Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fun With Polls

Less than two weeks out from the election, there isn’t much to do. The narratives are set, the debates are over, and everything there is to know about the candidates (except Barack Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers) has been revealed and overanalyzed. There’s nothing to do now except look at the polls.

Actually, maybe we shouldn’t look at the polls, because for a McCain supporter, they are pretty depressing. The RealClearPolitics poll average puts Obama up nationwide by 7.5 points, a pretty comfortable lead.

McCain can take comfort in the fact that these polls have a really wide range—Obama’s lead is one to thirteen points, depending on the poll. So if the polls with lower Obama leads are correct, McCain is still within striking distance. If the polls with higher Obama leads are correct, McCain probably shouldn’t count on becoming president.

The question is: which polls are right? The outcome of a poll depends, of course, largely on methodology—pollsters don’t just call up folks and start asking for their opinions. They have to weigh the answer they receive by race, party, sex, age, and any other demographic data—after all, a poll that oversamples, say, white people will be skewed towards the candidate with more support from whites.

We more or less know what proportion of the different races and sexes will vote—there probably won’t be any major surprises there. Party identification is more complicated—most polls seem to assume that Democrats hold an approximately six point party ID lead on Republicans. The party ID gap has not been greater than three points in any election since 1976 (this includes the 2006 elections). This suggests that either Democrats have an unprecedented advantage in party ID, or pollsters are oversampling Democrats.

Age is difficult too. It’s usually easy to figure out who most young voters will vote for—nobody, since young people don’t vote in significant numbers. But Obama has taken pains to attract the youth vote, which means that either there will be a lot of first time voters, or Obama really wasted his time there.

We can’t be sure, but I’m going with the second option. I’m a young voter myself, and I can’t say I’ve detected any great amount of enthusiasm for Obama among my peers. Most young people seem to support Obama, but not really in a particularly passionate way. Few seem to be really fervent Obama supporters—most support him just because it’s, you know, the accepted thing to do.

Maybe my experiences are atypical, but I don’t think so, at least not to any large degree. If there are any news stories of a massive youth grassroots movement supporting Obama, I’ve missed them. (And showing up at Obama’s rallies for an afternoon doesn’t count as a grassroots movement). Young people are always expected to show up in force and vote, and they never do. I wouldn’t, and this is an uninformed opinion, expect them to show up this year. If my uninformed belief is correct, then pollsters are oversampling another overwhelmingly pro-Obama demographic.

The polls that show Obama up typically give him about fifty percent of the vote, while McCain gets around forty-three. The polls showing the race essentially even give both candidates support at around the forty-three percent mark. This could be a result of pollster methodology. Pollsters who push voters for their decision (Rasmussen does this) seem to show higher Obama leads. Other pollsters, who might not be as insistent in their questions, show the race closer. This could mean that much of Obama’s poll support comes from voters who are essentially undecided, and simply pick the better known and more charismatic candidate when pushed for an answer.

Moral of the story? It could be that I am totally ignorant about polls, and McCain is finished. Or maybe it’s that I actually am a bit of a poll expert and my conclusions prove that McCain is right in this thing. I don’t know—we will find out on Election Day. But every person reading this should try to prove the polls wrong—go out and vote for McCain.

11 Comments:

At October 24, 2008 at 11:59 AM , Blogger Z-man said...

I've never been polled in my entire life, closest I've come is some girl with a clipboard will stop me in some shopping mall for some customer survey about new and up-and-coming products but I've never been polled about The Big Things. Is it the same people being polled or what?

 
At October 24, 2008 at 6:44 PM , Blogger MTHorvat said...

I once spoike to a pollster who told me he cheated - it was so hard to get the requisite number of right type of persons to speak to him, he would cheat on the results to finish the job earlier.
How would you scew the numbers? I asked.
In favor of the way I thought people would vote, he answered.
So brilliant and scientific, these polls....
Your analysis is certainly more careful and worthwhile than that, Daniel!

 
At October 25, 2008 at 6:42 AM , Blogger Beth said...

I wonder how many people decide to skip going to actually vote because they see one candidate having a big lead in the polls, so they figure they don't need to show up. But then too many people whose support the poll leader don't actually vote, so he loses??

 
At October 26, 2008 at 9:23 AM , Blogger My Left View said...

