Poll Dancing

Well, if you have been paying any attention to the news, you’ll see people talking about polls.  Polls this, polls that, etc.  Mostly it revolves around Nate Silver, who is being questioned about his polls showing a 75% change for Obama because . . . well I guess politics and ignorance of math.  Silver’s got a good record and doesn’t really hide anything.

Of course there has been an advantage to this in that people are paying attention to polls and asking questions about them.  The disadvantage is this seems to be pathetically political and ignorant in many cases, but at least there’s attention.

The thing is polls are inherently unsure – this is where your friend, Mr. Margin of Error comes in.  This is why people analyze them, why folks like Silver and other analysts build models and study trends.  Because yes, it is unsure, so you strive to get better.

I’m hoping as people examine polls and hear them talked about, we’ll get, on average, increased attention to how they work and how analysis works.

Sadly, I also think we’re going to see everything about polls more politicized.  Of course that could get interesting, because if you skew polls to fit a political view, you start destroying their value . . .

This is also another example of why I think math and some basic statistics/research skills are indispensable to survival.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.