Tag Archives: Gallup

Mathematical Malpractice Watch: Admiration Edition

Gallup and USA/Today need to be beaten with sticks and sent back to remedial stats class. Most of their work is fine. But every year we get another useless poll about the most admired people in America.

President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are the nation’s most-admired man and woman — again — in the annual USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

Each leads their category with 17% of votes in top 10 lists that favor the most familiar names in global politics, religion, entertainment and culture.

Does this strike you as being meaningful? For 83% of Americans, Barack Obama is not the most-admired man. The #5 man in the poll is Warren Buffett with … 2% of the vote.

USA Today and Gallup have run this piece of trivia for half a century, using an open-ended unconstrained plurality. As such, it always puts whoever is most famous — usually the President — at the top of the list. Even in years where George W. Bush would’ve lost an election for Republican dog-catcher, he was still the most admired man because no one else was as famous or as in the news.

Unconstrained pluralities are the most useless poll imaginable. They always produce embarrassing or useless results like this. We get this crap with “what issue is most important to you” polls as well, where they’ll say the second most important issue is, say, abortion, when abortion gets about 6% of the vote.

A more valid way would be to give people a list of potentially admirable people and ask if they admire them. That would be useful and unbiased. Gallup wants to keep it “unprompted”. Fine. Conduct an initial poll, then make the list from the top 100 names on it.

Polls are created news. They don’t tell us anything and are used to lead a slow news day. But this poll is especially useless. And yes, I said it when Bush topped the poll too.