Lies, damned lies and opinion polls — the Daily Kos controversy

At Catallaxy, Rafe pings Club Troppo for getting "excited by a report from the US which suggested that a large proportion of Republican voters have really silly ideas, indeed they are practically insane. Interesting to read that this result came from a survey commissioned by Daily Kos and they have now admitted that the survey results are bogus."

What’s this about?

According to poll results posted on Daily Kos: 63% of self-identified Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist, 42% believe he was not born in the United States, 31% believe he is a racist who hates White people and 31% think contraceptives should be outlawed. After looking over the results Markos Moulitsas said :

… I expected some of these questions to generate some pretty crazy responses. But I gotta say that it sorta exceeded all, all my expectations. I mean you have a third that’s just certifiably insane. You have a third that’s fairly reasonable. And generally you have a third that thinks it’s debatable whether Obama’s a socialist. Thinks it’s debatable whether Obama’s a racist who hates white people. And so on and so forth. So I don’t know if I quite expected just how crazy these results were going to be.

At the time, Moulitsas was working on a book called American Taliban. The book argues that American conservatives share the same agenda as the Islamic world’s radical Jihadists. "I found myself making certain claims about Republicans that I didn’t know if they could be backed up", wrote Moulitsas. "So I thought, ‘why don’t we ask them directly?’ And so, this massive poll, by non-partisan independent pollster Research 2000 of over 2,000 self-identified Republicans, was born."

The results generated excitement and more than a little scepticism. At Atlanticwire Michael Kinsley noted that "Even some on the left believe the poll also had structural deficiencies." Debate raged over the effects of sampling bias, response rates, and acquiescence bias. But at the time almost everyone assumed that the poll was legit. Earlier this week that assumption collapsed when Moulitsas announced that a year and half worth of polling results were probably “bunk”.

Moulitsas is planning to sue his polling company Research 2000 after a group of independent researchers contacted him and explained why the polling results looked suspicious. "Based on the report of the statisticians, it’s clear that we did not get what we paid for", Moulitsas wrote. "We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don’t know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can’t trust it."

So does this mean that Republicans aren’t crazy after all? Moulitsas isn’t ready to concede that. American Taliban is going ahead despite the polling fiasco. In an email to Hotline OnCall he wrote:

After this disaster unfolded, I rushed back to the manuscript to see if there was any collateral damage. Turns out the entire book has only two citations to Research 2000 polling, and both of those times, the results were backed up by additional numbers from other polling outfits. The first was backed up by the right-wing Rasmussen, the second by Pew.

At Daily Kos Moulitsas links to other polls that report similar findings. One is this Harris Interactive poll that reported 67% of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist and 45% that he was not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president. Critics were quick to pick holes in the poll’s methodology and design.

Even if Moulitsas’ pollster had played by the rules, it would be difficult to know what conclusions to draw. Moulitsas wants us to believe that Republicans carry these attitudes around in their heads, think about them frequently and use them to inform political decisions. But none of this is established by the polls he refers to.

A popular myth about polling is that it uncovers already existing attitudes. But in many cases the respondent hasn’t thought about the issue before the pollster confronts them with a question. As I explained in an earlier Troppo post, it’s often possible persuade respondents to volunteer attitudes to fictitious issues such as non-existent laws. Polls don’t tell us whether the person had a particular attitude before they were asked about it, how much time they spend thinking about it, what they think it means or how it affects their behaviour.

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press recently reported that 41% of American adults believe that Jesus Christ will definitely or probably return to earth before 2050. Respondents from the South, those with less education and White evangelicals were more likely to answer definitely or probably than other groups. How many of you think this has bankable implications for companies selling retirement savings plans or durable building materials?

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8 Responses to Lies, damned lies and opinion polls — the Daily Kos controversy

  1. . says:

    “How many of you think this has bankable implications for companies selling retirement savings plans and durable building materials?”

    Not much for building materials. Cultists invariably spend up big on housing and personal itmes on the expectation they’ll never have to pay it back.

    They raise the returns of the building, construction and property markets and thus attractiveness of the plans for those who do not bring their consumption forward.

  2. C.L. says:

    How many of you think this has bankable implications for companies selling retirement savings plans and durable building materials?

    I ask myself the same question about left-wing warmenists with millenarian agendas and beach houses.

    …67% of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist…

    Well, duh.

    Seriously, has Moulitsas got a screw loose? In 2008, liberals happily elected a president with the wackiest church background in American history. For 20 years, Obama ‘worshipped’ under the guidance of a pastor who believes the CIA infected black people with AIDS. Until this week, the Democrat Party’s third-in-line to the presidency was a former Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. And we now learn that one of its most revered elders is a “crazed sex poodle.”

    Vice President Joe Biden says that in 1929 he watched President Roosevelt on television calming a nation in the midst of the Great Depression. On the upside, he regards his principal as “clean and articulate.”

    We wont even start on Nancy Pelosi and Harry “Light-Skinned Negro” Reid.

    Look, the truth is the American Moulitsashideen is shell-shocked by the epic failure of Obama and the stunning success of the Tea Party. Simple as that.

  3. mel says:

    Good post, Don.

  4. Tel says:

    Sarah Palin is looking after herself: after several kids she still has the body of a 21 year old. Presumably she has been tinkering with her birth certificate to make herself look younger.

    Seriously though, what does it mean “Obama is a socialist” ? Seems there is reasonably solid evidence that Obama has moved towards a Central Planned economy and away from individual freedom. Does that represent socialism? Bailing out banks rather than pushing them through bankruptcy court is socialism in my books, forcing people to take medical insurance is an incursion on personal liberty, huge stimulus packages are a step towards a centrally planned economy.

    Then again, the “Patriot Act” and the various “Homeland Security” regulations have probably been the biggest incursions into the freedom of US citizens in the history of that nation, and those things can’t be blamed on Obama (although he could have made an effort to roll them back if he cared).

    Can anyone name one single thing Obama has done to increase individual liberty in the USA?

  5. Harry May says:

    “According to poll results posted on Daily Kos: 63% of self-identified Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist, 42% believe he was not born in the United States, 31% believe he is a racist who hates White people …..”

    Don have you some information source that mere mortals are not privy too? You don’t do you? So you are in n position to simply assume you are right and they are wrong in their contentions. The people who would make a best guess of the above propositions are those who have looked into matters. You have not. You are totally ignorant of these subjects, so you are betting the other way out of pure ignorance and irrationality.

    Obama is a socialist. No evidence has existed to the contrary ever. His only surviving Grandmother believes he was born in Africa, and claims to have been present, at the hospital, at the time. That he is a racist anti-semite is not open to question, since anti-semitism was what he thrived on in Chicago politics. I just don’t know how it is that you get to be so delusional as to think you know for sure the opposite of these cases. Surely this non-understanding between what you do and don’t know is a form of insanity. I don’t know for sure that he was born in Africa. He may have been born in the US. But the evidence leans the other way. So clearly you have an epistemological handicap, to say the very least.

  6. Yobbo says:

    You don’t get it Tel. Mentioning the word socialist means you think Obama is Castro, and automatically renders you a lunatic, just another for the left to add to their list of people to be ignored.

    The fact that he has instituted dozens of socialist policies is irrelevant. You just can’t use that term any more, it’s like an unwritten godwin’s law.

  7. Tel says:

    Since “Socialism” has broadish usage, covering a variety of policies, I don’t think that requesting a simple definition of terms is unreasonable.

  8. Yobbo says:

    We are talking about Daily Kos here, reasonableness tests don’t really apply.

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