31 October 2008

Dance of the Knights

Finding the website iftheworldcouldvote.com (henceforth ITWCV) has brought more questions to mind about the polling process than I was previously willing to consider. If this website gives us a truly accurate representation of the United States' voting mentality then we should be worried about what the other polls are telling us. Obama holds the favor of nearly 80% of America while McCain has a mighty 20% going by the figures provided by ITWCV. How could our general concensus as portrayed by RealClearPolitics (A, B, C), Gallup, Pollster, and other reputable polling organizations be so far away from the consensus seen on an unbiased website (whose polling process is much simpler) created by three Icelandic men? Perhaps their website is indeed biased in some manner, but the percentages it gives us for other countries seem to agree with MSNBC, the BBC, Reader's Digest, and Gallup. I have honestly been hard pressed to find a world poll that gets close to agreeing with ITWCV's results for America.

What does this mean to us? Perhaps the polling techniques used for the current election are a bit off. This election season has seen us inundated with figures from "registered voters", "likely voters", election "markets", and a whole slew of nifty categories and techniques that keep us on our toes believing that they have managed to accurately predict the election results. One more technique that must be taken into account is sensationalism. Why would people (in this case those who only take an interest in the media when a big issue arises, such as an election) continue to be as interested in the newspapers and polling organizations if they were to predict a landslide victory for one candidate? Personal stake is involved to a degree unseen since...wait...don't news organizations always compete for the chance at a better profit? That seems like quite a personal stake right there.

Finally, just to clear this up: I am not suggesting that poll results are being purposefully manipulated (conspiracy theories may be fun, but they are not my way of life). I merely raise an issue that has arisen through a sizable discrepancy between different polling methods. Perhaps the polls are as close as the media tells us, perhaps they are far from it. The fact that I now have to question the honesty of one side or the other worries me the most. The media was protected by the First Amendment to allow us a good dose of, if not a right to, common, mass distributed honesty. What are we then left to believe if that honesty were to disappear in the stead of sensationalism or outright manipulation?

I will leave you on a good note: I just returned from the future and know exactly who will win the 2008 presidential election...that part is unimportant, though. The good note is that your lives will continue going on even after the initial rejoycing or disappointment. Have a safe, happy, and well informed November fourth! Remember to set your clocks back. Wash behind your ears. Tell those near and dear to you just how much you really care about them. Tip your servers well. Most importantly, vote.

1 comment:

phil said...

I think the principal reason for the disparity between ITWCV results for the US and locally held polls (e.g. gallup, rasmusen)is the bias caused by Internet voting.

There are two preconditions for voting on ITWCV:

1. You have access to the internet and surf to at least some extent.

2. You are interested enough in US politics to find the site and want to express a view.

People who satisfy the above are not representative of the American population at large which also includes many people who dont uae the internet, dont care about politics enough to find a site like ITWCV, are illiterate etc. People of these demographics ARE sampled by traditional polls but are not represented on ITWCV.

What these figures suggest - to me at least - is that people who use the internet are on average more educated, more internationally aware and more liberal in their politics than those who dont. This is bound to create a bias toward a party that values these attributes i.e. the Democaratic party under Barack Obama.