Friday, August 23, 2013

Catch of the Day

You probably read about that PPP poll result in which Louisiana Republicans blamed Barack Obama for Katrina. Great fun for liberals! But do read Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy for a round up of coverage and their analysis of the question, especially this:
The problem with this question should be obvious: It was asked only of Republicans and offered just two choices: Bush, who was president at the time and Obama, who was still a junior senator from Illinois. "If you ask the vast majority of Louisiana Republicans to identify the leader most responsible for the Katrina response," the conservative Louisiana blog The Hayride argued, "you’re going to get Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin as the answer. Replacing those two on the ballot with Barack Obama so that the only choices available are Bush, Obama or 'not sure' is malpractice, and mean-spirited malpractice at that....The question was designed to force Louisiana Republicans to trash the former president in “It’s Bush’s fault” fashion. And that was transparently obvious to the respondents. Anybody could see what they were trying to do. So 72 percent of those polled basically told PPP to do something anatomically impossible. 44 percent chose the most non-responsive response they could, which was to say 'not sure.' And the other 29 percent went even further and gave the in-your-face answer of Obama.
Here's what you need to remember about surveys: they don't primarily report opinions, or predicted action; they report how people answer the specific questions asked in the circumstances under which they are asked.

In many cases, the way people answer questions from a pollster does in fact have a close relationship with their opinions; in many cases, it can predict action. In plenty of other cases, however, that's just not the case.

For a common sense rule of thumb...the closer a question is to something that respondents have been actually thinking about, the better the chance of the answer indicating something we would normally think of as a real, stable, opinion. The closer a question is to something that someone is already planning to do, the better it will actually predict actions. So, in the classic case, asking someone who they will vote for tomorrow is going to be an excellent way of finding out election results in advance; asking someone who they would vote for if an election scheduled three years from now was to take place today is going to produce a very poor prediction of future actions.

So, yeah, feel free to have fun with this sort of thing...I have no problem with PPP for doing it. Just be careful not to read it too literally or take it very seriously.

And: nice catch!


  1. Being a regular Plain Blog reader, my first reaction to that poll was: Duh! Of course Louisiana Republicans will claim that Obama is to blame for Katrina. If asked whether Obama was to blame for 9/11, they'd probably say yes too.

    The point is to express displeasure with the president, by any means necessary. It doesn't mean that they actually don't remember who was actually in charge back in 2005.

    1. right, this! I think it'd have to be of some value to someone somewhere to know how that x% of that subset of people are willing and eager to reply "obama sucks" to any question, no matter how silly. but that's all that this poll really indicates, not that louisiana republicans are that stupid.

  2. The worst thing about these PPP "gotcha" questions is that the controversies that erupt over them give the Republicans an excuse to dismiss PPP as biased and ignore that PPP's recent record on candidate polling is quite good--e.g., they had Obama beating Romney by three points and Markey beating Gomez by eight (in both cases they slightly (*under*-estimated the Democrats' share of the vote).

    1. Fair point, but for reasons similar to the above, people don't really need excuses to bash pollsters whose results they don't like. They just go ahead and do it. And if they did need a justification, being a Democratic pollster alone would be enough to put PPP on most Republicans' list...

    2. True, but this sort of mischief might make the GOP's claims of bias plausible even to some non-Republicans.

  3. I'm pretty sure the PPP guys know it's a leading question, and that we are now talking about what is exactly the point of the poll: it shows that Republicans care more about their hatred for the President than they do about the facts which, if they properly understood them, might help make their lives better.

    However, some small percentage of the 29% probably would find some conspiratorial way to blame then Senator Obama, seeing as how the whole Obama Presidency was a set up from the moment he was born and all.


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