As we enter another national election cycle I recall that in the last presidential election cycle the public was being pounded with hourly political “analysis” by the media. These contributors were able to tell me exactly how I was going to vote, when I was going to vote, who I was going to vote for, and my innermost feelings on countless issues.
Much of what we saw was cherry picked citing the “latest poll” from multiple organizations competing for the most “accurate projection” of the “current” voter sentiment. These numbers could be sorted by any number of demographics based on ethnic background, age, sex, economics, race, shoe size, hat size, and any number of other useless criteria.
In the 1950’s, the philosopher Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his show “How to Think” presented four rules for evaluating statistics:
- How many possible cases are there?
- How many were tested?
- Can you believe what they told you?
- Who paid for the experiment?
Do applying Bishop Sheen’s four rules to poll numbers provide us with some interesting revelations?
How many possible cases are there?
According to the United States Election Project, 138,847,000 of 250,056,000 eligible voters, or 55.5 percent, actually voted in the 2016 presidential election.
How many were tested?
Polls cited during the 2016 presidential election cycle news channels for the basis of their “panel discussion” reported about 800 respondents. I noticed one poll as low as 601 respondents. That is 0.000578 percent of the voters in the last election and 0.00032 percent of the eligible voters.
These news media “panelists” often liked to report on the latest average of five polls. Each of these has about 1,000 respondents. That gives us an average of 5,000 respondents. So our numbers are a little better giving us 0.0036 percent of the voters in the last election and 0.002 percent of eligible voters.
Does anyone find it disconcerting that the future of their government, the future of their country and maybe the future of the world was being discussed by “panelists” based on a sampling of less than six ten thousandths of a percent or if they use much more reliable poll averages, less than four thousandths of a percent?
To put this in perspective, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average 2015 salary in the U.S. was $56,516, the last year information is available. 0.0032 percent of that is $2.03. Can anyone tell me your budget and spending habits based on a $2.03 expense you paid? Isn’t that a fraction of the price of one gallon of gasoline in most parts of the country?
Rule number three: Can they believe what they told you?
I know of no way to accurately fulfill this requirement. But many people have told me they either hang up on the pollsters or they provide inaccurate information to the pollsters further questioning the accuracy and reliability of the polls.
Lastly, rule number four asks: Who paid for the experiment? Or who conducted the poll?
Statistics and polls can be skewed depending on any number of factors including, who was polled? Banish the thought that the pollsters could be altering their techniques from accepted scientific polling methods in an effort to skew their results for media attention.
Wouldn’t it also be enlightening if we could apply additional questions for the statistical evaluation:
- How many of the sampled actually responded?
- How were those sampled chosen?
- What were the questions?
- How much control is exercised over the format and options for the answers?
It certainly appears that the pollsters missed their mark in the presidential election. Or should I say they were not able to channel the votes of the people for the desired outcome of those “Who paid for the experiment?”
Quite frankly I find it condescending that the “expert panelists” tell me who I am voting for, what I am voting for, where I am going to vote, how I am going to vote, and why I am voting the way they say I will vote. All based on the most trivial sampling of a measured population.
But what I consider the most insulting is when these “expert panelists” tell me that my vote does not matter because of where I live, my age, my income, or any number of other factors. Are these “panelists” spending more of their efforts trying to influence me and my fellow voters to follow their “predicted” patterns of voting? Are they trying to dissuade people from voting by convincing them it is a waste of their time? Unless, of course, you comply with the “predicted” or should I say desired pattern of “Who paid for the experiment?” To barrow a quote: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
John M. DeMaggio retired after 30 years of service as a Captain from the U.S. Naval Reserve Intelligence Program. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Forensic Science from John Jay College and a Master’s of Science from Whiting School of Engineering, Johns Hopkins University. Privately consulting in counterterrorism, forensic science, and investigations, he also conducts international counterterrorism training, having retired as a Special Agent in Charge and serving as Co-chairman, Investigative Support and Forensic Subgroup, TSWG, developing interagency counterterrorism technology. He is also an op-ed contributor for The Hill. He previously published “Mitigation of Terrorist Effects on Victims’ Motivation” in U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Center Colloquium. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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