Author Topic: The problem with polling  (Read 434 times)

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The problem with polling
« on: August 22, 2015, 06:57:34 PM »
Does Polarization Imply Poor Representation?
A New Perspective on the “Disconnect” Between Politicians and Voters
by Douglas J. Ahler and David E. Broockman

This is an interesting paper out of Berkeley / Stanford

The way I came about it is a Politico story that uses it to show that the population is actually much more in tune with Trump's immigration views.  The larger view of the paper itself is that there are far fewer "moderates" than represented.  Somebody with a far right view in one area and a far left view in another area is classified a "moderate".  And therefore they are looking for "moderate" candidates.  That's too simplistic to be useful.  What if the "moderate" candidate is actually 180, far right when you are far left on an issue, and vice versa?  Or perhaps the moderate candidate is trying to split the baby and fall in the middle.  That seems fine as a whole, but issue by issue, they may have nothing in common with that "moderate" candidate.  This is always why I think the left v. right thing is a bit meaningless.  It has to be issue by issue.  And then there are subissues within just about every issue.

But what I liked about this paper is how they tackle one of the biggest problems with polls:   a loaded question with binary results.  The question becomes more important than the answer.  They tackle this by dividing the question into 7 variations from most left to most right.  This helps negate a question like "should the rich be taxed at a higher rate than those in lower income brackets?"  That is actually not as much of a left/right thing as presented.  You can answer that question yes and still easily fall on the "right" side.

Dividing it up into 7 (or other mulitple) questions of varying degree gives a much better result.

However, I think there is a problem in dividing a question into 7 levels from left to right as well.  First, moderate is subjective.  Where does the middle belong?  That's a sliding scale.  This becomes more and more obvious with age.  And it isn't always a continual movement one way.

An example shows up in this very survey under the Federal Taxes set of questions.  #7 (far right) is represented as a flat consumption tax (Huckabee's FAIR tax).  That is an alternative.  And a VAT can also be considered "far left".  Most on the right don't look at taxes as "federal tax rate".  They look at it as "combined tax rate".

The seven degree question is definitely better than the binary question.  But I think the problem still begins with taking a broad topic like "taxes" and making it a single question.  It should be broken up and even a series of questions dependent on other answers.  For instance, some people approve of a consumption tax, but some approve of it in lieu of and others approve of it in addition to.

Feel free discuss polling methods or the linked paper itself.