Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seeing a Trend

I know, I know, no one ever pays attention to polls. At least that's what we're supposed to believe.

Which is a entirely untrue, of course. Everyone pays attention to them (whether they act on them is an entirely different matter). Everyone really pays attention to them when every single poll shows the same trend.

Someone sent me a link to, which summarizes the primary political polls nationwide and has presented page of Bush's approval ratings for the last three years. The results aren't surprising, of course, but the symmetry among the twenty or so polls is rather striking.

Polls are a difficult thing to judge, though. Change the wording of a question even slightly, and the results change dramatically sometimes. I get called for a lot of polls (since I'm listed as an independent, I think), and some of them are so poorly put together that there is no "good" answer. The binary options are not equivalent - "do you think George Bush has done the best job possible based on the economic and political issues left to him by a Democratic congress" is not the same question as "do you think Bush has done a good job" -- writing poll questions is an arcane and powerful art, and sometimes it's very interesting to try to tease out what the pollster really wants you to say.

So, like everyone, I don't put too much faith on polls as accurately representing the "will of the people", but when all twenty show the same general trend, it's likely that they are measuring a real-world dissatisfaction fairly closely.

Of course, the last poll I took asked me some pretty odd questons: are you a nascar fan? how often do you shop at walmart? do you think child safety seat laws are too lax? I think they tossed in the first two just to throw me off....

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