Unlikely Voter

Poll Analysis and Election Projection

PPP’s polls were rigged all along

New York Magazine was trying to be sympathetic to the popular polling figures on its own side of the political, but let out a secret in the process: Public Policy Polling cooked the books all along.

The key paragraph:

When I talked to Tom Jensen, PPP’s director, this morning, he was understandably in the mood to gloat. “These supposed polling experts on the conservative side are morons,” Jensen crowed. “Jay Cost” — the Weekly Standard’s polling expert who’d waged a number-crunching war against PPP — “is an idiot.” But Jensen conceded that the secret to PPP’s success was what boiled down to a well informed but still not entirely empirical hunch. “We just projected that African-American, Hispanic, and young voter turnout would be as high in 2012 as it was in 2008, and we weighted our polls accordingly,” he explained. “When you look at polls that succeeded and those that failed that was the difference.” Given the methodological challenges currently confronting pollsters, those hunches are only going to prove more important. “The art part of polling, as opposed to the science part,” Jensen said, “is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the equation in having accurate polls.”

Note the doublethink here: Jensen and New York Magazine are both so very pleased with the election’s results – as well as eager to take digs at Scott Rasmussen and Jay Cost – that they’re both perfectly willing to overlook the fact that Cost was right. In fact, the truth was much further along than Cost, I, or most any other commentator was ever willing to go.

I don’t remember anyone willing to say PPP was actively rigging the polls to reach chosen results, but there it is in black and white. Jensen decided in advance what he wanted the electorate to look like, and so tweaked the numbers until he got what he wanted. This isn’t a whole lot different from what Research 2000 admitted to doing, folks.

In science, it’s not just that you got the answer you wanted. It’s the process that matters. PPP, Nate Silver, and the New York Times – the heroes in New York Magazine’s story –are not practicing science. They’re taking their own beliefs and wrapping them up in a cargo cult.

Maybe that’s why Silver didn’t even try to project the House of Representatives this time. I didn’t have time to do any projections this cycle because I had to take a full time job. Nate Silver is a paid professional with the New York Times. What excuse is there for him?

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