Thursday, September 30, 2004

Polling the trolls, or Polls Schmolls Part II

We shall have to be fast as The Debate: Grudge Match Part One is set to begin in just over an hour and it is surely going to be more captivating than this season of the Apprentice. (Since we don't actually watch television credit for this comparison goes out to our pop culture consultant, who watches tv so we don't have to). First up:

The Spinmeister Alert Today Is:
Fiery and Eternally Red Hot Under The Tuckus

Because claiming to know what God is thinking strikes us as the kinda grandiose thinking that'll get you a nice spot under a thorny tree by the river of flaming and boiling oil. We're thinking that His working in mysterious ways has something to do with His thoughts being so awesome as to be beyond mere human comprehension. We imagine His thoughts on humans claiming to know His ways might perhaps elicit a reaction in the afterworld something like the reactions of the Giant Squid, only righteous and holy and stuff. We don't imagine too much, though, for fear that the imagining might be construed as thinking we know about the Master Plan and its orchestra of instruments. And then we might get smited. Even if we "purport (these beliefs) to be the product of "independent research," uncoordinated with the Bush-Cheney campaign."

Oh yes, it really is that bad.

Now on to the polls!!

The WP had an article in Tuesday's edition with the results of a poll the paper had conducted with ABC under the headline Polls Show Bush With Solid Lead.

Okay, polls make us want to rent our robes and gnash our teeth and pull out our hair because we believe that they don't actually tell us anything, but that people do react to them in very silly ways- like giving up hope or voting on pack mentality. We have also had suspicions that these polls are not getting a good or even a reasonably representative sample. As we have mentioned before all of us who only have cell phones and no land line will never be contacted by a polling organization (all telemarketing is barred from calling cell phones). But when we looked at this survey we noted that it was targeted at "likely voters."

Who are likely voters? How is the likelihood of their voting determined? Are they asked? Or is this based on previous behavior (i.e. voting in the last presidential election)? If it is that latter then no one under the age of 22 could have been asked anything. Nor would anyone who registered this year in order to vote in this election have been asked. And there are record numbers of registrations. The registration offices in Pittsburgh can't keep up. And record numbers in Ohio, even if there are dirty tricks afoot.

But what if the polls were designed to elicit a particular demographic? What if the most famous pollster thought this: "The most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,' 'When I ask a question on these subjects, what I'm always trying to find out is, Are we doing the will of God?"

Those are the words of George Gallup Jr. after giving the spring commencement speech at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Yes, of the Gallup poll. The one that conducts polls for CNN and USAToday.

He might want to pray for some methodological guidance, as it appears his representative sample of "likely voters" (that wonderfully amorphous category) was more representative of Republicans than of Democrats. "Gallup was criticized for including 7 percent more Republicans in its "likely voter" poll than Democrats. According to the liberal blog The Left Coaster, the latest Gallup survey is even more out of whack -- this time, Repulicans have a 12-point advantage."

So what have we learned? That when you ask more Republicans who they are going to vote for you can report that the "instrument of God" candidate has a 13 point lead.

Even so, you can't call Ohio just yet. Better still, you can't call any of it just yet. At the end of the day, the only poll that counts is the one that will be tallyed on November 2nd. In the meantime, we're going to go open a bottle of wine and watch the debate.


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