Hi, althought we don't see eye to eye on a lot of things, I do like your way of blogging.
You say what you think and I think that's great. And you seem to have an opened mind.
But let me say one thing, And that is I am very tired of the Republican rhetoric propagated by the McCain/Palin duo about how Obama's economic plan is a socialist plan that supposedly will negatively impact the Joe the Plumbers of our country, the $250K and more group (the wealthy). First, let's check out the real facts (see factcheck.org). According to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy as of 2006, there were an estimated 26.8 million small business owners, and that accounted for about 20 million "nonemployer" businesses (have no employees). So, only about 6 million actually had a payroll, a far cry from the 23 million the McCain/Palin duo keeps talking about. Also, on factcheck.org, that small group may not be impacted and actually not pay any taxes because under Obama's economic plan according to his economic policy director Jason Furman, Obama's plan would return the top two federal income-tax rates to what they were eight years ago, before Bush lowered them and would adjust the income-tax brackets to ensure that no married couple making under $250,000 or single filer making under $200,000 would pay the top rates. Further, the average income for small business owners is $233,600, so sounds like the Obama/Biden team is really looking out for Joe the Plumber and definitely for you and me.
Secondly, this leads me to ask the question, then who are the McCain/Palin duo really considering, those whose earnings are over $250k and more (the wealthy) and why is that duo not considering Joe/Josephine the Consumer too? In case they don't know who they are or care about them, they're the average Joe Blows the Obama/Biden team are fighting for, those who make less than $250K. The McCain/Palin duo wants to paint the picture that wealthy people or the Joe the Plumbers are going to be taxed higher and Obama/Biden want to spread the wealth. Well, let's look at that. How do the wealthy become wealthy? Let's see, they start a business and I guess they just become wealthy by doing just that saying they have a business and register the business name and VOILA!, their wealthy. But, we all know that's not quite how it goes. Business owners or small businesses come up with an idea to market or sell their goods and services to you and me, Joe/Josephine the Consumer. We buy Joe the Plumbers computers, food, furniture, clothes, toys, oil and gas, autos, alarm systems, banking and financial services, homes, apartments, refrigerators, other household goods, cable, cell phones, exercise equipment, medical, etc., shop at their retail stores, buy their brand name (their name) eat at their restaurants and fast food chains, and are fans of their movies, TV shows, sports, and other entertainment media and buy televisions, stereo systems, home theater systems, big screen televisions and now HDTVs to watch them on making those business owners wealthy, wealthier, and wealthier-r-r. Now, I'm not knocking any of these entrepreneurs because we all need each other, but I think we need to realize that Joe/Josephine the Consumer (you and me) are the driving force for our economy and the team who is looking out for you and me, Joe/Josephine the Consumer is the Obama/Biden team. The other thing too, won't those wealthy entrepreneurs get some of those taxes back if not all of it. When Joe/Josephine the Consumer gets that tax refund that Obama/Biden are pushing for, what do you think they are going to do with it. If I can borrow a phrase that Gov. Palin might say, betcha by golly, they will most likely turnaround and put that refund back into the economy (a stimulating boost) buying more goods and services keeping Joe the Plumber wealthy, wealthier, and wealthier-r-r. I think that's a win-win situation for everybody. As long as Joe/Josephine the Consumer buys, we keep Joe the Plumber's business doors open to keep us gainfully employed to buy more goods and services and Joe the Plumber makes more profits to invest bad or good (and hopefully Joe/Josephine the Consumer won't have to bail them out a second time). One final note, I dare to say that after Joe the Plumber's CPAs and accountants reduce his net profit before taxes down to $250K, surely, they will come up with a $1 loophole to make Joe the Plumbers taxable income no higher than $249,999 so he won't have to pay all those taxes after all, if any. So, thank you Obama/Biden for thinking about us, Joe/Josephine the Consumer, working class America, the middle and lower incomers, also known as the 95%.
Sorry for the long rant.
Have a beautiful day. Take advantage of this one.. It won't be long before winter is here.

 
At October 26, 2008 at 10:36 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Back to the original point of this particular blog, about polls, today's Cleveland Plain Dealer's front page story was on an Ohio Newspaper poll that shows Obama at 49% to 46% (within the margins) and since I think the next president must win Ohio this is very key. Obama is winning big among the younger vote here, as Daniel says, McCain is winning among those over 65 (no surprises there) so it really is important who can you count on to actually show up and vote on election day, and of course with early voting, who is doing that as well. Between that and that still undecided vote, it really isn't over for McCain by a longshot.

 
At October 28, 2008 at 10:10 AM , Blogger Z-man said...

Speaking of polls I wonder how many people just walk away from the pollsters 'cause they're busy or something. How would they vote? It's like with those endless sex surveys, surely there must be lots of folks who walk away from such questioners leaving the ones who like to hang from chandeliers to answer the questions, this is known as exhibition bias. For so many reasons I'm not a huge fan of this polling thing, first off I don't think they're done right for all the reasons Daniel mentioned and more and Beth makes the point you can become demoralized and not vote for your guy 'cause he's behind in the polls. I say a moratorium on polls for one year!

 
At November 2, 2008 at 8:19 AM , Blogger knowitall said...

These polls are going to upset a lot of people, including the left-wing illuminati come Tuesday. Then maybe the media won't conduct such bias polls in the future.

 
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