Monday, September 15, 2008

Are the polls skewed?

Something's not adding up.

McCain is slightly ahead of Obama in the polls? I couldn't wrap my mind around it until I began to question poll methodology.

In normal times, Gallup's polling methods, as explained here, should work fairly well. However, we do not live in normal times. We are in an economic downturn, to put it mildly.

I heard on the news that one in four hundred and sixteen homeowners will be facing foreclosure this month. I have heard that seven thousand homes foreclose each month. I have heard two statistics on the total number of homeowners that either faced foreclosure or who are behind on mortgage payments, but the one I can source is 6.82%.

Do you think the people behind on their mortgage payments or who are in foreclosure are answering their phones? How likely are they to vote for a guy who can't remember how many homes he owns?

Then, I read another statistic today: one in five households is either behind on credit card payments or over the limit on at least one card. That's twenty percent of American households. Do you think those people are answering their phones?

Gallup says that they randomly generate phone numbers--cell phones included, according to their FAQ--but if people aren't answering their phones, which is common with people who are behind on their bills and have autodialers calling them nine times a day or so, the statistics have to be skewed, do they not?

How likely do you think that the twenty percent of households where autodialers are constantly calling are answering their phones for Gallup? The polling company says they call back numbers where they haven't reached anyone, but I have trouble believing that they reach a significant enough number of these households to keep their polls from straying well outside of the margin of error.

The document from Gallup was written in 1997, and said that 95% of homes had a telephone (15% of homes use cell phones only, according to Gallup). How many homes have phones today? How many wrong or disconnected numbers do they get before getting enough good ones in their random sample? Are ten percent of the homes where bill collectors are also calling (inscessantly!) answering Gallup's polls? Fifteen? Five?

I think the methodology is no longer sound, because the probability of selection is not equal for all Americans anymore, and it is this probability of selection being equal that Gallup relies upon for statistical accuracy--as do all scientific polling organizations.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Sarah Palin Hype

She's for more drilling for oil--in Alaska.

She doesn't even want victims of rape and incest to have access to safe abortions.

She's for teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools.

She asked a librarian three times if she could have "objectionable" books banned. She never presented a list (the one circulating on the Internet started as a speculation and became "the" list--it was never real, because Palin only asked about the concept of banning books), but she asked the questions. Three. Times.

She's all for hunting wolves. People in Ohio and Michigan, at least, should know that the reason we can hunt so many deer every year is because our recent ancestors took out the timber wolves, so nothing was hunting them. That imbalance created by an absence of predation could have led to ecological disaster otherwise.

She doesn't want polar bears to be protected as an endangered species.

The above are facts, and they're all I need to know about Palin to dismiss her as someone I feel is not qualified to be President (let's face it: John McCain hasn't aged well. If he were in the same shape as my dad, I'd say he has a chance of living through his first term, but he didn't play soccer for forty years of his life). The idea that she would support banning books from a library at all tells me that she either hasn't read the Constitution, or that she doesn't care about it--and she has to swear to uphold it if she were to become McCain's VP.

So I hear all of these polls have Obama and McCain neck-and-neck, with indicators that show McCain is ahead.

Rubbish, I say. Rubbish.

That's putting it very gently.

What do we know about Sarah Palin, other than what I've posted above? Well, there are a lot of allegations and some more factual items I could post, but here's what America has heard out of her own mouth.


The writer was Matthew Scully, former speechwriter for George W. Bush. Palin didn't write it herself. She merely recited what someone else wrote for her.

I'm not saying that just anyone could do that. What I am saying that reading off a teleprompter can be done by plenty of people who shouldn't be President. Your local news anchor can read quite well off a teleprompter. Even if she memorized the speech, so what? I was in a musical and a play in high school, and I've memorized some Shakespeare and good poetry, and plenty of other people have, as well.

Remember how polished Dubya was during the campaign season in 2004? I stopped listening to him during the 2000 campaign after he said that the jury was still out on evolution, because that one phrase put my vote into the Democrat column for the first time since I began voting. I can't vote for an anti-science candidate. If both were anti-science, I'd have to go for the one who was going to do the least damage otherwise, but I'd have to hold my nose to do it. In any case, Bush was polished because he stayed on message--a message someone else wrote for him.

