there is no trust in anything we watch on tv.

Posted by: K.L at October 19, 2004 10:20 AM

fuckin a dam thos efucking polls and i hate people to lets all eat nuclear waste iy wouldnt hurt bush though so he can eat the uranium straight lets do the world a favor and leave

Posted by: spongebob at November 3, 2004 12:07 AM
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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

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