Monday, January 14, 2008

There Are Liars, Damn Liars, And Pollsters

Not since the polls predicted Thomas E. Dewey's victory over Harry S. Truman in 1948, have they been more disgracefully wrong, by and large, than they've been in the early stages of the 2008 campaign. You would think the worst of these would, out of a proper sense of shame, pull up stakes and stop. But no.

Today's polls are representative. The New York Times/CBS News poll has Sen. Hillary Clinton leading Sen. Barack Obama, 42% to 27%, an immense lead, even greater than eight polls showed for Obama over Clinton in New Hampshire, before she won the primary narrowly .

But on the same day the ABC-Washington Post poll is out showing Clinton leading Obama just 42% to 37%.

Then, in Michigan, two polls show former Gov. Mitt Romney in the lead in Tuesday's primary over Sen. John McCain. But a Detroit News poll puts McCain in the lead.

Down in Florida, it's bunched up more than I suspect the election will be Jan. 29 on the Republican side. A Quinnipiac poll shows McCain 22%, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani 20%, Romney 19% and former Gov. Mike Huckabee 19%. On the Democratic side, Quinnipiac shows Clinton blowing out Obama in the Sunshine state, 52% to 31%.

Is this at all useful? I think not. Many of the polls already have been outside the margin of error, and yet these dishonest, snake oil salesmen always have their excuses, such as: White voters lie about how they will vote for blacks. Women lie about how they will vote for a woman. Evangelicals lie about how they will vote for a Mormon. It goes on and on.

And, I might add, virtually all pollsters weight their results, according to what they think the demographics of the turnout will be. Most often, they're turning out wrong. No less an expert than Karl Rove points out the primary turnout is unpredictable. I used to think the Tribune Co. was being cheap to cut out most L.A. Times polling. Now, it's apparent they are doing the readers a favor. (But it didn't last long. The L.A. Times is out tonight with a poll in the Feb. 5 California primary showing Clinton and McCain ahead).

All this is clouding the situation when between now and Feb. 6, there are going to be so many primaries that in all likelihood we're going to know in just three weeks who's strong, who's weak, and even who will be the nominees. We won't need the press or television to tell us, two days early, using a bunch of spurious polls, or their own faulty intuition. It's a game that does us no credit.

Momentum also is being false interpreted, often as not, by a profession of reporters who, alas, do not know nearly as much as we'd like to think we know.

It's been particularly bad this year. Newsweek has a different production schedule than Time, so it was able to have an issue reporting on a standalone basis the results of the Iowa Caucuses. With Obama on the cover, Newsweek's editors made Obama out to be a virtual saint who could do no wrong, a genius who was pushing Clinton toward political oblivion.

Then, New Hampshire came in, and although Clinton's margin was only two points (as against a CNN poll which had put Obama 10 points ahead and a Gallup poll which had put him 13 points ahead), Time's cover story focused almost entirely on Clinton. Now she was super girl, for what may have been a contrived near-crying episode that may have won the women's vote, and Obama, for a single two-word characterization of Clinton as "likeable enough," was a dunce.

I also noticed that CNN Time Warner makes the same silly corporate boasts for Time and CNN. Time's political columnist, Joe Klein, is thus described in Time as the best columnist writing, and, CNN told us, 30 times, if not 50, on New Hampshire primary night that their analysts are the best in the business.

Anyone who reads and watches politics widely knows that CNN analysis is mediocre, and Klein's columns are as well. It's just corporate bushwa, such as we've been getting ad infinitum, from Counrywide Mortgage and other "experts" on the subprime crisis. If Klein is so good, I suggest we send him to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to find Osama bin Laden.

We're just going to have to wait to see what happens in the American election, but one thing is sure: From the Clinton campaign and all its surrogates, it's going to be dirty. Just in the last week, former President Bill Clinton, frantic to keep his dynasty afloat, has suggested that Obama's anti-war pitch is a "fairy tale," Hillary Clinton has called Lyndon Johnson more responsible for civil rights, than the nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King, and a black representative of the Clinton campaign has insinuated that Obama peddled drugs.

Richard Nixon must be smiling in his grave. The Clintons are just as bad as he was, and the latest polls are claiming the American voters are just as gullible.

The pie-in-the-sky idealist this past week was actually President George W. Bush. He has been traveling in the Middle East, saying there might be an Arab-Israeli settlement by the end of this year, and peddling democracy in the Gulf states. It sounds like he, not Obama, has been smoking something, and not just cigarettes.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Seven Star Hand said...

Hey Ken,

Notice all the strange activity among world leaders of late, like Bush now trying to be a peacemaker? Want to understand the source of their evovling changes of heart and eating of words? Want something truly important and earth shaking to write about? Want to understand how set your keyboard afire, without hand?

Here is Wisdom...

1/14/2008 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Frank Cruz said...

Ken,

I am just the person you need to point out your mistakes.

-After excoriating polls you then use polls to prove a point, "The Clintons are just as bad as he was, and the latest polls are claiming the American voters are just as gullible." You sound just like the pundits who were crying about the polls being wrong but continuing to use the poll results to analyze the election. Go figure.

-Please slow down and take another look, any fair minded observer would see that Clinton said Obama's claims regarding his stand on the war was a fairy tale. You say he suggested that Obama's idealistic campaign is a "fairy tale,". I have heard that characterization from Obama supporters but you should know better.

I have nothing good to say about either of the Clintons but I must be fair in reporting what one might say.

-In an earlier post you admitted to some bad journalistic judgment when you reported the results of "the misleading results of a personal poll of voters".

A personal poll of voters? How foolish can a reporter be? What part of scientific don't you understand? You aren't the only reporter to do such a thing and I hate it when I see such stupid stunts.

But when polls are properly conducted there is still the problem of analysis. And that is where most of the problems with NH occurred. I listened to the so called pundits and was certainly sickened by their use of polling results. They think they know what they are doing but they obviously don't have a clue.

Former LAT Poll Director, John Brennen would hold his head in his hands and talk of his efforts to keep reporters from focusing on horse race numbers because that is not what polls do best. But it is the "sexy" part of a story, much better than than the dry backstory that polling can deliver so well.

But it seems you agree that a paper should give the public what tickles its fancy not necessarily what it needs to know. When you say Obama's picture should be featured because LA is a liberal city that is exactly what you are saying. I would not favor your editing skills, it seems if you perceive a candidate to be popular then the paper should focus on that person. But maybe I have misunderstood you on this one.

1/14/2008 11:59 PM  

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