Posts Tagged ‘Polls’

Mathematical Malpractice Watch: Admiration Edition

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

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.

Trump Birtherism and 2012

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Now that Obama has released his long form birth certificate, will this silence the conspiracy theorists? Of course not. But it may turn the disturbing trend we’ve seen in recent polling data showing up to 47% of GOPers think Obama was not born in his country.

The usual caveats to those polls apply. Most people are not political junkies and so haven’t followed the birther issue closely. Most Republicans don’t like Obama and so thinking he was born elsewhere is a good way of filing him into that “other” category. And many Democrats embraced the “Bush allowed 9/11″ theory.

But still, 47% is crazy. How did we get to that point?

We got there because the mainstream GOP was playing footsie with the radical rump of the party. Everyone in the GOP power circles knew Obama was born in the US. But they were more than happy to let the issue fester — and occasionally poke it — because they knew it excited a small but motivated group of voters. They knew that stomping on the birther thing could split off some radicals. But most of all, it was a way to deligitimize Obama in the eyes of the voters. By not embracing but not rejecting birtherism — uttering such non-denials as “I take him at his word” — they kept the issue up, maintaining their ability to portray Obama as someone alien to America.

And then it suddenly blew up in their faces. A shameless attention-whore reality-TV star came along and grabbed the issue with both hands. (Actually, now that I’m a fan of Maggie McNeil’s blog, I think it’s an insult to whores to compare Donald Trump to them.) Donald Trump didn’t embrace the birth certificate issue because he believed in it. He embraced it because it brought instant media attention. And suddenly the cancer of birtherism exploded all over the GOP. The environment became so toxic that no one who had political ambitions wanted to get in the pool.

Don’t think so? Why are so many candidates reluctant to throw their hats into the 2012 ring? Even Palin is stalling and taking her time. Why is the presidential field so lackluster so far? Because none of the politicians wanted this on them. None of them wanted to run in a field where birtherism would be an issue and they’d end up at the head of a truly ugly campaign.

The release of the birth certificate may turn the tide on this. Trump, of course, is claiming credit for the release of the BC and the vilest of the birthers are shouting, “why did it take so long” instead of “Boy, is our face red!” Trump is also moving on to more aggressively racist rhetoric such as telling Obama to stop playing basketball and implying he got into the Ivy League on affirmative action (because we all know how many AA guys become editors of the Law Review and graduate magna cum laude).

But, personally, I don’t the GOP is going to get out of this that easily. They’ve been outfoxed, again, by the supposed amateur in the White House. They let the birther issue fester until Trump detonated it. And now that the birthers have been shown to be fools, the stink is going to cling to them for a long time.

(Don’t think that I’m letting Obama off here. My understanding is that he could have done this at any time over the last two years. To drag it out this long hurt the country even though it hurt his opponents more. And, I’m sorry, when you apply for the job as President, you don’t get to hold back records like this.)

Update: Thinking about this some more, the release of the BC is actually a huge political coup for Obama. The timing makes it seem (and it certainly being claimed) that Trump is the one who got this done. This cements Trump’s hold on the birther contingent and may even vault him — until the time comes to release his financial records — into front-runner status. And if THAT is the case, Obama just won the 2012 election. Because his opponent will either be Trump or a Republican maimed by Trump’s stupidity.

Update: Several legal experts are pointing out that Obama could not release the certificate under Hawaiian law. While this is true, he clearly got an exemption now, according to the letter from his lawyer. That should not have taken two years.