Apples and Oranges

One of the favorite sports of poll junkies after an election is to grade the pollsters, and that process is in full swing already, and should be. Neil Stevens, however, has an excellent post cautioning against putting too much stock in Nate Silver’s latest effort to attach Rasmussen. The biggest specific problem he identifies is that Rasmussen offers two separate types of polls – its own polls and the POR polls, which are done at the request of paying clients under their own terms, among other things using a different margin of error – and Silver’s analysis lumps the two together as if they’re the same thing.
Polling involves a certain amount of art as well as science; evaluating the accuracy of polls after the fact, however, ought to be a task that can be done through a consistent and transparent methodology, for example comparing pollsters’ accuracy at similar distances from Election Day. It doesn’t appear that Silver’s critiques are using a sufficiently objective methodology to be trustworthy guides to making sense of the pollsters.

One thought on “Apples and Oranges”

  1. I don’t need to be Harry Truman to know that polls will almost always give you the answer you want to hear. I think it was Farheed Zakharia on Bill Maher who probably said it best, when he was speaking about Obama and health care. Maher said that polls a year ago showed that 70% of the country wanted reform, and now it was down to 55%.
    Zakharia I think wisely noted, but not this way, on what people really wanted. 85% of the country has health care, and the perception was that Obama was only worrying about the 15% who do not. That may be true, it may be that the message was misread. Doesn’t matter. The point is, with all poll: what are you asking and to whom?
    Meaning the principles of KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) is almost always true. That holds for very complex issues. I remember a former client, a very famous financier, insanely successful came into a meeting with only one sheet of paper. When both sides were full, that was enough. It’s not that he wasn’t smart (boy was/is he); he just knew that even complex issues can be EXPLAINED in short form. Michael Faraday (whom I think I can safely say is smarter than anyone who writes on this blog, maybe even all of us together) was of the opinion that complex theories could be explained simply, or they weren’t worthwhile. That doesn’t mean you will understand it totally (ever try to really understand MBrane theory—hah!), or the tough parts of quantum mechanics?).
    We do and did need health care reform. The republican plan, which basically lies and says your health care decisions should be between your doctor and you, when it’s really between a very autocratic insurer and a doctor (you get sort of lost in between) was not communicated well. Meaning that you really should not give anecdotes that don’t tell a compelling global story to people. Tell the tales on how the 85%of us is getting screwed. That’s math: get the 85% to vote for you, not the 15%, many of whom don’t vote much.
    Here is the “but”: we really do have to deal with health care and global warming. And simply giving hateful messages may get you elected, but you still have to do the right thing. It’s hard really governing.
    OK, my solution to health care: end any coverage for members of congress, make them pay for it, and have their coverage end when they are out of office (now it’s free, meaning we pay for it, and it’s for life). With no dog in the fight, I trust none of them.

Comments are closed.