Cheat-Seeking Missles

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Dixville Notch Deuce

Today, the 19 folks who voted in Dixville Notch, NH, are back in hibernation, removed from the national spotlight for four years, when New Hampshire once again greedily grabs the national spotlight by tenaciously clinging to its role of host of the nation's first primary, and they crawl, locust-like, to the polls.

As you may recall, here was their call:
Obama - 7
Edwards - 4
Richardson - 1
Clinton - 0

McCain - 4
Romney - 2
Giuliani - 1
The media dutifully reported this political Puxatawney Pete-watch as if it mattered, just as they reported all the polls, as if they mattered. They were both equally accurate ... or inaccurate, naming McCain, but totally missing Clinton.

ABC's polling whiz, Gary Langer, writes this a.m.:
There will be a serious, critical look at the final pre-election polls in the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire; that is essential. It is simply unprecedented for so many polls to have been so wrong. We need to know why.
Sure, like it's never happened before and inaccurate polls are a troubling new phenomenon. The efficacy of Langer's "critical look" is undone a few sentences later when he says:
In the end there may be no smoking gun. Those polls may have been accurate, but done in by a superior get-out-the-vote effort, or by very late deciders whose motivations may or may not ever be known.
If they were "done in," no matter how they were done in, they were not accurate, so defending their accuracy is a refusal to understand that it's impossible to predict something as dynamic as the American political process, so there can be no fix. And therefore, no reason for over-coverage of polls ... or high-paid positions like polling director for ABC News.

Despite the failure of the New Hampshire polling, what will we see next? South Carolina polls!

Imagine an economic model that pegs the economy right half the time -- would we use it?

Or a set of business metrics that predicted a company's performance in half the quarters right and half the quarters wrong -- think its authors would hold onto their jobs long?

Or a global weather prediction model that got half ... oh, forget that one.

hat-tip: memeorandum

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