Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2004 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
Parsing the Polls
The election is over. The Weekly Reader has spoken. The authoritative organ of the playground demographic has taken a poll, and President Bush hammered Sen. John Kerry 60 percent to 40 percent. Darth Rove's outreach is working, it seems. But don't worry, Kerry fans the poll is irrelevant. What do kids know? Doesn't mean Bush will win; they're little brainwashed robots who are just repeating what they hear at home.
Oh. Right. Well, it still doesn't mean that 60 percent of the homes are going for Bush. The poll has no use beyond its cutesy-poo novelty. It's like a dog walking on hind legs. Doesn't mean all dogs will be standing erect and demanding pants, let alone a permanent rollback of the estate tax. Granted, the poll has been right before; it did pick Bush in 2000. And Clinton in 1996, and 1992. And it was right in 1988, 1984, 1980, 1976, 1972, 1968, 1964, 1960 and 1956. So what?
Let's look at the internals of the poll. (That's what people say when they want to sound like they're in the know. Crack the rib cage and poke around the internals.) Aha! Bush is actually down among 6-year-old children whose parents are registered to vote but couldn't get off the sofa if the house were on fire and the election judges were handing out free buckets of water. He's trending flat among 8-year-olds whose parents are likely to vote, but only for "American Idol." Kerry is up among 12-year-olds who are just beginning to grasp the power of annoying Mom and Dad. Ralph Nader is polling strongly with that one weird kid who studies college algebra and eats paste. And there are the undecideds, who might cast a write-in vote for "Homer Simpson's Butt," then laugh uncontrollably.
So it's not so clear. It's like the Giddyup battleground state polls, which show Bush up 3 and Kerry down 940, except for the Zogmussan tracking poll, which showed Kerry up by pi among Hmongs and dependents of class-action suit victors, although the internals there are tricky because it turns out they just called this one guy's house and left it at that. Hey, it was Friday. Five o'clock. C'mon. Big whoop.
Then again, three-day averaged tracking polls show it's Al Sharpton/Pat Buchanan in a write-in vote, if the base doesn't turn out. This is unlikely, since the Democratic base has consistently polled as "somewhat extremely likely to want Bush dragged screaming into the woods by rutting bears," and the Republicans split 50-50 over whom they want to burst out in girlie-tears, Michael Moore or Al Franken. If the base does show up, you should trust the polls that show a 45 percent chance Kerry or Bush will be elected, with a 95 percent chance that both will be elected, and the election will be decided on Inauguration Day as both candidates whup the tar out of each other behind the bleachers. Plus or minus six points, weighted for race, weather conditions and whether "Judging Amy" is a rerun.
The Electoral College polls are a bit different. If you count voters who voted once in '76 and have fond memories of watching Jimmy Carter's acceptance speech or was that a "Hee Haw" rerun? then Kerry will not only win but ascend to heaven on gossamer wings, thence to judge the quick and the dead. Under this scenario Bush gets two electoral votes, from one of those apocryphal states like West Dakota or North Idaho. If you count those highly motivated voters who have been crouched in the blocks for the last week, waiting for the starter's pistol at dawn of Nov. 2, then it's a dead heat. Unless you factor out absentee ballots and factor in fraudulent registrations, adjusting for overseas military ballots and AOL Internet polls where you can vote 60 times an hour.
As we've been saying all along could be a tie, could be a 20-point blowout. A tight race, in other words. Whatever the outcome, the polls didn't see it coming. Unless they did. Will you live and die by the polls next election? Survey says yes, by a 10-point margin.
Plus or minus 11.
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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2004, James Lileks