Polling, Science and Opinion over Measurement

Marketers in the fashion world have been appealing to the vanity of clothing shoppers by making a size 6 become equivalent to what was a size 16 twenty years ago. One of the issues there is that mens clothing, and specifically mens pants is measured in inches. A size 32 pair of jeans might now really be 36 inches in the waist rather than the 32 inches the size suggests. An inch is not subjective, it is not an opinion and it does not change based on perception either. It is a scientific measurement.

The argument over the last fifty years from the conservative culture warriors is that they won over post-modernism and relativism. Liberalism stepped back and re-evaluated the technology and began to focus more on concrete value and empirical data. Conservatism did not. If anything it has embraced post-modernism far more than Liberalism did. The upshot is, like jean sizes, science and non-relativistic measurements are now seen as political issues. Climate change is one area. Now it appears statistics is another area that is open to a political rather than scientific definition of truth.

Originally it was only in the fringes with unskewedpolls.com which eschewed a political interpretation of polling data and demonizing of anyone that disagreed with that. Now it is spreading to the republican party elites which include politicians, establishment and conservative media members;

Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president is going to win? Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73 percent chance -- they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning. And you talk to the Romney people, it's the same thing," Scarborough said. "Both sides understand that it is close, and it could go either way. And anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes.


One of the best things about the internet is that experts and amateurs with expertise can publish outside of the mainstream media. Polling data and political science are two important areas which tend to clash with media narratives. For instance the media tends to do sensationalism on each poll with; "Romney up by 5", "Obama up by 1", etc. Sites like 538 and the monkey cage put that type of reporting into a perspective that is backed by rigorous statistical data.

It has been invaluable in sorting out the hype form reality. For instance the debates have been made out as a massive event but polling data suggests it is not and that a fundamental model which incorporates the economy and incumbency into it flattens out temporary bounces from conventions and debates into something more useful for prediction.

The Bush Administration had numerous instances where it elevated politics over science. It appears that the Republican Party has not lost that mindset.

More: Ezra Klein describes the media motivation well;
Silver's work poses a threat to more traditional -- and, in particular, to more excitable -- forms of political punditry and horse-race journalism.

Klein's site is another graph and empirically heavy blog. It has been the way of the new media that it is different to mass media. It is either an echo chamber and appealing to a niche or heavily empirical. 538 is in the latter. I think modern media is better for it too.

More: An article from deadspin with more detail and the history of how Silver came to political statistical measurement from sports. The article notes:

In fact, we've reached the point in our screwed-up political media culture where the polling companies and forecasters--not the pundits, not the spokespeople, and certainly not the candidates--are the only people being evaluated rigorously on the substance of their arguments. If Nate Silver and Sam Wang screw up, their popularity will suffer as a result, and they'll have to reconsider their models. Meanwhile, if Brooks, Jordan, Scarborough, Rubin, or Byers make another poor argument, they'll continue to collect their paychecks as if nothing had happened.


Pundits are exceptionally bad for predictions. I recently read a book where it proved how bad they were.

More: Final note. It appears that the pundits are attempting to be held accountable by modern political analysts. If psephologists rising in the public notice - possum in Australia and Silver in the US - has done anything it has exposed political experts in mainstream media as entertainers. To be truthful we always knew. When ever Rush Limbaugh would utter something culturally atrocious he would hide behind saying he is an entertainer and it was just satire. The psephologists are just driving the point home.
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