Na-na-na-boo-boo!!!

]]>In reality, polls are only accurate by random chance.

People don’t make up their minds until they actually vote. Asking their opinions before that time is wasteful and inefficient. We already know that 40% vote Republican and 40% vote Democrat because that is their party affiliation and they nearly always succumb to peer pressure. That is a major function of the party – produce peer pressure.

So, every poll seeks to break the issues down into party lines SPECIFICALLY to produce a certain result – and the polls are always timed to happen AFTER certain current events which are fresh in the minds of the sampled people.

Of course President Bush gets the lowest poll results ever right now. The Iraq war is going badly, the economy is going badly, and his bumbling public speaking gets mocked daily (by people like David Letterman, my personal favorite). But… is he really that unpopular? Of course not! If we were attacked again and successfully weathered the attack, his poll numbers would jump into the positive range almost overnight!

Polls are garbage. Stop reading them. They are used to CHANGE public opinion, not to measure it.

By the way, if you give me enough money and time, I can produce a Legitimate poll that shows President Bush with a 50% approval rating RIGHT NOW. Make the check out to B. R. Peterson and include at least seven zeros in the amount area.

]]>First, let’s assume the margin of error they report is actually two standard deviations. This means we are 95% confident that Jones’s actual percentage is between 49% and 43%. But if we’re comparing Smith and Jones, that’s not really what we’re interested in. We’re interested in a difference-of-means hypothesis test.

Let the null hypothesis be that there is no significant difference between the candidates’ percentages. In order to reject the null, and support the hypothesis that there is a statistically significant difference in the candidates’ support, we need to pick a critical value; let’s say we choose a 5% confidence level (for a z-score of 1.96, assuming a normal distribution). We subtract the percentages and divide by a standard deviation (1.5%, since 3% is two standard deviations). (46-43)/1.5 = 2 exactly. Since 2 > 1.96, we conclude that there’s a significant difference between the support of both candidates (and that Jones is probably ahead). We do not conclude that “there is only a 5% chance that Smith is actually ahead.”

Please forgive and correct any errors in the above analysis. My point here is only to demonstrate that your simplification of the statistics of polling is no better than that of the greater news media.

FSR COMMENT: I thank Frank for his input. I am indeed not a satistician, and perhaps I should have simply pointed out that in the 46-43 hypothetical, it’s NOT a “statistical tie” as the media usually say, and left it at that. I think Frank would have to agree with that — and hence that what I said is NOT “no better than the greater news media.”

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