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Poll Wars

October 17, 2008

I haven’t commented much on the polls here in the Chamber as we march toward election day, mostly because I’ve seen the practice of touting Obama’s lead as something I might regret.  In other words, whatever the polls might say, I still think that this election is going to be very close.

I only bring it up now because I’ve noticed a couple of things on the web that reminded me of an old debate on whether these presidential opinion polls are less an attempt to gauge public opinion, and more of an attempt to influence it.    One such sighting came the other day, when Tex brought to my attention an interesting yet poorly-sourced and flawed essay by the enigmatic Zombie, in which he/she accuses Obama supporters of “stuffing” the post-debate polls in an effort to make the idea that Obama won the debates an accepted “fact”.  Like I said, an interesting theory, but unfortunately Zombie didn’t provide much of anything to back up the assertion, so I let him/her know.  (I had always assumed that the reputable and referenced post-debate polls weren’t internet-based anyway, although I always wonder how they determine who the “undecided” voters are)

The other sighting happened when I visited Drudge Report, and I obviously couldn’t miss this:

Drudge is right about one thing, in that a dramatic swing like that certainly would be considered a shock.  So, I decided to investigate a little on my own, and turned to fivethirtyeight.com (since they watch this stuff daily), and I came across this analysis:

Let me be clear: I don’t blame Drudge for trying to drive the narrative. Unlike certain other folks, it’s not as though he’s made any claim to being objective. With real news — which polls aren’t — he generally has excellent and entertaining instincts.

I do, however, blame those of who allow yourselves to have your day ruined when Drudge moonlights as some kind of polling analyst.

A fairer way to analyze tracking polls, in any event, is something like this: McCain gained ground in three of the seven trackers today (Gallup, Rasmussen, Battleground). He lost ground in one (Zogby). Three others (Research 2000, Hotline, IBD/TIPP) were unchanged.

So, what is Drudge doing here?  Is he cherry-picking the most McCain-favorable poll he could find in an effort to influence opinion?  After all, much has been said about Drudge’s uncanny ability to drive the national conversation.  Is he trying to exploit a variation of the principle of social proof and frame the narrative that McCain is making some sort of spectacular comeback?

My guess would be, yes.  Especially since he went for it again today.  This one appeared to be picked up by Lou Dobbs, as he repeated the Drudge headline almost verbatim on his show this evening.  

Of course, the only poll that really matters is the one taken on November 4th, but I think that a debate on how much the polls taken leading up to the big day influence the outcome is worth having.  Do the candidates alter their tactics based on the polls?   You bet.  Do those tactics then play a role in winning and losing?  Of course they do.    If the shift of tactics is transparent, and the voter assumes that the change is based solely on the polls, does it (the tactic) lose some of its effectiveness (i.e. “McCain’s just going negative because he’s behind in the polls”)?  Sure.  In fact, it would be interesting to get an idea what the change in the electoral dynamic would be if the poll results were kept privately within the campaigns, or if they did away with polling altogether.   Of course that would never happen, but when you think about it that way, one revisits the reasons why they are everywhere. 

Wait a second.  Why are they everywhere, anyway?

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14 comments

  1. Well ChenZhen, for the American Taliban (the GOP) to steal their 3rd presidential election in a row, they have to have the poll numbers close, because it would look really, really, really weird if the numbers were 68% Barack and 24% McCain and then McCain wins it the election in a landslide!

    See?

    Of course the wingers will say, “But Kay! The polls were just backwards. Everyone knows that, Kay. Kay, we’re the most honest political party in the history of the planet, Kay”.

    *rolling eyes*


  2. Chen,

    Since you fancy yourself a social psychologist (where you get your expertise is a matter of unknown purpose), let me state for the record that of all the souls I’ve read, you suffer from the most severe form of Confirmation Bias I have ever witnessed.

    What you accuse ZombieTime of, you do in spades on virtually every thread. Let me correct or elaborate on a few things that you have posted from above.

