Posts Tagged Polling


More than any election before it, this one has been about the polls.  Right now, it’s about the discrepancy between the  national polls and the state polls, especially in Ohio and other mid-western states.  Other stories say that it comes down to 100 swing counties, which is another way of saying that if you know how those counties vote, you have a good idea of how the rest of the country voted.  On election night, we’ll be looking at particular states and counties, and Michael Barone, he of the electoral calculator, will be able to tell us that if a certain county moved X% from 2008, that means…

All of which reminded me of a short story by Isaac Asimov from 1955, called “Franchise.”  It’s one of his Multivac stories, and it’s about elections.

In 2008, it’s possible for Multivac, the massive computer housed in miles-long tunnels, to figure out the results of every election on every issue, all across the country, by asking a single Elector a few hours’ worth of questions, none of which actually is, “Who do you vote for?”  The Voter is chosen by Multivac as the most representative of the population of the United States for that year.  (Fame and riches naturally follow, although the Voter can’t really tell anyone anything about the experience – one of Asimov’s jokes.)

The joke, of course, is the people treat Multivac like God: nobody wants to question its omniscience, and when the Voter for that year is disappointed that he won’t get to see Multivac, he’s reassured that since they can communicate with it, Multivac is, in a very real sense, there with him.  The joke, of course, is that there are limits to our knowledge, that elections are subject to the law of large numbers, and that Asimov – while an atheist – is making fun of our tendency to deify technology.

The irony is that 2008 and 2012 are the most socially-networked elections in history, with a broadly-distributed vote.  All that Big Data could soon be amalgamated into something as predictive as Multivac.

But it would likely resemble one of Asimov’s other great creations, Psychohistory, more than the conscious brain depicted as Multivac.

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About That Battleground States Poll

The MSM is making much of this morning’s Quinnipiac/NY Times/CBS poll allegedly showing President Obama moving ahead in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.  This poll should carry more weight, since it is a poll of likely voters, probably identified by whether or not they voted last time, and whether or not they voted in the primary.  But as is often the case with MSM polls, the internals belie the conclusions.

The poll shows President Obama leading Governor Romney 50-44 in Ohio, 53-42 in Pennsylvania, and 51-45 in Florida.

Obama actually won these states 51-47, 54-44, and 51-48, respectively.  That in itself should raise some suspicion.  I don’t know of any other significant polls that show Obama running ahead of where he did in 2008.  Nationally, he won by 7 points, and Rasmussen’s daily likely-voter poll has shown only occasional movement from a 47-44 Romney advantage.  I suppose it’s possible that concentrated saturation-bombing could move polls in individual states, but I’ve seen such tactical strategies in the past, and they almost always come from losing campaigns.

The other odd number is how people claim to have voted in 2008.  These are, respectively, 53-38, 54-40, and 53-40, or +11, +4, and +10 vs. how those states actually went.  Even assuming people moved around, the numbers for Ohio and Florida are huge, and the number for Pennsylvania is still significant.  While people are more likely to remember themselves as having voted either for a winner, or for their current preference, even if they voted the other way, it’s hard to believe these are representative of the people likely to vote in this election.

Lord knows, I’ve been wrong about polls before.  Tomorrow morning at Denver’s First Thursday Breakfast, pollster Floyd Ciruli – a Democrat, but you’d never know his party affiliation from his commentaries – will be speaking.  I’ll ask him about these conjectures then, and report what he has to say.

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