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Monday, January 26, 2004


Why The Polls Are Wrong

posted by Dana at Monday, January 26, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
Math time, boys and girls!

Here's what the pollsters and the news media won't tell you. Here's why the polls are wrong.

Get out your statistics textbooks. Let's turn to the section on "total universe." The larger the market, the more accurately you can forecast its behavior, because the easier it is to get a representative sample.

In a national election, the total universe is over 100 million, so it's relatively easy to get a representative sample.

In a New Hampshire primary, the total universe may be 100-150,000. We don't know. Not only that, but because the total potential universe is small, it's very hard (nearly impossible) to draw a representative sample from it. All the "tricks" pollsters use to even out differences among samples, which work well with a big universe, skew the results further with a small universe.

In a national election, where 100 million vote, you need to change 1 million minds to get a 1% movement in the polls. In a New Hampshire primary, you need a change of 1,000 minds. You can get the same impact by changing the contents of the sample, by changing who actually turns out.

So there is no way for the polls to be right in New Hampshire, and frankly, they never are. They are nearly always wrong. Last time, in the Republican primary, polls taken the day before the election showed Bush up 4% on John McCain. He lost by 17%.

What does this mean? First, momentum is important, and right now it appears Dean has it. Second, Get Out The Vote (GOTV) activities mean everything. You've got to get out all the voters you can. Then you hope for the best.

Fingers crossed.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.