    First, I did not direct the article to your attention. This may bruise your ever expanding ego, but the link was intended for Rabbit because I thought he might find it interesting. There was no other purpose.

    Second, you would lead your meager audience to believe that I was using that as a source of dispute concerning the accuracy of polls. Quite the contrary, I have no idea that the facts as stated are truth or fiction. Again, I simply found the article an interesting read.

    Third, what you accuse ZombieTime of, you have done yourself, including this current thread. You make the accusation of a flawed study, yet provide no proof of how the article is flawed. Just because there are no links or sources listed doesn’t make the article inaccurate, nor flawed; it may be undocumented, but a tertiary list of sources is not required for an opinion driven internet. What would be better is for you to take the article, disprove those parts with your sources, and let the debate begin.

    The article is no really no different than what this site is – opinion. For example, you like the use the CNN polling data, never mentioning the historical inaccuracy. Many of the things you publish are simply opinion with a link proposed as the basis or precedent for fact that supports your opinion. We could go from link, to link, to link but that would prove little. And from what I have seen witnessed as fact on this blog many times would better be called ignorance of fact. The recent articles on “big oil” were one of many I can recall that were not only flawed by diametrically opposed to real facts.

    Finally, when you stated the other day your main intent was intellectual honesty, I could taste the bile. I hope that was parody…I give you credit for your creativity, the occasional good idea, and the design of your blog.

    But you are very far from a real truth seeker, no matter what you might think. And truth be known, that is not your intent.


  3. Chen,

    By the way, you provided a link to a blogger who disputes Zombie’s facts and I failed to mention that so I will now. While Zombie may have flubbed the year Nixon made the “Silent Majority” comment, that was a very minor mistake, being that it was Nixon who made the statement and it was only 10 months after assuming office. If that is the best your source can do, you better find another link.

    And quite the contrary to your author, the youth culture was more than alive and well contrary to what your “source” would like you to believe. Do you think 500,000 showed up at Woodstock that year for an unpopular and faddish culture? The fact is, the youth movement your author references died a very slow death and was still very prominent as late as 1975 and the end of the Vietnam War. The fact that 64% of the U.S. voting elect didn’t like the “youth culture” is meaningless. Most of them voted for Nixon…or in cases of the South, George Wallace.

    Though Nixon won in an electoral landslide, you’ll note that the popular vote was less than a million votes:

    http://www.uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1968&f=0

    Your author’s math nor his logic doesn’t fly…and again, I note this is one “opinion” against another where your source cherry picks those results that support his argument. If you want something to contradict his results, I can easily remember some polls that were horribly wrong – including the exit polling from the last Presidential election.


  4. First, I did not direct the article to your attention. This may bruise your ever expanding ego, but the link was intended for Rabbit because I thought he might find it interesting. There was no other purpose.

    Yea, OK. Semantics. You brought it to my attention by posting it on my blog.

    And I gave Zombie credit for putting all that together and relating it to the presidential campaign, but seriously, if he/she’s going to pen a 6000+ word essay titled “The Left’s Big Blunder”, he/she might want to provide evidence of the aforementioned concerted effort (“stuffing”). Otherwise, the whole thing is just wild speculation.

    I know I’m not perfect. I’ve made plenty a flawed argument, I’m sure. But one of the reasons why I do it on this medium is so that my assertions can be challenged. Heck, one of the reasons why I created the WPPBA is to facilitate that. Why? Because it would make my next assertion that much more solid. I learn from the experience, you see, and it makes me more knowledgeable and informed. so thanks for doing your part.


  5. General,

    I learn from the experience, you see, and it makes me more knowledgeable and informed. so thanks for doing your part.

    Like using “vis-a-vis” in your comment at Zombie’s? Sorry, couldn’t help but giggle. I doubt you’ll get that one…

    As far as semantics, I’m just playing the left’s game.

    And may I say again, no matter how harsh, I still appreciate the use of your blog – it serves a purpose or I wouldn’t keep coming back.