Now, remember Bush in the debates against John Kerry? Unless you were Rudolph Giuliani or Karen Hughes, whose spin came from Bizarro world, or unless you were anyone from Faux News Channel, there is no way you could come to the conclusion that Bush won.

Enter Sarah Palin's upcoming debate with Joe Biden. People keep talking about how people who watched the Kennedy-Nixon debate thought Kennedy won, and people who listened to the radio thought Nixon won; looks allegedly played a role. I say no. I think maybe the correlation is that radio listeners were more conservative than television viewers, since the TV viewers would be more technology-friendly and more likely to enjoy the entertainment offered on television over radio. Plus, Kennedy was very smart. I'm not saying Nixon wasn't, but Kennedy was sharp.

Can Palin think on her feet? We'll have to see. What I think is that she's going to speak in the abstract ("Victory is within sight in Iraq"), and Biden's probably going to tear her to shreds with details. She's going to look just as bad with Biden as Quayle did with Lloyd Bentson. Remember that moment? If not, view it here.

Yes, I know Bentsen was on the losing side of that election, but Dukakis was his running mate. What do you want?

Barack Obama isn't Michael Dukakis, fortunately. Sorry, Mr. Dukakis, but you didn't inspire me; Obama does. In fact, Obama has been the first candidate ever to have inspired me in any way. Wait--Dubya inspired me to work for the Kerry campaign, but that's just not the same, somehow.

In any case, Palin is meant to be a distraction--something to take any media scrutiny off of him and onto Palin. Not that the media has been doing much scrutiny where McCain has been concerned, but with it being all Palin, all the time, nobody's looking at the corpse-like John McCain. Nobody is paying attention to his lack of energy, his gaffes, his substance-free speeches. Nobody's looking at the old, bald dude.

Palin was a purely political choice. There are plenty of women--even in the Republican Party--who could have qualified to be John McCain's running mate. She was chosen because she's young, she's pretty, she's unknown, and she has the values of the rabid religious right. She's not there because she's qualified. Most women I know would be insulted by the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. What woman doesn't look at Sarah Palin and then say, "Is she the best you do? Really?"

Sarah Palin is nothing but a political choice, a marketing ploy. They're sheltering her from the media (until they can successfully coach her on the talking points), while the media is still gushing about how she "hit it out of the park" with her RNC speech--which contained lies and insults.

What person in their right mind insults community organizers?

And Obama's right: Palin's comment about reading terrorists their rights is a flat-out insult to the Constitution she wants to pretend to uphold.

My final word for tonight is this: do not worry about the polls. Please, please ignore them. First of all, national polls mean very little, especially if they're even; only state-by-state polls do, because that's how electoral votes go. Something else is skewing the polls this year, though.

It's the economy.

People who found themselves suddenly paying interest rates approaching 30% on credit cards--just because the issuing banks could do it legally, when it used to be called "loan-sharking"--also found that they couldn't pay the minimum payments anymore, and they defaulted. Since bankruptcy is harder to declare, thanks to Republican policy, these people find no recourse but to let the bill collectors call them incessantly with autodialers. These people no longer answer their phones, and their numbers are large.

When a study shows a seventy percent increase in water bills, it's an indication that there are a lot of people with bill collectors calling about other unpaid services.

What about people facing foreclosure? I hear 8,000 per day, 7,000 per day--does anyone have the real number? I heard a staggering figure: just over 6% of homeowners are either behind on their mortgage payments or facing foreclosure right now. Do you think these people are going to vote for another Republican? Let's poll them and see if McCain has support anywhere close to Obama's. Oh, wait--they probably won't answer their phones, either.

So...if 6% of homeowners aren't answering their phones, add to it the percentage of people with delinquent credit card debt who also aren't answering their phones, and you have a great many unanswered phones involved in the polling process. Perhaps someone from a polling company will tell me they correct for that, but I somehow doubt it.

I'm going to say that Obama is actually ahead, and it's more like 58% of voters supporting him. I'm not saying you should stop working hard--work harder!--but I think the polls are horribly skewed this time.