How Election Polling Works and Doesn't Work


Hey and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark and there's Charles W. Chuck. Bryant over there and we've got the scoop Jerry's around here somewhere. Steph you should know off to a great start she's in her. She is. She's got this remote thing going on. Yeah. The COVID special. That's right. and this was A. One. I've been wanting to do. Since two. Thousand. Sixteen. Seems like the the fire kind of went down on it, and now it's the fire is back up again in election season thought no better time than to talk election polling. In this weird sort of black magic. which is really not black magic at all and see. The polling wasn't even really that off no two, thousand sixteen. Knows Great. There was a furious fear. We'll talk about it in a second, but there's a furious reaction by the media just left polling pollsters out to dry saying like you year terrible. Your whole craft is is useless. Do us as the pollsters went back after election night on two, thousand sixteen, which by the way was a bit of a surprise to everybody involved. I. Think. So including. What yeah, when the pollsters went back and looked at their stuff, they said wait a minute. No, this is this is all fine. It was you guys media use screwed up. You don't know what polling is or what it does or how to talk about it. Most importantly. Yeah, and then you public you have no idea what's going on you just see some percentages in yard medically lead to some conclusions and. This is way off. So it's important that the media was misrepresenting it. Some polls weren't very good and then the public in general just needs to be a bit more educated on statistics understand what they're hearing, and that's what we're here for because I took statistics three times in college the same course at Georgia Georgia took one of those classes I. Ended Intro to statistics right Yep boy aided the star professor. Walked up to her on the last day of the third time it was like please and she bumped my deep to see and I was I never looked back. Say You have a one in four chance and you're like, but what does that mean? What is four? But. So if I can understand this after doing some research than anybody can understand at least the gist of it enough to understand polling and and not be taken in by bad representation of poll results are. Yes. So if you remember in two thousand sixteen, there were pollster saying or I'm sorry in I'm going to say that wrong over and over again you had media saying. That Hillary Clinton is going to win in a landslide She's got an eighty five percent chance to win some set-asides ninety five. She's GonNa win the popular vote by three percentage points all the all the battleground states in the Midwest She's going to win those narrowly and it did not work out way and like you said, there was a furor over how could everyone be this wrong with polling and there's men named nate silver who everyone probably knows at this point. who has made his name as a data specialist and runs the five, thirty eight blog and said, you know what? Polling flawed and that's probably the first thing that everyone should understand is all polling is a little bit flawed. state polling is is definitely a little more flaw, the national polling, but here's the deal everybody these polls from two thousand sixteen. Were not only not. So, far off but historically dating back to since nineteen seventy two, they actually performed a little better than a lot of elections and the state polling while worse than average wasn't that far off from the average error rate. So what do you? What do you want? So there's a lot of stuff like we said that there is a lot of post mortem that was done on the two thousand sixteen polls in what what was gotten wrong. What was gotten right and we'll talk about that later but. The the point is, is that overall it wasn't that far off and so the idea isn't that the polls failure that there's something inherently flawed with polling or that there's something inherently wrong with the media like I wanna go on record here. especially in this climate, the media is not our enemy like any healthy democracy needs a vital robust independent media as free from biases, an objective to do reality and good injustices possible. But there's also such thing as a twenty four. Hour News Cycle, and you gotta fill that and given the rise of opinion news and pundits in in basically trying to capture as much market as possible, which is definitely the wrong track for media in general. But I just WANNA go on record while we're going to be kind of beating the media a little bit that does not mean that the media's inherently flawed or evil or or seeks to to to kill you and your family and your family dog. So silver goes back and a bunch of people go back and look at history and kind of what went wrong here in two thousand sixteen as far as the polling goes he says, you know we went back for the past twelve presidential cycles since nineteen seventy-two, any said the polling air was four point one he said in two thousand sixteen that national polling error was three point one. So technically by a full point it was it was a full point better. He said we predicted that she would win the popular vote by three percentage points.

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