Statistics 101: Presidential Polls…and Toilet Paper Rolls..Share Common Use

Has anyone ever taken a statistics class? It is quite apparent that most average reporters skipped that class or it was an elective. Look on any site tracking the run for the White House in 2008 and you will find a poll. Each poll will claim someone is in the lead. The problem here is 2 fold, sample size and margin for error.

Sample size: Don’t they teach this right after handing out the syllabus? If you only ask 2000 people in the USA who they are voting for, I would suggest flipping a quarter instead. many of these so called polls are from 5000 to 2000 people. (All of who are people who weren’t smart enough to to not answer the phone when an unknown caller rang.) The average voter or American won’t pick up the phone for you. If they actually do go thru a poll online, it means they want to, and they probably have an agenda. How else would you explain 4% voting for Ron Paul or the 2% for Bob Barr. Hell. Bob Barr. What was he bored?  The sample size of these polls, make them worthless from the get go. The challenges of polling are great, and in the age of caller ID and masked IP’s the results are hardly a valid snapshot. As any 1st year collegian will tell you.

% of Error: I love looking for this one on any of the major polls. It is strangely missing. You will find it sometimes, but when you need a number, people like numbers, you give it to them. The smaller the sample size the higher rate of error. Other factors come into this evil little number, but we will keep it simple. When you see candidate X with 44% of the vote and candidate Y with 46% the % of error becomes pretty damn important. We have news agencies claiming a 1 or 2 point lead for either candidate every night now. Forget the fact that normally the error rate for this is anywhere between +/- 2 to 7%. I am not knocking on the pollsters…hold on yes I am. While this may be your job to put out the polls, when you can find no definable leader, just say you don’t know. The race is up in the air here folks. All that needs to be said.

So in closing. If you are looking to find out who is winning. Wait till November. Go vote and wait for the results. Use the paper for something useful, not polls, and don’t forget to flush. To quote my favorite author.

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Mark Twain


~ by gotea on September 4, 2008.

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