Lies, D—ed Lies, and Statistics

I’m not generally a political person, but one of my pet peeves is when people, either intentionally or unintentionally, draw conclusions from statistics that the numbers simply won’t support. Lately the seeming obsession in the media with national polls in the U.S. presidential race has been driving me up a wall. This poll says McCain is up by 10 points. That poll says Obama is up by 1 point. Apart from the obvious problem of wildly divergent results, what no one seems to realize is that national polls are absolutely meaningless in a U.S. presidential election.

That’s because the president is elected by the Electoral College, not by national popular vote. Each state is allotted a certain number of electoral votes, and who gets those votes is (usually) determined by who wins the popular vote within each state. A national poll, while it may indicate who is ahead in the popular vote, provides absolutely no information at all as to the number of electoral votes a particular candidate is likely to receive.

The only way to get even remotely useful numbers is to poll state by state, determining who is ahead in each state and then assigning each state’s alloted number of electoral votes accordingly. That’s what this site does. Given how pervasive this stuff is and how easy it is to manipulate, I’m beginning to think statistics should be a required course for everyone in school, or may just for freak-out-prone journalists.

One thought on “Lies, D—ed Lies, and Statistics

  1. susan September 10, 2008 / 4:48 pm

    To make every vote in every state politically relevant and equal in presidential elections, support the National Popular Vote bill.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill has been approved by 21 legislative chambers (one house in CO, AR, ME, NC, and WA, and two houses in MD, IL, HI, CA, MA, NJ, RI, and VT). It has been enacted into law in Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These states have 50 (19%) of the 270 electoral votes needed to bring this legislation into effect.


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