Working the poll

I’ve been out for most of the day (I’m having one-hour day surgery on Wednesday so you have to go through, like, 20 hours of pre-surgery, time-wasting, nonsense….all at $35 a pop co-pay. It’s a racket, I tell ya. A racket. But I digress….), so I’m just now getting caught up on stuff.

First (and last, since I have nothing else to offer) on the polls. I chatted with Michael Brodkorb a bit ago who noted — justifiably so — his pride at going through years of newspapers to document the record of the Minnesota poll.

My gripe with his graph — which I may not have explained properly — was with the word “prediction.” In fact, I followed a link that someone had posted in the comments section, and then did a Google search, and it really is remarkable how often the word “poll” and “predict” come in the same sentence.

Here’s the thing: I “hate” the concept of polls predicting anything. I don’t think they do. I think they show you what some people said at a particular time and those people — if the methodology is correct — represent a broader spectrum.

I think if you’re really good at reading polls, you might be able to predict something, but I don’t believe the poll itself does that.

Specifically, Michael’s graph does note that it represents the final poll before Election Day, and I’ll grant you that the final poll before election day is likely to have a better relationship with the final electoral results than one a month before, or two months before etc.

I think the best way to use a poll — any poll — is to look at it as a snapshot in time and then compare it to the same poll, which is a snapshot of another time, and look for movement.

For example, at one point, Tim Penny was “leading” in the race for governor, according to a poll. Some months later, he was third. What happened? Tim Penny didn’t do anything wrong, but voters — and this is my interpretation — didn’t want to vote for an Independent because they thought the eventual winner was going to be a Republican or a DFLer and they didn’t want to allow the (pick name of party you don’t like and put it here) Party into office with their “wasted” vote.

That poll showed movement. (And I also think the fact the poll showed movement actually did influence the election because I think it told other people “jump off the Penny wagon bandwagon because other people are”).

The interesting thing about the Senate race polls, whether you embrace Zogby or Rasmussen or the Minnesota poll is this: they ain’t budging. The numbers might be different when compared with one another, but they’re not changing when compared to the same poll.

What does that tell us in this race? Oh, what? You think I know?

  • Sara

    Anytime I read the comment section of MDE (as well as other minnesota political blogs, left or right), my stomach turns. I wouldn’t want these people anywhere near me on any day. How sad that this is what amounts to political discourse these days, in large part. Revolting.

  • bsimon

    “[V]oters — and this is my interpretation — didn’t want to vote for an Independent because they thought the eventual winner was going to be a Republican or a DFLer and they didn’t want to allow the (pick name of party you don’t like and put it here) Party into office with their “wasted” vote.”

    Ug. So true. Man does that chap my hiney. People really need to get over this ‘lesser of two evils’ mentality & realize that if we start voting for doors 3, 4, etc, that the whole system will improve.

  • Bob Collins

    It’s hard to do.Ask me how I know. It actually would make a heck of a good story. You want a candidate to win, you agree with the candidate, but at the last minute you realize that a candidate can’t win and you want your vote to do something that can help determine who will.

    It’s a very powerful emotion.

  • Peter Tharaldson

    Hi Bob and others-

    What you are talking about is strategic voting. Unfortunately our two bit political “scientists” in Minnesota (except Larry Jacobs) have been opining on TV news rather than doing real research on strategic voting. Others have and their results are very intriging. While strategic voting more frequently happens with the center candidate, it sometimes hits one of th other two candidates. Actually. Skip Humphrey may have suffered from strategic voting in 1998- unfortunately no one around here ever reports on this (or on the impact of special interest money for that matter). If you want to stop believing Nader hating democrats and start truly understanding strategic voting, contact Michael Alverez at CalTech, a poli sci who does homework before spouting off.

    Interestingly another thing missed in strategic voting is who it hits most. After Nader the Green effect has been extended to the center party. That is wrong. A center party in a three-way race actually tends to hurt the weaker party at the time. Oddly Democrats seem to forget that the only center party candidate for president was Ross Perot, and before wishing for third parties to go away they better remember 1992.

    While I have got you on the blog, I would like to ask you a question that I asked Mary L. after the US Senate debate tonight (I was in the studio). Numerous studies have come out explaining the corrosive effects of special interest money on elections and government- David Schultz offering the latest. I don’t want you to deliver one of the core ideas of the Independence Party for us, but it is very very odd that the number of these stories is zero…absolutely nothing. If you really want to know why the system is so polarized it is because the dramatic increase in special interest money allows Dems and Repubs to target swing districts, the districts who elect….moderates. Time and time again in the past few election cycles we have seen a destruction of moderates: Jim Rhodes- St. Louis Park, Lynn Ostermann, Plymouth etc… that is the story- why is it not told.

    Moderates are being wiped out.

    Peter Tharaldson

    Independence Party CD5 Chair