The poll crutch (5×8-11/9/11)

A big polling ‘miss,’ Rushford gets out of the booze business, dog dog goose, duck and cover 2011, and a look at a classic prank.


As political stories go, yesterday morning’s headline in the Washington Post wasn’t “Dewey Defeats Truman,” but it was yet another misfire that should have the media questioning itself again on its use of its favorite crutch — polls.

The Washington Post treated a poll on Mississippi’s “personhood amendment” — it would have banned abortion and access to contraception — as a fait accompli yesterday, before anyone had cast a single vote.


Let’s see how that turned out…


Whoops. It not only lost. It lost big. The polls were wrong, as the polls quite often are.

The firm — the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling — got one right. In Ohio, The Blaze’s headline used it to declare the winner yesterday morning:


Thirty-nine percent of Ohioans voted against the bill that repealed the collective bargaining rollback, just within the poll’s original margin of error.

Polls are — when all the talk of science is stripped away — a crapshoot. People lie to pollsters, polls are often weighted incorrectly, and news organizations use them as predictors. You’d think we’d learn.

One takeaway from last night’s election: The era of globs of numbers on radio, TV, and newspapers on election night is over. Twitter, and in our region, MPR News’ Tom Weber, sparkled, at using it to relay school levy information from around the state. Sitting in the comfort of my home 1,200 miles away, it took me only seconds to follow a mayoral election in my hometown as each precinct came in, far beyond the traditional capability of newspapers, TV, and radio.

The game has changed for good.


Rushford voters decided yesterday that their city shouldn’t be in the liquor business, the Winona Daily News reports. Fifty-six percent of the voters decided to keep the store closed. The original building was destroyed in the 2007 flood. One hiccup: The city will have to pay $800,000 back to FEMA. Flood relief funds were used to rebuild the store, which lost more money in 2009 than all but two municipal liquor stores in Minnesota.


The Taiwanese animation outfit, NMA, is tackling the botched WCCO story in which a reporter mistakenly asserted that the owner of a puppy mill was sending dogs to New York to be sold as meat.


If you’re an old-time radio broadcaster — bowing — you probably learned long ago that the Emergency Broadcast System was mostly for show — to give people the illusion of a place to turn in the event of a nuclear attack. The foundation of the system was that if the nukes were heading our way, young disc jockeys — bowing — making $110 a week would stay in the studio, rip open the bright pink envelope, “authenticate” the message, and stop playing Tie a Yellow Ribbon long enough to patch in the president.


I speak for all old disc jockeys with a disdain for Tony Orlando and Dawn: We were prepared to push old ladies out of the way to get into the bomb shelter first (we actually had one at our radio station — courtesy of the government — although nobody knew where the key was and we think it was filled with water). The last sound you would have heard before the nuclear blast, was the sound of a needle at the end of a 45 RPM record. That’s the flaw with the system, the 2011 version of which will be “tested” today.

At 1 p.m., every electronic form of communication (licensed by the government in some way) will participate, according to FEMA:

FEMA, the FCC, and NOAA’s vision for improving the EAS is incremental, which means testing the readiness and effectiveness of the EAS as it currently exists today is the first step. A more effective and functional EAS requires continual testing to identify necessary improvements so that all levels of the system can better serve our communities and deliver critical information that will save lives and property.

EAS Participants provide a critical public service to the nation as the resilient backbone of alert and warning when all other means of communication are unavailable. EAS Participants include all broadcasters, satellite and digital radio and television, cable television and wireline video providers who ensure the system is at a constant state of readiness.

It’s a little different now. The human link has been replaced (mostly) and the key component of the system is the uber-dependability of our electronic utilities.

