Homers

Heard about the polls?  Sure you have.  Even if you have no interest in the polls, even if you hate them, the news has been full of reports from all sorts of agencies and groups, some of whom you may never had heard of, and some you frankly should ignore.  This is because the news depends on viewers and readers for their revenue, and a tight election – in theory – keeps their attention.  Polls serve the narrative, because you can’t tell if the poll is right or wrong until after the election.  That’s not to say the polling agencies are dishonest, for the most part at least, because polling groups are businesses and need to be reasonably accurate to be able to attract clients.  But polls are not all the same, and even where they share common ground, sometimes you would be wise to be skeptical.

Let’s start with the obvious.  If I put out a poll on the election and asked, say 600 men but only 400 women their opinions, you’d reject my findings as out of balance, because we all know even without checking the history that men and women vote in roughly equal numbers.  So a poll that did not balance men and women would not be reasonable.  Similarly, I could hardly call my poll reasonable for a national election if 80% of the people contacted were in, say, California and New York.  Or if my respondents were all white, or had some mix that was not in-line with census numbers for race.

You get the idea.  Any poll which is not a reasonable sample of the actual public is not a valid poll.

With that in mind, the fact that a majority of state polls and a fair number of national polls have weighted political affiliation rather heavily in Obama’s favor is odd, to say the least.  Now yes, it is true that in 2008 Democrats represented 37 percent of the voters, seven full points more than the dispirited Republicans of that year.  So, some people will say the polls are simply reflecting the last Presidential election.  However, the polls in 2008 did not weight party affiliation according to the 2004 turnout, nor did the polls in 2004 use 2000 as a baseline for their weighting.  What’s more, the 2010 mid-term elections demonstrated a rather drastic shift in party participation, as Republicans showed up in large numbers and with great energy.  Ignoring that election seems to be, well, short-sighted.  Let’s also not forget the novelty of 2008.  Obama ran as the first black candidate from a major political party, surely worth political capital in 2008 but hardly the same impact now.  The economy is also a problem for Obama, and while his supporters may stand by him in the main, it’s frankly inconceivable that he would gain support on that point.  But what’s even stranger, is that some of these polls are handing Obama an ever greater advantage in party participation than he enjoyed in 2008.  There is absolutely no empirical basis whatsoever for such a weighting.  It’s misleading, it’s deliberate, and frankly the polls doing so risk humiliation if they – as seems likely – are proven wrong.

The question here is just why they would do something so, well, dumb.  The effect of the weighting is obvious; it’s not hard to expect that Democrats will largely vote for Obama while Republicans will largely vote for Romney, so fudging the weights will obviously change the outcome.  The reason it’s dumb is two-fold – first, it’s not hard to observe that if Romney is leading among Independents in a battleground state (which by definition is not automatically Democrat or Republican in the main), then saying Obama is winning is just plain dishonest, an obvious lie, and second, when the election results are known, the lie will not only be obvious, it will be a matter of record.

Some folks, like our friends over at Pew Research, like to claim that there’s no reason to use party affiliation weighting.  Their explanation is that however folks respond is a fair representation of voter enthusiasm.  Certainly that helps explain the strong pro-Democrat weighting in 2008.  But there’s no evidence that’s always the case, and anyway, we’d laugh at Pew if they ignored other demographic weights on the basis that interest in answering a poll reflected accurate representation in the voter pool.  It’s lazy and intellectually dishonest to pretend so.  Also, Walter Mitofsky, who pioneered political polling as we know it, candidly admitted that Democrats are “chronically” over-sampled in polls.  He suggested it might have to do with the personality of Democrats versus Republicans, but in any case the bias is documented, and every responsible polling group knows it.

Yet, yet, yet.  I still don’t buy into conspiracy theories, not least because it makes no sense for a polling group to pretend someone is winning when they know he is losing.  Especially if doing so produces no financial benefit for the company, and instead would damage their reputation for accuracy and integrity.  And make no mistake, if Romney wins by a big margin, as could very well happen, then those polls which went out of their way to make Obama look stronger than he is, are in for a hard time of it.  They won’t be able to make the excuse that no one saw it coming, or that their hands are clean.  So why be stupid like this?

They’re homers.  That’s why.

