Monday, October 27, 2008

The Folly of Presidential Polls

Posted By on Mon, Oct 27, 2008 at 5:53 AM

click to enlarge John_20McCain.jpg
One poll showed John McCain crushing Obama among voters aged 18-24. We may be going out on a limb here, but it's probably not gonna happen. If you're confused by last week's polling in the presidential race, consider yourself in good company. According to this story from Yahoo News, there's sound reason to distrust the accuracy -- and that vaunted 3-4 percent margin of error -- of any poll. Last week, while most of the statistical world was giving Barack Obama a double-digit lead, two fairly respected polls came to quite the opposite conclusion. Both showed Obama and McCain in a dead heat. And both seemed to defy conventional wisdom. But as Yahoo points out, accurate polling is as much about luck and speculation as it is science. This easy-to-digest piece lays out the essential problem at hand--that pollsters must build in so many assumptions to gather an accurate survey sample, they essentially render their work an educated guess. A poll by IBD/TIPP, for example, had McCain crushing Obama by a 74-22 margin among 18-24 year olds. But since the survey included so few people from that age bracket, there's a good chance its findings bear no relationship to reality.

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