Home > Uncategorized > The irresistible pull of the premature data point

The irresistible pull of the premature data point

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

After

“I want to spend more time with my family”

the second most common fib told by politicians is

“the only poll that matters is on election day”

There are tribal council elections in as-yet undiscovered corners of the Amazon where this line has been trotted out.  It is used to deflect bad poll results — in order to appear competitive — as well as good poll results — in order to appear modest.  Everyone knows its bullshit; the politician knows that we know it’s bullshit; we know he know this, and so on.  It is a comfortable and reassuring lie, like any sentence from a politician that begins with the words “putting politics aside…”.

This much is true, however:  polls matter a lot more the closer they get to an election.  (In fact, in Australia at least, it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to claim “the poll that matters the most is on election day” in the form of the final Newspoll.)  Conversely, polling as far out from election day as we are from the 2012 Presidential election is hardly worth the effort it takes to read, digest and dismiss.

However, partisans like me can’t resist the pull of a data point that serves to reinforce a desired narrative, regardless of its relative meaninglessness.  And so I allowed myself to take far more solace than warranted for the trend illustrated in the above graph.  Support for Obama among  independent voters — a troublesome but electorally critical bunch — has dramatically improved.  The trend-line shows a steep decline in disapproval numbers since the tax deal was announced.  It almost certainly explains why the anticipated Republican revolt against the package didn’t eventuate and it passed 81-19.

 

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