I don’t mean the polling groups want Barack Obama to win, exactly.  Rather, these groups are engaging in an unconscious groupthink, based in their own demographics.  Back in 2008, I pointed out a reason for liberal bias in polling.  It has to do with their home ground.  Below, is a list of major polling groups from the 2008 election and their headquarters addresses:

ABC News 77 W 66th St, #13, New York City, New York
CBS News 524 W 57th St, New York City, New York
FOX News 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, New York
Gallup 901 F St NW, Washington DC
Hotline 88 Pine St, 32nd floor, New York City, New York
IBD 12655 Beatrice St. Los Angeles, California
The Los Angeles Times 202 W 1st St, Los Angeles California
Marist Institute 3399 North Rd, Poughkeepsie, New York
Mason-Dixon 1250 Connecticut Ave #200, Washington DC
Newsweek 251 W 57th St, New York City, New York
The New York Times 1 City Hall, New York City, New York
Pew Research Center 1615 L St NW, #700, Washington DC
Quinnipiac 275 Mount Carmel Ave., Hamden Connecticut
Rasmussen 625 Cookman, #2, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Reuters 3 Times Square, New York City, New York
Survey USA 15 Bloomfield Ave., Verona New Jersey
TIPP 690 Kinderkamack Rd, Oradell, New Jersey
Washington Post 1150 15th St NW, Washington DC
Zogby 901 Broad St, Utica, New York

See the trend?

Two Left Coast outfits, and the rest well into Blue-State territory.  They live, work, and operate in an environment where balance and critical thinking, at least in political terms, does not exist and is punished when discovered.  Not a single group based in, say, Kansas, Texas, or Wyoming, or in more balanced states like Iowa, Missouri, or Ohio.  The bias is unavoidable, yet these guys never see it, because for them ‘normal’ is what for us means leaning left.

This also explains why many of these polls have not done what they usually do, make a last-week adjustment to get closer to the actual condition: the heavy storm knocked operations for a loop, and they are stuck with their garbage releases.   It’s too late to nudge things back to actual numbers.

So this seems hinky, but it really can be unconscious behavior.  Back when I officiated sports, I noticed how homers think and act, and what struck me early on, was that even the most outrageous homer believed he was reasonable and balanced; he simply did not perceive the other perspective.  Sports fans may not seem like a good model for a media professional, but I ran into the same effect with coaches and school officials.  If you don’t get out and travel, you can end up with a very limited view of what’s really going on.

The thing that strikes me about polls, and it reinforces this problem, is that the polling is often done by firms hired by these media outlets, but the press release comes from the media guys, and specifically from their head office.  So, it’s very likely to me that these polls are performed professionally at the field level, then massaged at the high level to produce the desired report.  It’s not at all that these people are trying to deceive you.  They just know what results they expect, and make sure the report is in line with those expectations.  Strange as it may sound, they may be just as surprised next Tuesday night as Mr. Axelrod and his crew.

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Posted by on November 1, 2012.
Filed under 2012 Presidential Race, Politics.
DJ Drummond holds an MBA with a concentration in Accounting, and has worked in Finance/Credit for 13 years, with 17 years of Operations Management experience before that. He writes on political, religious, and cancer-related issues, with the occasional foray into satire and snark.

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  • Carl

    Yeah, where they live means they aren’t fair. Never mind that Rasmussen and Fox News polls lean right while some other lean left, and they’re all from the same regions.

    “They’re homers. That’s why.”

    Oh, stunning analysis there…. They’re biased because they aren’t from rural areas and they’re “homers”….

    What an idiot.

    • retired.military

      Carl

      I see that they located a picture your head xray. Hope they didnt violate any HIPA laws doing it.

      • djdrummond

        Let’s be nice, r.m.. If that’s all Carl could come with after reading the post, he’s got real issues and limits. Probably needs the nice union volunteer to help him decide how to vote, where he can work, how to eat, walk, poop, etc.

        Shewt, he probably had to have someone read the post to him, but he lost track early on.

        • retired.military

          DJ

          I was being nice.

        • http://www.facebook.com/RFA3936 Robert Alexander

          Sure glad to see you here DJ. You need to come around more often. Your input on the polls is normally spot on.

        • Carl

          Oh look – a real life Homer!

      • jim_m

        Can’t be his. Brain is too big.

    • Rdmurphy42

      Fox News poll tends to lean more left than most of them. You obviously don’t look at polls much …

  • retired.military

    I am so tired of polls and election commercials.
    I am in Texas, watching CW and getting to watch MD election commercials for crap on their ballot.
    Weds cant get here fast enough.

    • Conservachef

      At least we’ll get, what, maybe 6 months rest before we start hearing about the next election? State and local especially- I figure we have a year before people start floating names for 2016.

  • 914

    Not trying to be offensive but the first thing I thought of with that picture was your average hope and change believer. Like carl for instance.

