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View Diary: 2012 in review: Grading the pollsters (85 comments)

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  •  On the contrary (9+ / 0-)

    If I do polling mostly for Democrats, I can be thought of as a "Democratic" pollster. But it doesn't follow that my results should lean in any particular way.

    Ok, so I read the polls.

    by andgarden on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:19:51 AM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  Shouldn't it? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RUNDOWN

      Two things come to mind:

      If you poll mostly for Democrats,

      1. Democrats hire you for a reason, and/or
      2. You work for Democrats for a reason

      When polls are constructed by machines with no human input, I will believe that your clientele has no effect.

      Until then, even the best and most conscientious human beings are, for better or worse, human beings.

      LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

      by dinotrac on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:23:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Unlike, for example, redistricting (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dinotrac, MadEye, coigue, James Allen

        there should not be any reason for Republicans and Democrats to make different assumptions or choose different methodology. That they apparently do with some frequency brings an undeserved ill-repute to the science of polling.

        Ok, so I read the polls.

        by andgarden on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 08:54:10 AM PST

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        •  The science of polling has the same problem as (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RUNDOWN

          the science of economics: Those darned people!

          Lots of wonderful statistical rigor in science (and, for that matter, in economics).

          A completely objective person could do wonderful things.

          So long as we have to rely on polling questions instead of reading minds, there will always be a little room for error beyond what the statistics say.

          LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

          by dinotrac on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:38:55 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  There are many reasons to make assumptions (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RUNDOWN, dinotrac

          For one thing, unless you are polling the entire population, ie all eligible voters, all registered voters, etc., you have to build a sample of just a portion of the population. You try to make that sample reflect the essential makeup of the population you're polling, but you are limited to a pretty small percentage of the overall population (again for many reasons) and so it is going to tend to be a more impressionistic reflection rather than a photo-realistic reflection. Therefore, you make assumptions about the ways in which your sample either varies from the population, or accurately reflects it. The accuracy of those assumptions are often what makes the poll more or less accurate.

          •  meh, a pollster should predict who will turn out, (0+ / 0-)

            but there's not a lot of reason to do a baseline number that represents particularly favorable turnout, they can just adjust the numbers for that to show their clients, along with less favorable turnout numbers.

            ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

            by James Allen on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 06:22:27 PM PST

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      •  Another thing comes to mind (5+ / 0-)

        If I'm a politician and honestly trying to win an election, I want the most accurate, unbiased polling results I can so get so that I can shade my campaign to the best effect. A poll that is biased in my favor does me no good whatever. It may make the base feel warm and fuzzy and give the media things to debate about, but it doesn't help me win the campaign.

        I may poll mostly for Democrats either because I am connected into the party network, I prefer their policy foundation or I detest the Republican policy foundation, but none of that means that I am going to automatically bias my poll. If I am good at polling and interested in an accurate result, I design a poll that provides accurate answers, not rosy results. And knowing my personal proclivities, I build in checks to the sampling and questions that mitigate any bias.

        Perhaps you don't think that a conscientious pollster exists. But in fact people can, with intent, overcome bias and achieve honest and accurate results, and people can desire and demand honest and accurate results because they actually want to gain a grasp of reality rather than a rosy fortune-teller forecast.

        •  You are not going to bias your poll, but your poll (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DSPS owl

          may be biased because of you.

          Bias requires no conscious effort. It is the end result of our beliefs and our experiences -- it infuses the way we think and the way we look at things. We can consciously try to correct for our bias, but we are incapable of escaping it.  Likely as not, we don't even see it.

          To consciously manipulate your polls for a certain result is not an act of bias -- it is an act of dishonesty or propaganda, though bias may be a motivator.

          LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

          by dinotrac on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 09:57:49 AM PST

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          •  You seem to be missing the point (0+ / 0-)

            willfully or not, the point being that you must manipulate your polls in order to achieve accuracy - if you don't correct for error in sampling and question design, you will not be accurate and your results will be skewed, perhaps by bias, perhaps by ineptness.

            The other point being that you can, in fact, correct for pollster bias and honest pollsters do. The dishonesty is in skewing polls for a particular result, not correcting to achieve accuracy.

            An opinion or a bias does not automatically make people incapable of honesty and it does not render all polls skewed away from accuracy. The simple fact of a poll getting consistently accurate results sort of underlines that fact.

            •  I understand that very well. (0+ / 0-)

              I also understand about correcting for bias.
              And, maybe -- maybe -- you'll even get it right a decent part of the time.

              This is not about honesty. That is something different.  This is about people.  Unless, of course, you believe pollsters are somehow exempt from the frailties of humanity.  That would be dishonest.

              LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

              by dinotrac on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 06:48:40 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Not all eyes are closed. (0+ / 0-)

            Avoiding unconscious bias is something professional pollsters (and others after the truth, like scientists and traditional journalists) learn as a specific skill. It takes a particular set of practices and a certain personality to do well, but many people know how to get the correct answer regardless of their own preference.

            The attitude you express is common in news reporting today, and among conservative and evangelical propagandists. It's in not surprising to see it repeated here. It would depress me horribly to think that there is no escape from such mendacity.

            •  Yes, I understand that. (0+ / 0-)

              I also believe that the attitude you express -- an unwavering faith that the calculations will fix it all -- more than a little bit naive.

              It's all worth doing.
              Good people do the best they can.
              That, however, is all they can do.

              LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

              by dinotrac on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 06:51:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  It's about the results you release (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      De Re Rustica

      If you are hired to do internal polls, you can definitely be accurate. The problem is, your most accurate polls may show bad news for the candidate and the results never leave their campaign office. Now, if they go and brag and release your results, they're obviously favorable. This could harm your perceived accuracy heavily, as only polls favorable to the candidates that hire you ever see the light of day (despite being appreciated by the candidate either way, as all results show information they need to know).

      If you were typically contracted by republican candidates this year, most of the results of yours that ended up published were probably your wronger ones, because all your ones that were accurate were left in the campaign HQ, never to be seen by the public.

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