Green Room

All That’s Silver Does Not Glitter

posted at 6:15 pm on July 25, 2012 by

While the national polls show the presidential race a statistical toss-up, Nate Silver points out that polls conducted in swing state show Obama with an actual lead of sorts – around three points:.

While that isn’t an enormous difference in an absolute sense, it is a consequential one. A one- or two-point lead for Mr. Obama, as in the national polls, would make him barely better than a tossup to win re-election. A three- or four-point lead, as in the state polls, is obviously no guarantee given the troubles in the economy, but it is a more substantive advantage.

Here’s the part that caught my attention; I’ve added emphasis:

The difference isn’t an artifact of RealClearPolitics’s methodology. The FiveThirtyEight method, which applies a more complicated technique for estimating polling averages, sees broadly the same split between state and national polls.

On the one hand – well, doy.  Obama’s an incumbent elected in a wave, protected by a media that serves as his Praetorian Guard.  Of course he’s going to be polling well.

On the other hand?  My real point in this article is the abovementioned “FiveThirtyEigtht Method”.

I addressed this two years ago - when Silver, who is generally acknowledged to be a moderate Democrat, spent most of the 2010 campaign predicting a 6+ point Mark Dayton victory.

How did he arrive at that number?

  1. By taking an assortment of polls from around MInnesota, conducted by a variety of polling operations, and…
  2. Applying a weighting to each poll, the “538 Poll Weight”, which came from an unexplained formula known, near as I can tell, only to Silver.  Which is not to say that it’s wrong, or statistically, intellectually or journalistically dishonest, per se - merely that it’s completely opaque

But let’s take Silver’s methodology at face value – because he’s a respected statistician who works for the NYTimes, right?

The fact remains that, at least here in Minnesota, two of the polls that were given great weight in Silver’s methodology – the Star Tribune “Minnesota” poll and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute poll, are palpably garbage, and should be viewed as DFL propaganda at best, calculated election fraud at worst. 

We went through this in some detail after the 2010 election: there’s an entire category on this blog devoted to going over the various crimes and misdemeanors of Twin Cities media pollsters.  ,Long story short – since 1988, the Strib “Minnesota” poll has consistently shorted Republican support in polls, especially the polls closest to the elections, especially in close elections.  The “Minnesota” poll’s only redeeming point?  The Humphrey Institute poll is worse.  In both cases, they tended – moreso in closer races – to exaggerate the lead the Democrat candidate for Governor, Senator or President had.   For example, in 2010 both polls showed Mark Dayton with crushing, overwhelming, humiliating leads over Tom Emmer on election-eve.  It ended up the closest gubernatorial race in Minnesota history.  The “Minnesota” poll was so bad, Frank Newport of Gallup actually wrote to comment on its dubious methodology. I suspect that the results are less mathematical background noise or methodological quicks – which would, if truly random, show distortions that would even out between the parties over time.  While it’s not provable without a whistle-blower from inside either or both organizations, I suspect the results shake out the way they do, if you are inclined to believe people have integrity, due to selection bias in setting up survey samples (and, if you don’t have much faith, in systematic bias working to achieve a “Bandwagon Effect” among the electorate.  Count me among the cynics; an organization with integrity would have noticed these errors long before a guy like me who maxed out at Algebra I in college and fixed the problem.  I’m willing to be persuaded, but you’ll have to have a much better argument than most of the polls’ defenders).

The point being, this is the quality of the raw material that leads Nate Silver to his conclusions. And that should give Silver, and people who pay attention to him, pause. I don’t know if the other state polls are as dodgy as Minnesota’s local media polling operations.

That’d be a great subject for a blogswarm.

(Cross-posted at Shot In The Dark)

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Comments

You didn’t get your wish on the timing but I think you are spot on in your analysis.
Romney by a landslide is my personal prediction. The Dems rig more than polls but I don’t think this election can be stolen.

Pecos on July 25, 2012 at 7:14 PM

Yep, I think Romney will win all the toss-up states, and of course all the red states. He’ll win the former more narrowly than the latter, but he’ll win.

J.E. Dyer on July 25, 2012 at 10:36 PM

I hope you guys are right. There is only one man in America whose political analysis I implicitly trust, and he is not a political adviser or a paid pundit/analyst.

gryphon202 on July 25, 2012 at 11:40 PM

I too think it’ll be a landslide AGAINST Oboobi, hence I’m more willing than ever to vote conservative/libertarian 3rd party to block a mandate for Mittness to go centrist moderate on us.

AH_C on July 26, 2012 at 2:05 AM

Polls? Here’s what you say to polls:

Link

Dante on July 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Yep, I think Romney will win all the toss-up states, and of course all the red states. He’ll win the former more narrowly than the latter, but he’ll win.

J.E. Dyer on July 25, 2012 at 10:36 PM

I disagree. I think Romney loses both OH and FL. And with them the election. He really has no margin for error.

ddrintn on July 26, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Did an analysis of RCP’s battleground polling averages earlier today actually. If you toss out outliers, pollsters with a known history of skewing the sample, and older polls, most the battle ground polls come down to an absolute dead heat.

Basically, the slightly red states lean red, the traditionally bluish states lean blue, and the consistent toss-ups are anybodies guess.

Yeah, did we REALLY need a bunch of polls to tell us that?

WolvenOne on July 26, 2012 at 5:07 PM