  • Wild_Willie

    The poll I take is going about my life. I hear more people openly stating their vote. For Romney. I have overheard to conversations in restaurants where the couples were talking about not being able to wait until Obama is out of office.
    My wife and I were talking about this and I reminded her that in 1980 we went out to dinner with friends and were planning to take the party to one of our houses to watch the election returns. We got home at 7:30, turned on the TV and found out it was over. Reagan wiped the floor with Carter. But all the polls for weeks were talking about it being an even race and unpredictable. I have that same feeling now. ww

    • TomInCali

      This is the same kind of anti-science, anti-math philosophy that people like you offer on climate change. There’s no global warming because it’s cold in your town. Obama won’t win because people on your street are voting for Romney. Others understand that there’s a whole country (or world) outside your bubble.

      • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

        Yes, there is. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Or that he’s right. I’m thinking, judging by the numbers, that he’s going to be a lot more right than wrong.

        BTW, about AGW and ‘anti-science’, ‘anti-math’… Take a look at an engineering assessment of the data used to push AGW.

        http://rps3.com/Files/AGW/EngrCritique.AGW-Science.v4.3.pdf

        Burt Rutan’s a man who lives or dies by accurate analysis of mathematical models – because they’re turned into physical equipment that, if made incorrectly, will kill the occupants. He’s not a ‘climate scientist’, but he can look at stats and judge their validity. And he was eco-correct long before it was fashionable.

        AGW pushers toss out theory and computer models as reality and tend to limit baseline time frames so their numbers come out right. And isn’t it odd how the solutions always seem to favor big government projects and a massive scale-back on energy use?

        In my opinion, the AGW furor is simply another way for those who want to force people into doing what they consider the right things to gain control over as much as they can. And it worked… for a while. When you’re trumpeting a boiling-hot doomsday if you don’t repent and dump fossil fuels to save the planet, you’ll get folks to listen. And some of them will be influential.

        But the planet damn well better cooperate in the warming… and it hasn’t.

        Anyhow, slides 85 and 87 out of his summary…

        ———————

        Adaptation Works, Constraining fails
        •No up-front costs. Adapt only when the need is certain and focus expenses on the real need.
        •The optimum way to move quicker to alternate/renewable energy is to use our oil and coal faster, not slower. Drill it out and sell it to the world. The prosperity would allow quicker alternative energy development.
        •Technology products move quickly to the poor in a prosperous, free-market.
        •The poor stay poor and are joined by the rich in an energy-constrained, over-regulated environment.
        •The poor had no home air conditioning only 50 years ago.
        •We will need economic prosperity to fund development of new energy breakthroughs (deep geothermal, fusion, ZPE, TBD, etc).

        ——–

        #5 -Is it cheaper to constrain, than to adapt?

        No.

        It is possible to constrain energy use with taxes/fees. But, even if imposed, it is not possible to significantly change climate. An energy-constrained economy will not allow the economic growth to fund technical solutions for adaptation or solutions for control, if they are discovered in the future.

        Those that forecast seem to forget that with people come minds-Minds that innovate to adapt to changes. We are no longer Cavemen.

        ———————–

        This is science. This is math. Rutan deals in reality and practical solutions, not eco-fantasy which postulates an unlimited budget to fulfill the dreams of the AGW believers. Is he anti-math, and anti-science? Or is that just a convenient label you use when someone disagrees with your beliefs?

        • TomInCali

          Yes, there is. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Or that he’s right.

          I didn’t say he’s either. The worst I’d say is that he’s irrational.

          And I’m not getting into an AGW debate with you. At least you’re attempting to base your position on what you believe to be logic and science, rather than how it looks outside your window this morning.

          • jim_m

            You will find that most people here are trying to base their opinion on facts. It is the warmists who drop by and carry on about the current weather who are doing exactly what you are complaining about.

          • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

            Believe to be?

            Well, thanks for that much, anyway…
            ;-)

      • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

        BTW, think the whole AGW thing ISN’T about control? I’ll grant you that there’s true-believers signing on because they’re seriously worried – but in the end, it’s about making sure you do what you’re supposed, to.

        http://proteinwisdom.com/?p=44992

        And if you don’t – you’ll be taxed like crazy. For your own good.

        As I posted below from Rutan’s presentation – “An energy-constrained economy will not allow the economic growth to fund technical solutions for adaptation or solutions for control, if they are discovered in the future.”

        That’s not a bug to the AGW folks… that’s a highly prized feature. Solutions aren’t wanted – they know what needs to be done.

