Polls, Damn Polls and Statistics
By Ahmed Amr
One of the curious things about this election is that both candidates refuse to talk to the press. You would think both would be anxiously mugging for the cameras to land some free advertising. Yet, George Bush has spent his whole term dodging reporters. And John Kerry last held a press conference in August.
So, why is there no outcry in the national press about these camera shy candidates? And what to do with the legion of idle reporters who can't ask a question - much less land an interview? Have they ever considered seeking out Ralph Nader, a man willing to show up to any press conference he gets invited to? Why are Nader interviews such a rare commodity? Maybe the media boys just don't like the idea of giving away freebies. Perhaps they are partial to deep pocket candidates who can pay the going market price for a mug shot and a sound bite.
Once again the media lords are flexing their muscles to rig the elections. Ralph Nader was thrown out of the race five minutes after he declared his candidacy. John Dean was also beaten to a pulp for his unconventional political heresies. Both men refused to play by the rules set up by the bookies. So they were labeled 'unelectable' and ushered to the rear exit.
Now, we are down to the last frantic week of a well-staged race between a pathetic Repubocrat and his Demoplican clone. As the clock ticks away, all eyes will be focused on the fresh polls coming out of the same mass media factories that sponsored both White House contestants. The polls are the story and the reporters are on it like a pack of flies on cow dung.
I forget what the polls said yesterday. I believe Kerry was ahead by a point. But Time Magazine now has him five points behind the president - plus or minus three points. Which could mean that Kerry might be eight points behind the incumbent. How did that happen? Could it be that the Senator, for unknown reasons, lost nine or ten million votes in the span of 24 hours? You do the math. If you take a worst case scenario, Kerry lost a million votes every two hours. That works out to nearly ten thousand votes a minute. If the game keeps changing at this pace, Kerry is on track to lose Theresa's vote. In fact, he might run out of constituents by the first Sunday before the election.
CNN has just come up with a novel way to make sense of the polls. They now average four of five poll results and give you the mother of all polls. Chances are, FOX will follow the trend and come up with the father of all polls. If the father poll fornicates with the mother poll, the pollsters might just end up where they started - with a whole bunch of baby polls.
Polls are just polls. The results depend on the mental health of the pollster. The mass media racketeers like to leave the impression that their numbers come with a seal of approval from a certified FDA clinic. In fact, the reason polls gyrate like a bimbo on speed is that they are just as mindless of the real world.
In the real United States of America, a pollster calls up at noon and the dog picks up the phone. So, the guy asking the questions makes a giant leap of faith and assumes that the dog has the same political views as his master. After all, the inquisitor is being paid by the hour and is getting tired of asking the same damn question over and over again. Next thing you know, he is interpreting one bark as a yes and two barks as a no.
People who are at home during the day are usually much younger, much older or less sober than the average voter. The younger ones hang up; the elderly retirees refuse to end the call before they recite yesterday's obituaries and some of the less sober ones hand the phone to their dogs.
Have you ever noticed how some poll results are arrived at by a sample of 781 people and others manage to call up 1237 'likely voters'. Can't the polling firms at least agree on a nice round figure like 1000? Is a likely voter a person who likes to vote? Millions of Americans live overseas and many of them are determined to vote this election. Do any of these polling firms call 'likely voters' in Italy, Mexico and China? Given Dubya's reputation around the world, isn't it entirely possible that the Parisian American vote will go to 'Anybody But Bush'?
In modern elections, polls serve one single purpose - to psyche out the opposition. If you are certain, based on poll results, that your candidate is going to lose and the weather outside is a little chilly and your dinner might get cold - you are less likely to vote. We know this from statistical studies - which should not be confused with polls because statistics are based on much larger samples. Good statistical analysis includes the study of historical databases based on questions that are asked after the elections. Unlike polls, reliable statistical studies of electoral behavior are conducted by large non-partisan academic institutions. While polls are usually commissioned by Rupert Murdoch or Karl Rove or cooked up in a neocon boiler room operation contracted to CNN or Time.
In any election, voters are exposed to an endless stream of polls and damn polls - not statistics. Even if these polls were to rise to the respectable levels of statistics, the spin-doctors and pundits would figure ways to skew the results to match their political agendas. As Mark Twain observed over a century ago there are 'lies, damn lies and statistics'.
The only way to determine an election's outcome is to have a full tally of the entire population - not a poll sample or a statistical sample. That's what ballots are for. So, it is advisable to ignore the polls and vote early and often. However you decide to vote, please don't stay home and let the dogs determine the destiny of the Republic. And if you really want to frustrate these annoying poll meisters, vote for Nader.
Ahmed Amr is the editor of NileMedia.com. This article can be published at will.
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