Monday, November 06, 2006


Great Ace of Spades post on the flawed dynamics of polling.


We already know that these polls skew Democratic. They overstate Democratic support by five, six, seven, sometimes even ten raw points above Democrats' actual representation in the polling booths.

Why? Well, Dean Barnett says that liberals want to share their opinions, while conservatives have lives. That's, of course, a deliberately tendentious way to put it, but the fact of the matter is that poll respondants do tend to be those with an inordinate number of free time on their hands. The jobless, the inactive fraction of the elderly.

As well as those who are just all fired up to talk some politics to a stranger.

Who are these people all fired up to talk politics to a stranger? Perhaps this must-read New York Times article from a week or two ago yields a clue. Called "The Elephant In The Room," it notes the fact that friendships and coworker relationships are more and more strained over political differences.

While the New York Times strains to find Democrats who don't feel comfortable discussing politics with their conservative friends, most of the anecdotes are about "closet Republicans," Republicans who attempt to avoid political discussions and even lie about their beliefs due to the fear of ostracism by their eagerly-to-mock-Bush liberal friends.

I don't know if this is a nationwide phenomenon; I don't want to apply a Blue State bias to this. For all I know, the situation is reversed in more conservative parts of the country, with conservatives acting as the bullying smack-talkers and liberals hiding their views. But in the Northeast, I know for a fact it's common for Republicans to obfuscate their politics or even outright lie about them. Or, at least, attempt to deflect and avoid the topic entirely. And that it's the liberals who are always gung-ho to get into it.

After all, they've finally found one of those strange creatures called "conservatives" they've heard so much about. How can they pass on chance to interrogate this bizarre thing's alien mindset, and find the answer to the question that burns within them -- "What the Hell is wrong with you??!!"

Even if this situation were reversed in the South and heartland or mountain states, this effect would still cause a big skew in polling -- because it's not the South or heartland or mountain states where Republicans are in trouble. Almost exclusively, incumbent Republican congressmen are threatened in the Northeast and Midwest, from Yankee Connecticut through the farm and factory belt from Pennsylvania to Michigan. All blue, or at least blue-purple, areas.

I also wonder if conservatives are less willing to answer because of the economics of the situation After all, in answering these polls, you're providing a valuable service, gratis, to companies that are not, in fact, charities. They couldn't exist without the public being willing to give them the polling information they need, and yet do not pay for. "Jerry" from ARG doesn't come down to your place of employment and help you out for a half an hour with your job; why return the favor, then, for Jerry? If he wants to come down to your office, maybe you'd be more willing to talk politics while you both sort out your inventory figures.

A final bias may be due to the sorts of people asking the question. The 2004 election polls were skewed, most likely, because most exit pollsters were young college-age women. Now, you'd have to be pretty dumb not to know this is a demographic that skews left. And most people are nonconfrontational -- they'd rather not share their conservative opinions with someone they're pretty sure is very liberal. So again-- they self-select, or self-de-select. If polling questioners are largely women, or largely college-aged, or disproportionately minority, etc., people are just going to be less likely to say they're Republican (also known as "The Party Workin' Hard To Keep You Down.")

Yeah, it's pretty funny when you think about it. Youthful political volunteers with clipboards are generally to the left of Noam Chomsky, and regard Republicans with hatred and contempt. They are also dripping with youthful self-righteousness. Of course Republicans voters would enjoy shooting the breeze with them!

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