  • Paul Hooson

    Here’s a real “Homer” right here. A simple reason why one candidate will likely lose the election on Tuesday. I’ve got a new piece over at Wizbang Pop that simply states this premise, “If the people who know you, won’t vote for you, you can’t win an election”. And, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are on the unfortunate losing side of that question right now. A candidate who wants to be elected president needs to win their home state. It’s just that simple. Al Gore, for example lost his home state of Tennessee in 2000, costing him the election(his loss in Florida wasn’t why he lost the election). Even Walter Mondale won his home state of Minnesota in his landslide loss to Ronald Reagan in 1984. And Jimmy Carter was able to at least win his home state of Georgia in his landslide electoral vote loss to Reagan in 1980. But, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern and Al Gore are all famous election losers who just couldn’t win their home state.
    Mitt Romney likely loses the election on Tuesday because he loses his home state of Michigan and also Massachusetts where he was Governor for one term. Romney’s opposition to the auto-bailout only helped to seal this loss in both Michigan and also Ohio, and is the key issue that will likely cost him the election. Further, Paul Ryan looks highly unlikely to be able to deliver Wisconsin to the Romney ticket either. Romney likely wins the popular vote nationwide by around 500,000 – 700,000 votes, but loses the election in the electoral college by a 290-248 margin to Obama at this point, unless things drastically change by Tuesday.
    This is actually the first time in American history that a Republican candidate likely will win the popular vote, but lose the election in the electoral college. Three other times in American history, Democrats have won the popular vote, but lost the election in the electoral college in disputed elections. At some point, many Americans might consider doing away with the electoral college where a national appeal to voters might seem more reasonable. On the other hand, the voters in a number of noncompetitive states have been spared most political ads, and might just like things the way they are.

    • djdrummond

      Thanks Paul. You’ve reminded me of a post I need to put up, why it is IMPOSSIBLE For Romney to win the popular vote this year and still lose the election.

      • Paul Hooson

        Hello DJ. Actually I’ve been shifting through the latest figures from polls this afternoon, and it now looks likely that Romney could lose both the popular vote as well as the electoral college. Hurricane Sandy has shifted most popular vote polls of likely voters towards Obama in this late stage of the campaign.

        The Romney Campaign also made a number of fatal strategic errors that will more likely than not cost him the election on Tuesday:

        1. Ohio and Michigan. Romney chose to pander to some conservatives who opposed the auto bailout TARP on ideological rather than common sense grounds. TARP actually made substantial interest for the Treasury Department as well as saved both GM and Chrysler and jobs at both companies. It was a win-win-win proposition, yet Romney put himself on the wrong side of this issue and the wrong side of autoworkers, where Romney now has little to no hope of winning Ohio or Michigan, his home state. Any issue position that would shut out the electoral votes of both critical states made Romney’s road to the White House nearly impossible.

        Further, Romney’s campaign organization knew how critical Ohio was to being elected, yet only opened just 39 field offices in the state compared to over 130 for the Obama Campaign. This poor organization from someone who claims to know how to manage a business was very shortsighted.

        2. Romney and Ryan are unable to deliver their home states. Paul Ryan’s chief role in the campaign should have been enough popularity to win his home state of Wisconsin, but likely this won’t happen. Further, Romney will lose both his home state of Michigan as well as Massachusetts where he was a one term governor. As a rule you cannot be elected if you cannot even win your home state. I don’t know of a single president ever elected who failed to win their home state.

        3. Romney is wasting valuable last resources and time campaigning in Pennsylvania, a state he is highly unlikely to win as a sort of “Hail Mary” pass to counter his expected electoral losses in both Michigan and Ohio.

        4. Hurricane Sandy is shifting late poll numbers a little bit towards Obama right now. That’s a bad trend for Romney this late in the game.

        5. No Republican candidate for president this year had a clear electoral path to winning the election. The math just wasn’t in their favor this year unless the economy was really so bad that many of Obama’s 2008 states would reject him. Romney was the most electable of the failed group of Republican candidates, but had the above electoral flaws that I’ve cited here including the inability to win his home state or Massachusetts.

        6. Many of the undecided voters this late in the campaign will chose not to vote rather than swing behind either candidate. This means that Romney likely only picks up slightly more of the undecided voters than Obama among these voters who actually choose to vote.

        7. The polls likely aren’t that wrong. A few very close states like New Hampshire or Colorado could certainly present a little drama on Tuesday, but not enough to put Romney over the top.

        The net result of this is a likely Obama win on the order of 290 electoral votes to 248 for Romney, and a possible Obama popular vote margin of something less than 500,000 votes nationwide. Unless Romney can change this math by Tuesday, he loses.