The Other McCain

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The Expert Agrees: Polls Are Crap! BONUS: @ESantorum2012 in Hawaii

Posted on | March 13, 2012 | 13 Comments

Nate Silver of the New York Times shows a surprising humility in explaining the limitations of polling, particularly with the situation we’re facing in Alabama and Mississippi: We don’t have what you might call “data depth.” Unlike the early states (e.g., Iowa or South Carolina), we don’t have a long string of polls, several every week by different agencies, to develop a clear trendline. We also had enough polls in Michigan and Ohio and various other Super Tuesday states so that the trendline was pretty clear there, too. In Mississippi and Alabama, however — as I’ve previously pointed out — there’s not  enough data to say anything beyond “too close to call.”

Also, something else I’ve pointed out before, polls are a lagging indicator. It usually takes several days after a shift of opinion for it to start showing up in polls, which is why the Santorum surge in Iowa caught everybody — well, nearly everybody — by surprise. If Santorum’s win in Kansas gave him a late boost, we won’t know it until they count the votes tonight. Meanwhile, remember that Elizabeth Santorum is in Hawaii campaigning for her father. A news report from Honolulu:

When it comes to Presidential politics, Santorum’s daughter, Elizabeth, thinks Father knows best. “I hear from a lot of people, you know, this is Obama’s home state. What are you doing here?” says the 20 year old daughter. “Hawaii’s important to us, and every state along the way brings something to our country.”

Here’s the video:

It will be the wee hours in the morning before we know how the 17 delegates at stake in the Hawaii caucuses will be apportioned. The important thing is, when the TV talking heads try to spin any unexpected results as a “surprise” or an “upset,” ask yourself this question: Why was the result so unexpected? Why are these supposed experts on TV always trying to tell us that the actual vote numbers are some kind of shocking surprise, just because they don’t match the numbers in a poll taken last week? Welcome to the Information Age, where you can read the same polls that they’re reading and make up your own mind, without experts telling you what to think.


13 Responses to “The Expert Agrees: Polls Are Crap! BONUS: @ESantorum2012 in Hawaii”

  1. Finrod Felagund
    March 13th, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

    I’ll make my prediction for Alabama and Mississippi– they will both come out the same, and in this order: Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Paul.

  2. Adjoran
    March 13th, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

     Agree that there hasn’t been enough polling to be reliable (there is probably an issue of respondents in those states, too) and that both states will be close. 

    This may be the first time in electoral history that primaries in Alabama and Mississippi actually have an influence on the contest in either party.

  3. Steve
    March 13th, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    >” there’s not  enough data to say anything beyond “too close to call.””

    There enough data to say more than that.

    We know how the delegates in these states are allocated – proportionally. We have a pretty good idea of what proportion of the vote the candidates will probably get. So we can say with a high degree of certainty that the candidates overall totals will increase by a roughly equal amount for each man, and also that the relative difference between them will stay pretty much the same.  Romney’s lead in delegates is going to be pretty much the same after the results for these two states com in.

    Of course if you don’t care about such mundane details as delegate counts and are interested in a creating a “narrative”,  then it does make a difference which candidate “wins” a state in the sense of getting a plurality of the popular vote.

  4. Steve
    March 13th, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

    >”they will both come out the same, and in this order: Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Paul.”

    That may well be. It won’t make much difference if it’s that, or Santorum, Gingrich, Romney, Paul. Or Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul.

    Unless somebody gets about 50% of the popular vote, this really comes down to bragging rights.  Somebody will win some state by 35% vs 33% for the guy in second and various scribes will read great importance into this, and the candidate with the 35% will claim that this says all sorts of things about him and his campaign. It really won’t though.

  5. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 13th, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

    Steve:  gut reaction or some basis for that line up?  Just curious.  

  6. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 13th, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

    I agree that with proportional states, we will not see a lot of change from today.  These  votes today are sort of like a hybrid T-ball game with someone getting bragging rights at the end.  

  7. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    March 13th, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    Finrod:  Same question I asked Steve–data or gut reaction (or both?)

  8. Finrod Felagund
    March 13th, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

    Combination of both.  What little polling data we have shows Santorum behind both Gingrich and Romney a bit, with Paul way behind, and I don’t believe that Romney is going to win either state.

  9. Steve
    March 13th, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

     I’m quoting Finrod, not making a prediction.

    The only prediction I’m going to make is that it will make very little real difference whether Romney wins Mississippi over Gingrich by two points, or Gingrich wins it over Romney by two points. Or Santorum wins it over them both by two points.

    If somebody can pull a big upset and crush his rivals by twenty points, THAT would make a difference.

  10. William_Teach
    March 13th, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

    So, Nate is telling us that his NY Times articles are on par with climate “science”, basically info that Madame Zelda tells us at the carnival? Good to know, Nate.

    At least until they start trotting out polls telling us how wonderful àwsome Obama is heading into November, attempting to create a self fulfilling prophecy.

  11. Adjoran
    March 13th, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

     It makes a difference to the people who write the big checks and the people who convince people to write big checks, and in the number of small donors you can attract.  Winners tend to get the psychological boost every time. 

    Even where delegates are dead even, it matters who wins a state.  Even when there are NO delegates at stake, as in Missouri or Minnesota, it matters who wins.  Even when the actual delegates won’t be apportioned until later, as in Iowa, Maine, and Washington, it matters.

    The only people who think winning doesn’t matter are the losers.

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