Monday, February 4, 2008

More Polls

OK, this primary on the democratic side is going to be a wild one (at least in the news). We have another “swing” with a poll. The CNN/Opinion Research Poll that was reported today has indicated that Obama has now “erased” a gap between himself and Clinton with one day to go. Compare this to a few months ago when Clinton had a “significant” lead over Obama. Meaning? Not much.

Here’s why. Although I appreciate that they state the current poll has a 4.5 point error rate and do not say he is now in the lead, it means little to nothing as to how things will shake out tomorrow. This is a national survey. So, they are again sampling from a population who may not even live in a state that will vote tomorrow, and even if he or she does, who knows if they will even vote in a primary. So, it means nothing to the amount of delegates that Obama or Clinton could pick up. But it sure makes for great headlines, which is the scary part. By dissecting each poll and showing these “wild swings” the media is creating news, not reporting it. For the casual observer, if they see this, they may decide to hitch themselves on the wagon of the winner and it may have a small effect on the outcome tomorrow.

Maybe more interesting is the vote in California, who is voting tomorrow. There was a large fluctuation between two weeks ago when Clinton had a double-digit lead to a poll on Sunday that shows an insignificant lead for Clinton (within the 4.5 points). How interesting is this? Not as interesting as they want it to seem. Could it be Oprah? Could it be Maria Shriver? Or could it just be bad sampling. I am still on point to say that a poll should not fluctuate this much within a two week period if the sampling is right (whether the premise, delivery or results of the poll is right or not.) Bottom line, anytime you are sampling from the same population there should not be such a fluctuation, even if you are asking the wrong thing. In my work, the first thing I look to when I see something like we see here is, “Did I get my sampling right?” “Am I asking the same questions from the same population?” In the case of these polls, I say probably not.

So, sorry, maybe Oprah isn’t responsible for such a wild swing after all. Who could be? Hmmm, didn’t Edwards just drop out in the last two weeks? A point that is lost on them I suppose…

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