Tuesday, June 15, 2010

push polls and politics

A couple weeks ago, I saw a teaser headline for a Wall Street Journal piece with the delightful title of Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Well, maybe I am. Of course, I clicked through and checked out the opinion piece.

Meh. That's right, meh. That was my reaction to the piece. Of course, it was followed with the thought that the piece was such a hack job. Check it out and make your own decision. My issues with the piece fall into two broad categories. First the nature of their polling and second the content of their polling.

The polling. Oh, why anyone would use Zogby, masters of the push poll, if they wanted to be taken seriously is beyond me. Zogby is to polling what Fox is to news. A disgrace. Furthermore, Zogby is notably (or notoriously?) inaccurate compared to other polling services. They have been thouroughly deconstructed more than once by FiveThirtyEight.

If you take umbrage with FiveThirtyEight as being left of center and principally penned by a known Obama supporter, then check out their track record for the 2008 presidential election. Yeah, you didn't predict it that well. Nate Silver runs a good site and I followed it heavily for the 2008 election for well-written and excellent analysis of polls, the nature of polling, and wading through the numerous garbage created by sloppy polls. People can have opinions and still be objective, a rarely seen trait in the political world these days.

If you still dig Zogby and don't mind their quetionable polling structure, then let's talk about the questions. If I call the first question number 0 and leave the rest with numbers 1 through 7, then I would take issue with most of the, ahem, "enlightened" answers to borrow their loaded term. Here are the true correct answers to the eight questions they asked starting with question 0: usually, not really, depends on who you are and what standard is being used (question is also deceptive as 30 years ago was a bad enough time that we thought Reagan would be a good choice for President), probably but depends on who owns it, it could be, quite often (based on what I have seen), for some people yes, and unknowable long-term consequences without them.

Economic theory is so delightfully gamed by politics to the point where the actual testing and implementation of many theories is muddied by outside factors and inconsistent application. Plus, the true long-term consequences of some ideas can never be adequately tested because policy usually shifts too soon to observe long-term effects.

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