  6. Stealing elections is an American Taliban kind of thing. Isn’t it hysterical how the WATBs of the American Taliban are trying to turn it around to make it appear the Democrats are doing what they’ve always done? Bah hahahahahaha! Shows how unhinged the American Taliban has become under George Bush & Dick Cheney’s leadership!

    Registering people…fake or real…is not illegal. How many of them will show up to vote? Not as many as you might think, but then again, SIGNING UP BLACK AMERICANS TO VOTE IS CONSIDERED ILLEGAL BY THE AMERICAN TALIBAN!

    Shame on all of ya.


  7. It appears in West Virginia, the American Taliban has rigged the computerized voting machines:

    http://www.wvgazette.com/News/200810170676

    What a shocker! Spit.

    Stolen elections are done by republicans. The End.


  8. Not for nothing but the IBD poll proved to be the most accurate in ’04. Polling should be a better perfected science than the data from this election seems to indicate.
    Kay:Registering fake people is both illegal and in no way ok. You rail about the GOP like they’re the only scumbags in town. The false registration problem iis very real and has great potential to feed the post election frenzy via litigation actions. You can scream all you like but it won’t make illegal registration and voter fraud ok. For crissakes why does Obama the One need fakes anyway ? He doesn’t ! In his recent speech he danced around the real thing he wanted to say to the Left Wing nut bag douchebags of America. Stop doing stupid shit !


  9. Alfie,

    UglyKay the Cretin fails to remember that every left wing lackey and other left wing cheats, including the NY Slimes and WashPo organizations, ran down to Florida after the SCOTUS decision to identify voter fraud and didn’t find anything – other than they did identify some voter fraud – favoring Dims in the Panhandle region.

    I guess she forgets also that it was the Palm Beach crowd (her crowd) that not only designed the butterfly ballots but were too dumb to figure them out when voting.

    Like Palm Beach, Ugly is generally is dumb but harmless and always good for a laugh…


  10. Alfie, if the real Mickey Mouse shows up to vote after being registered, let us know!

    Right wing voter fraud:

    PROGRAMMING ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES TO FLIP THE VOTE TO A REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE

    THROWING OUT PAPER BALLOTS CAST

    CLAIMING OSAMA BIN LADEN HAS MADE A DEATH THREAT TO THE POLLING PLACE (SO THE WORKERS CAN MANIPULATE VOTING MACHINES OR TO THROW VOTES OUT)

    USING THE SECRETARY STATE OF OHIO & FLORIDA TO HELP PURGE VOTES/VOTER LISTS

    NOT ALLOWING ANYONE TO WATCH THE COUNTING OF PAPER BALLOTS AFTER THE POLLS HAVE CLOSED

    MAKING THE BALLOT CONFUSING SO PEOPLE WILL VOTE FOR THE REPUBLICAN WHEN THEY THINK THEY’RE VOTING FOR THE DEMOCRAT

    Writing down, “Harry Potter” and using a fake or real address is not illegal, but what happens is, NO HARRY POTTER COMES TO VOTE AT THE POLLING PLACE ON ELECTION DAY.

    See morons?

    Nice try in making yourselves out to be the bastions of voting-truth, when in reality, it’s YOUR RED PARTY THAT HAS STOLEN THE LAST 2 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND WILL TRY TO DO THE SAME THING THIS YEAR.

    Pathetic.


  11. Pathetic.

    Yes, you are. In every way…


  12. You rail about the GOP like they’re the only scumbags in town. The false registration problem is very real and has great potential to feed the post election frenzy via litigation actions. Kay you jumped right past reality. Admit that voter registration fraud is an issue or condemn yourself to being a laughingstock.


  13. I already voted;) Nothing that can happen in this campaign now can change the votes of everyone I was voting with nor with my vote. Interesting, eh?


  14. Rather amusing information

    By the way, what do you think about this icons site?



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