FEMA has set up an online forum to discuss this system (you could spend hours browsing the messages). Here’s one message from the front line that shows the problem:

As you know, Western Massachusetts experienced an extreme snow event last week which put power out to almost all of Western Mass. and Connecticut. All of the “what to do in an emergency” manuals said keep a battery operated radio and wait for announcements. Well, with the power out, we all waited (in the dark) for announcements…there were NONE! Not even one radio station in Western Mass was broadcasting information or even call-in shows. When the power came on for some of the lucky ones, all of the “what to do’s” were on the TV! This seems a little short sighted and I haven’t seen any forums to voice concerns. We couldn’t charge cell phones or laptops, so what was the point of broadcasting on TV? All of the town mayors were getting their “face” time on TV, but we couldn’t see them! No one knew where the shelters were located or where help might be available if people were in trouble. All of this information was available through computers and TV.


Meighan Byron of St. Louis Park wrote to say yesterday’s Best Buy video (here) reminded her of a prank in Austin, Minnesota in 2006.

The kids streaming across the crosswalk were using an underground tunnel to scamper back and cross the street again.

Bonus: Today’s moment of (northern) Minnesota zen:


An appeals court on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of the federal health care law due to take effect in 2014. The court found that the government could require Americans to buy health insurance, holding that “the right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute.” Today’s Question: What parts of your life do you think should be free of government regulation?


The Big Story Blog will report results and provide analysis of school levy votes and other ballot questions across Minnesota.


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Is Obama disappointing his green base? And how will environmentalists make themselves heard in the 2012 elections?

Second hour: Should people be screened for prostate cancer?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Midday’s series on the GOP presidential candidates continues. This hour: Herman Cain. Guest is Washington University political scientist Steven Smith.

Second hour: Tom Brokaw, who spoke Tuesday at the Westminster Town Hall Forum about his new book, “The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation About America.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Political talk with NPR politics editor Ken Rudin.

Second hour: After allegations of sexual abuse we often hear that witnesses and victims told people in charge what was going on. And, for any number of reasons, they didn’t do enough to stop it. Why we speak up. Or not.

  • Matt B
  • Bob Moffitt

    I must say I enjoy seeing the Washington Post with egg on its face on the “personhood” vote in Mississippi. I have to wonder is they had any boots on the ground in MS, or did they just rely on some out-of-state pollsters calling people at random?

    It is always dangerous to see “trends” in these minor elections, but I found it interesting that both this and the union-busting ballot question failed big with the voters, and the author of Arizona’s anti-immigration law was shown the door in a recall ellection (a first in AZ history).

    How are we supposed to read these tea leaves?

  • Bob Collins

    // How are we supposed to read these tea leaves?

    I think it’s a perilous assignment. The turnout is small and it’s easy — comparably — for highly motivated people to swing an off-year election.

    Not that people won’t try to read the tea leaves and proclaim reality, mind you.

    Oh, and a LOT of incumbents won local races. There’s that.

  • I think anyone trying to read the tea leaves from an off year election is conducting a fool’s errand.

    Personally I think the high water mark of the Rightward March is yet to come.

    I really like the video from Manitou.

  • Kevin Watterson

    Public opinion polls done for news organizations can be a helpful guide, but should always be taken with a grain of salt. The best polling is done for political campaign operations because we pay out the ear for them and won’t spend scarce campaign resources on crap.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Nice insight, Kevin. I had not thought of that before, but it makes sense.

  • Tyler

    I’ve said it before, but I think it’s time our emergency systems catch up with our technology. I’m still on the emergency alert list at the U (finished there in 2009), and I got a text message on my cell phone about the gas leak about 5 minutes after it happened.

    We should be able to get weather alerts and emergency announcements via text message. “We have the technology!”

  • Jamie

    The usual excellent story, Bob. Except for this:

    // “The firm — the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling — got one right.” //

    I think you got one wrong there. One of your colleagues (Eliz. Stewicky I think) did the same thing on the air this morning. I can’t devise a way in my mind how it would be correct to use the noun form Democrat, instead of the adjective form Democratic in that sentence.

    Using “Democrat” as an adjective is a pejorative employed by Republicans.

  • Bob Collins

    //Using “Democrat” as an adjective is a pejorative employed by Republicans.

