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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pushing The Poll Limits

I've always stated that public opinion polls are nothing more than data manifested from a person's "feelings" on any given issue during any given news cycle. The later is the most prominent factor in this, as the modern cable news outlets are either taping into what is happening in Wisconsin from a pure visceral level or they are blandly reporting on it.

Cable news programs hosted by the likes of O'Donnell, Maddow, Schultz, Hannity, Beck, and O'Reilly are all opinion programs - Well, the first three will state without equivocation that they are opinion programs - but the fact still remains that a lot of people base their standpoints on another person's opinion. What I would have like to have seen from the NYT/CBS sample data regarding Unions in America is where they get their news from - particularly the MSNBC/Fox"News" split.

Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air tries to crunch the numbers:

First, the partisan split in the sample gave a ten-point advantage to Democrats. Their sample for this poll had a D/R/I split of 36/26/31, an absurd sample for political polling. In December, Rasmussen’s general-population survey put Republicans ahead, 36.0% to 34.7% for Democrats.

I'm trying to figure out why Morrissey considers this an "absurd" sample, as the modern American Right have been claiming that the "independent" voter in America is against things like public sector unions. By their own metric, the NYT/CBS poll looked at responses from a larger Independent set than Republican; and only 5 percentage points separate the I's from the D's. Moreover, since the modern American Right insists that "independents" vote largely along the same lines at Republicans, this actually puts the Democrats at a 21% disadvantage.

But then again, I'm just going by what people like Morrissey have been claiming.

While Ed does go on to harp about the percentage of Union employees that were polled, there's some data that he is ignoring; chief of which is as follows:

- A majority of those polled claim their political alignment to be more Moderate or Conservative.

- A majority are not supporters of the Tea Bagger movement while approximately an average of 17% claim no affiliation or opinions of the group.

- The split between the lower and upper age ranges are negligible, as is household income and highest educational level earned.

But Morrissey's final statement at least hints that he knows he just splitting hairs with this one:

The gaps in the results are wide enough that these issues by themselves might not have swung them to the opposite. However, at least the magnitude of the results can certainly be questioned in a poll this flawed.

Flawed in the sense that he isn't being given what he expected? I would largely say yes, as Morrissey is want to denounce any poll that isn't conducted by Rassmussen - who only polls "likely voters" and uses a methodology that only contacts people with "land line" service. Talk about flawed.

But the larger point goes back to the fact that a poll is never going to show you precisely how a person is going to act, simply how they feel at that particular moment in time based off the way they process the information they have available to them, which is primarily from Cable news outlets.

And speaking of ridiculous polls being pushed by the modern American Right, check this out. It's touted as the "real Tea Party Straw Poll".

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