Archive for July, 2016

How To Read Political Polls

'No, I'm not going to stop back when you have an opinion.'

You’re on some web site looking at a screaming headline about the latest political poll. It might be trumpeting a double digit lead, or a narrow margin, or even a shift—all for or away from your preferred candidate. You get a bit tense. You want your guy* to win, of course. And you’d like the comfort of knowing right now that he will. You click on the link and are bombarded with numbers. Before you give up, and before you get buried, here’s what you need to know to understand such polls.

First, skip the headlines, the tables, and graphs. Start by looking for a text description of how the poll was taken. This is usually buried in the very last paragraph or even the footnotes. Sometimes, when a web site is summarizing someone elses poll, it isn’t even in the article and you have to follow a link to the original poll report. It will tell you how many people were surveyed, how the survey was conducted (online, cell phone, land line phone, in person), and what level of responder was included (likely voter, registered voter, adult)

Take, for example, the punchline from this NBC poll. The footnote reads:

The NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll was conducted online May 30 through June 5, 2016 among a national sample of 10,520 adults aged 18 and over, including 9,240 who say they are registered to vote. Respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Results have an error estimate of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points. For full results and methodology for this weekly tracking poll, please click here

So this is 10000+ people (a big sample) of adults, who are mostly registered to vote. So what’s with that last bit?

When a survey like this is taken, the first few questions go like this:
How old are you?
Are you registered to vote?
Did you vote in the last election?
How likely are you to vote in the next election?

To be a ‘likely’ voter you have to answer yes to question 3 and give one of the more positive answers to question 4 (i.e very or somewhat likely). When a poll is of registered voters, they answered yes to question 2, but not 3 and 4. When a person is just ‘Adult’, they answered no to question 2 and gave an age old enough to vote.

Now, why would you believe that the opinion of someone who is not going to vote is an accurate reflection of those that are? They aren’t, and polls of just registered voters are notoriously inaccurate. They will tell you they have a margin of error of some small percent. This is based on the number of people polled and reflects the accuracy for comparing to an equivalent sample (i.e. people who likely won’t vote). The polling agency is happy for you to misunderstand the margin of error as meaning its relation to how the election will turn out, but the two are unrelated. My rule of thumb: for polls of registered voters, take the margin of error and multiply by 5. That’s how much the result could really swing by.

Even worse are those who classify as ‘Adults’. So they aren’t registered and didn’t vote last time. They may run out and get registered…or may not. These tend to be younger, less interested, and more liberal people, so their presence usually skews a poll towards whatever liberal candidate or issue is being considered

Now take a look at this poll. The headline screams that Hillary is up 7. The final paragraph reads:

The Fox News Poll is conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R). The poll was conducted July 9-12, 2016, by telephone (landline and cellphone) with live interviewers among a sample of 601 Virginia registered voters selected from a statewide voter file and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points for the total sample.

But this item is in paragraph 3:

The good news for Trump is that among just those voters “extremely” interested, he’s up by three (45-42 percent). That’s driven by the fact that more Republicans (43 percent) than Democrats (38 percent) say they are extremely interested in the presidential election.

Okay, got that? Headline insists Hillary is up by 7, but for folks really double dog dare ya likely to vote, trump is up 3. But that can’t be the headline because it’s a subset of an already small sample size (survey was 600 people, remember). Good thing they didn’t ask more people.

As I was writing this, a battleground poll came out showing Trump up in Florida. It was a poll of likely voters and gave the first indication of what numbers are like when the simple deceits are not used. But there is still a nasty trick polling companies can use to skew the results of a poll of likely voters. I’ll use some silly numbers to make the point clearly:

suppose the poll included 100 likely voters, 20 of whom are democrats, 10 independents and 70 republicans. Their preferences go like this
Dems go 19 to 1 for Hillary
Independents go 7 to 3 for Hillary
Republicans got 60 to 10 for Trump

So if you put all those together, Trump is ahead 68 to 32. But of course that’s not how the election will turn out because those arent the demographics of the entire electorate or, more accurately, of the actual voters on that single election day. To fix the, the Polling agency has to predict what the composition of the election day turnout will be.

If they select 40%D, 20% I, 40% R, then scale the answers from those groups, the new poll result is Hillary 58 (38+14+6) and Trump 42 (2+6+34). Or they could wiggle their selection to anything they want and can make sound reasonable until they answers say what they (or their employers) think they should say.

In essence, the result of such a poll can still be faked, though the level of fakery is limited compared to other polls, assuming the fakery is to go unnoticed. You may, over time, find some polls that don’t do much fakery of this sort and trust them outright, but you must always consider each individually

So how do you know what the poll results really say? It’s actually quite simple. The candidates pay for unpublished polls that actually tell them the truth. The candidate who looks tense, angry and defensive, or who just changed their campaign strategy? They’re behind in the polls.