    It’s not used as an adjective in that sentence. The compound modifier in the sentence is the adjective, but the Democrat part of the compound modifier is a noun.

    Generally speaking, I can’t adequately state how much I don’t care about the occasional Democratic outrage on this topic. Change the party name if you don’t like the rules of grammar.

    //”We have the technology!”

    Do we have an infrastructure? Take 9/11 for example, the cellphones were useless; only Blackberrys worked and we saw a month or so ago how vulnerable that infrastructure is.

    Basically, a more honest approach in the event of a widespread catastrophe would be the message, “you’re on your own,” because for the most part you will be.

  • CHS

    Bob, maybe you know more about this…..

    Regarding the EAS and broadcasting for emergencies, how does HAM fit into the overall plan? I’m in the process of getting my HAM license, but haven’t done so yet. Is that spectrum subject to this test as well? I know that there are plenty of systems employed by HAMs for emergency communications, but if no one has a radio that will tune that spectrum what good is it to the general public?

  • Bob Collins

    There’s a little section on this in that “national dialogue” website mentioned above.

    It sounds like the role of hams is what it usually is… pitching in, using common sense, and being a much better transmitter of information in an emergency than most any other source.

  • This is NOT lucy

    The Photo under # 4:

    Bob, were you a pioneer for collagen injections? That upper lip injection seems to be a bit lopsided? I hope you got your money back on the service.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – “Change the party name if you don’t like the rules of grammar.”

    Really? “Democratic Party” is a proper noun. “Democrat Party” is an invented phrase, with malicious intent.

    Kinda like when I say “Repugnicans”.

    Repugnicans are bullies, but members of the Democratic Party who whine about their taunts instead of laughing it off or defending themselves by hitting back harder are just cry babies.

  • Bob Collins

    Jim, that’s exactly the answer I’d expect from you, you being a Democratic and all. (g)

    The absence of the word “Party” makes a difference, imho.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – No need to be humble when you’re right. I jumped the tangential train and road it past my stop.

    Regarding party affiliation, I’m a registered Marxist ( Groucho and Harpo wing), but sometimes cross over to the Benevolent Dictatorship Of Philosopher Kings party.

  • Jamie

    I am not whining, Jim. When right-wingers use the wrong name for their opposition as part of a carefully crafted wide-ranging effort to not only beat them in elections, but also to destroy them, I am going to continue to point it out when I see or hear it. Objecting to it doesn’t equal whining. I don’t have much of a PR machine (mostly just commenting on News Cut), so there’s not much more that I can do to hit them back harder.

    And Bob, you’re wrong. “Democrat-leaning” means a person who is a Democrat is leaning, or leaning towards a person who is a Democrat (in either case, the hyphen makes no sense). I don’t believe that’s the meaning you were going for.

    It’s not an occasional use, either. Almost every time a Republican refers to a Democratic something, they say “Democrat” instead. And sometimes, because Republicans have made it so common, non-Republicans, even some Democrats, do it without thinking. Journalists, of all people, should not be using it.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Jamie – I completely agree with your general point.

    MY point is that the repugs do it to bait democrats, and to worry too much about it is akin to mud wrestling with a pig – you both get dirty, but they like it a lot more.

    In the case of the political party, while one use is standard and the other is invented, the denotations of “Democratic” and “Democrat” are the same. So let ’em have their childish fun.

    ( Just as “Republican” and “Repugnican” have the same connotation for those of us with functioning hearts AND heads.)

    Semantically, I’m more concerned that “liberal” was somehow turned into a dirty word, with the acquiescence of the supposedly skilled and objective wordsmiths in the omnipotent, omnipresent entity that we call “the media”.

  • Jamie

    I understand, Jim. And I generally agree with what you’re saying, too.

    To clarify: I don’t comment on a blog every time I hear a Republican or most others use “Democrat” as an adjective. Only when I see or hear a journalist do it, as Bob and his colleague did yesterday.

    And I’m totally with you on the demonization of “liberal.”