Please, dear Jeebus, let it all be over soon.
So, while I was drinking coffee this morning, I turned on the CBS morning show to see what they’d have to say about Sweet SweetBarack’s prime-time address last night. Before they got to that topic, however, they were talking about polls. Harry Smith, Julie Chen, and the collection of other empty suits mentioned that Senator Obama is “ahead in most polls.” Then they cut to a segment in which the reporter uttered the same phrase.
Excuse me? Ahead in most polls?
Obama is ahead ineverysinglefuckingnationalpoll, and has been for a month and a half. Saying that he leads in “most polls” is like saying an undefeated team has won most of its games. Is this some of that bullshit “objectivity” that the major news organizations like to claim they exhibit? It’s not bias to say the following: Shit looks bad for McCain. Real bad. In fact, he hasn’t even gotten to 50% in any of the national polls (with the exception of one USA Today/Gallup pollwhich was almost certainly an outlier).
That ain’t bias. That’s a fact.
But the dumbassery didn’t stop there. Oh, no.
These halfwits went on to talk about how, in some state polls, John McCain is within the margin of error! It’s true! So, and this was their example, even though Obama is up seven points in Ohio, due to the four-point margin of error, it could be a tie! Really! Trust us!
Come the fuck on. If you’re up by seven points in a poll of 600 people (the size of most state polls), it’s almost impossible for that to be a tie. Kevin Drum addressed all of this in 2004, and he did it pretty well. So I think I’ll let him handle it again.Take it away, Kevin:
TheGlobe and Mail reported this [49-47 Kerry-Bush poll] as a “statistical tie”
because Kerry’s 2% lead is within the poll’s margin of error (MOE) of
3%. This in turn is based on the theory that (a) statistical results
are credible only if they are at least 95% certain to be accurate, and
(b) any lead less than the MOE is less than 95% certain.
There are two problems with this: first, 95% is not some kind of
magic cutoff point, and second, the idea that the MOE represents 95%
certainty is wrong anyway. A poll’s MOEdoes represent a 95% confidence interval for each individual’s percentage, but itdoesn’t represent a 95% confidence for the difference between the two, and that’s what we’re really interested in.
In fact, what we’rereally interested in is the probability
that the difference is greater than zero — in other words, that one
candidate is genuinely ahead of the other. But this probability isn’t a
cutoff, it’s a continuum: the bigger the lead, the more likely that
someone is ahead and that the result isn’t just a polling fluke. So
instead of lazily reporting any result within the MOE as a “tie,” which
is statistically wrong anyway, it would be more informative to just go
ahead and tell us how probable it is that a candidate is really ahead.
As a service to humanity, here’s a table that tells you:
So in the poll quoted above, how probable is it that Kerry is really
ahead? The MOE of the poll is 3%, so go to the top row. Kerry’s lead is
2%, which means there’s a 75% probability that he’s genuinely ahead of
Bush (i.e., that his lead in the poll isn’t just due to sampling error).
Now, there are plenty of reasons other than sampling error to take
polls with a grain of salt: they’re just snapshots in time, the results
are often sensitive to question wording or question ordering, it’s
increasingly hard to get representative samples these days, etc. etc.
But from a pure statistical standpoint, a lead is a lead and it’s
always better to be ahead than behind.
So: how about if the media gets itself out of the mythical
“statistical tie” business and just reports the actual probabilities
instead? The table above does all the heavy lifting, and all it takes
is a5-line Excel spreadsheet if you want more precision. Simple.
See? It’s not that hard.
I know the news people have a “horse race” narrative that they love to push, and conventional wisdom is that blowouts aren’t fun to watch (and, as we all know, fewer eyeballs on screens means lower ad revenue). But shit. Call ’em like you see ’em.
I hope that in January, after Mount Rushmore has been re-carved with the faces of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jeremiah Wright, and Aretha Franklin; after “Fuck tha Police” becomes the new national anthem; after all cigarettes are outlawed except for Kools and Newports; after we’ve all been forced to become Commie Muslim atheists; after President Obama hands the nuclear launch codes to al-Qaeda; after abortions are not only fully funded but mandatory; after Rastus Odinga Odinga becomes Secretary of State; and after we’ve all been interned in Learn How To Hate Whitey camps–after all of that, I hope that Caliph Obama Marx X institutes some serious statistical
re- education programs, so we won’t ever have to deal with this kind of stupid again.
I would have said that we’d have Huey Newton, Nat Turner, and Stokely Carmichael on our money, but of course we won’t need any money in our coming Worker’s Paradise, now will we, Comrade?