*using ‘guy’ for its familiar tone and simplicity, replace with gender-specific term of your choice, if you need to

Let’s Do The Math On Hillary’s Emails


In announcing the FBI would not indict Hillary Clinton, James Comey said her actions lacked intent.  This included her deletion of emails before delivering some emails to authorities.  So let’s do the math on that.
Hillary delivered about 65000 pages of emails in paper form.  This in itself was intentional resistance to the investigation, but never mind that.  No word on how many emails were on those 65000 pages, but given email chains include grand sequences of replies, it wold be a generous estimation to say only about 2 pages per email,  So let’s round it off to approximately 30000 emails delivered in paper form.
Comey says they found an additional 30000 emails, which included 110 classified emails.  So she basically delivered half of the known (thus far) emails.  Which means that there’s a 50% chance any given email would be deleted or delivered.  A coin toss.  1 chance in 2.
Now, there were 110 classified emails and every single one was deleted.  That is a series of coin tosses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could not match.  The chances of coming up heads on 110 consecutive coin tosses is 1 in 2 to the 110th power…well let’s simplify a little:
2 to the 10th is 1024 (AKA one K in computer speak).
2 to the 20th is 1024K or 1 Million and change (One M in computer speak)
and so on
2 to the 110th is approximately 1 decillion
In other words, it is more likely that the DNA test randomly matched OJ Simpson than that Hillary’s deletion of 100% of the classified emails was random.
And if it was not random, it was….
Go ahead, I’ll wait.  It’s a 4 syllable word.  Take all the time you need.
That’s right, “Intentional” is the word of the day.
By the way, remember the Iowa caucases where 6 districts had a precise tie and had to be settled by coin tosses?  And Hillary won all 6 over Bernie Sanders?  The odds of that are 1 in 64.  Child’s play to someone who works on Hillary’s scale of ‘luck’.

Democrat Lawlessness

As I think about yesterday’s announcement by head of the FBI that Hillary had done all the things she’d said she hadn’t, but would not be charged, my thoughts turned to the one time a liberal friend gave me an honest answer to a political question. The year was 2002.  Let me set the backdrop a bit before describing the question and answer.

The year was 2002, the month October.  George Bush had been President a little under 2 years.  The press had been doing full blown hatchet jobs on him for 2.5 years.  We were coming up on the midterm elections, where the incumbent party usually loses.  Democrats controlled the Senate but, to the shock of many, were looking to lose seats that year.  They were, in fact, expected to lose enough seats that Democrat control of the  Senate might be down to a 51-49 margin.
The incumbent Senator in New Jersey up for reelection was Bob Toricelli (aka The Torch).  Even in the highly liberal state of NJ, he was polling at about 35%—probably because he was under investigation for a slew of corruption charges.  Usually in such cases Democrats just hunker down and wait for the press to get interested in something else, but the election was too close and it was clear he would lose.  So he ‘took one for the team’ and cancelled his candidacy to give the Democrats room to put someone else quickly on the ballot.  They selected Frank Lautenberg.
Then the entire party discovered he had waited too late.  New Jersey law specifically states no new candidate can be placed on the ballot within 45 days of the election.  This is to allow time to print ballots, and mail them to people doing absentee voting in time for them to reasonably return them before election day.  45 days is actually a very short time.
The Dems sued, took it to the NJ supreme court, who ruled against their state constitution with the justification that it would not be democratic to hold an election and not have a Democrat on the ballot.
At this time I went to every liberal I knew (which was a good sized sample space), made sure they were aware of the background to the story, and asked their opinion of the NJ Supreme Court ruling.  All but one of them hemmed and hawed and refused to say anything was amiss.  This, despite the fact that every single one of them, two years earlier, had been frothing at the mouth that Bush was ‘selected not elected’.  Then there was the one liberal who gave an honest answer.  I’ll never forget it (heck, I can probably find the email in my archives).  He said, “yeah, they ignored the law.  But I don’t want Republicans getting control of the Senate, so I’m OK with it.”
Lautenberg was placed on the ballot and won his election (showing just how little a democrat has to do to get elected in NJ).  But more of the other Senate seats flipped than was expected, and Republicans gained control of the Senate anyway.
I haven’t spoken to that friend since that day, I don’t think I could stomach it.  I suppose if I did I might ask, “You were willing to ignore lawlessness for a political gain, but didn’t get that gain.  Do you have any idea what you lost?”
Then there were the myriad liberals who hemmed and hawed and tacitly approved of the lawlessness.  For them all, Party is more important than Principle.  Is it any wonder that, with an announcement Hillary would not be indicted, they instantly move on to ensuring her election rather that listening to the recitation of all her crimes and demanding her punishment?