Friday, April 11, 2008

Figures Can Lie and Liars Can Figure

Every time you read an article about the forever ongoing presidential election campaign you see citations of statistics from the latest polls. Always remember to take these with a bit of scepticism, even when they show the result you prefer. If I were taking a poll of these matters, I could get totally different results from the same group of people if I simply changed the wording of my questions. For instance, "How troubling will Bill Clinton's presence in a new Clinton White House be for Hillary?" will lead to a totally different result from "Does Hillary Clinton have a great advantage because of Bill being with her in a new Clinton White House?" Similarly, "Does Barack Obama's having lived among people of many ethnic and national backgrounds give him an edge in understanding people from other countries?" will yield a different result from "Do you consider Barack Obama's limited experience in international negotiation meetings a liability?" Going to John McCain, you could ask "Do you think that John McCain's willingness to disagree with George Bush about tactics and spending shows that he would be an independent-minded President?" or you could ask "Do you think that John McCain's continued support of the Iraq war shows that his presidency would be more of the Stay the course mentality?"

Always remember to read the questions (if they even show them) when you examine poll results. In addition, you should look at as many polls as possible, and average the results to get more realistic figures.

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