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Polls, Trolls, Spin…. and the Object of The Other Side’s Game

Once You Figure Out a Scam, You're Thus Inoculated

Since it’s a Sunday morning and Gaia is favoring us with a bounteous drizzle, this is a good time to go over a few things about “games people play” and the real game that is being played by the other side right now. Hopefully, this will particularly benefit our younger readership. :-)

First….

Amidst all the polling, trolling (they are regimented as delivery-systems around here, aren’t they?), and furious spinning, always keep in mind that the other side is playing a game with one objective in mind:

The object of their entire game at this point – as it was back in 2004 – is to sow depression on our side as a method of suppressing turn-out, particularly in swing states.

That’s it. That’s the whole game in a nutshell. Think of it as an attempt to psychologically induce disenfranchisement.

As Sir Moe has noted, polling data these days is all over the map. We’ve all noticed how the trolls show up here like clockwork anytime there is some hokey “poll” (see below) that leans their way. Is this just typical wishful thinking? No. See the above. This is psychological “warfare.”

If you want a back reference, the indispensable Mark Steyn wrote eloquently, back in the fall of 2004, about a news conference at the White House. Then-Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi was in town to visit President Bush, and after their meeting they stepped out into the Rose Garden for the usual joint news conference. Most of the reporters’ questions were about Iraq – but none of them were directed at Prime Minister Allawi. As Mark Steyn noted, the press-dogs had the go-to guy from Baghdad standing right there, but they couldn’t be bothered to take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, their entire interest was to try to make President Bush look bad as a method of suppressing turnout among swing voters in Florida and Ohio. (The good news, of course, is that it didn’t work.)

Second….

Whether or not it’s just accidental or actually contrived (see above!), with what little attention I’ve paid I must say that I’ve learned a great deal of late about “polling” – and it’s not pretty. Results are presented to us as “data” – that “this is a poll and this is the way it is.” Well, hardly. The top-level result gets all the attention, but if you go below the surface you find out that it’s not “raw data” at all (as we’re learning more and more, as others have noted). It’s an enormous sausage factory into which goes a pile of raw data (such as it is), a whole raft of…. interesting things happen, and some “result” pops out that is very processed – and which may bear little relation to the underlying raw data.

In this sense, “polling” seems to be akin to the kind of “data” we’re regularly presented with regard to “global warming.” That too is presented as “data” – but if you look under the hood, there’s a Rube-Goldberg sausage-factory that produces “final results” that don’t seem to even exist in the “raw data.”

Several other commentators (like the esteemed Gamecock) have noted that you have to look at the “internals” to try to get the real story. My comment on that count would be that everyone has been too gloomy of late (see section one, folks!).

Here are a couple of “internals narratives” from Jim Geraghty from a few days ago that provide some counter to the psychological warfare from the trolls.

From last Wednesday:

Okay, No, Really, Why Would Independents Be Breaking To McCain?The Wall Street Journal poll:

The survey finds that Sen. Obama has lost ground with the independent voters who will be crucial to the outcome of the election. They now favor Sen. McCain by 13 percentage points, up from eight points two weeks ago. In early September, just after both parties’ conventions, half of independent voters had a positive image of Sen. Obama; now it’s just 39%. Independents were also less likely to say they could identify with his background and values than they were in early September.

And nearly half of all voters — 45% — said they think that Sen. Obama would raise taxes on middle-income people, even though he has promised not to, a sign that Sen. McCain’s attacks on taxes are working.

Same deal as the LA Times poll described below – two national polls out the same day, both by major media organizations, both showing McCain surging among independents, yet still trailing Obama by a few points. (Haven’t seen a partisan breakdown of the sample, but they’ve got to have a much larger number of Democrats, unless there’s a sudden explosion of Obamacans.) If they’re accurate (big if, but if the poll is wrong, it’s really odd to have two wrong polls making the same error), something’s got independents shifting to McCain in significant numbers, and yet at a time when most polls have McCain slipping. What gives? Some television ads breaking through?

And from last Thursday:

McCain +17 Among White Women Nationwide?

In 2004, the national exit poll (weighted to the final count) showed Bush winning white women by an 11 point margin (55% to 44%).

The September 2008 Franklin and Marshall College Poll, released today:

The largest changes in candidate preference since our June survey are among fundamentalist Christians, white men, and white women. McCain’s advantage over Obama among fundamentalist Christians has increased from 8 points to 30 points; his advantage among white men has increased from 7 points to 28 points; and his advantage among white women has increased from 5 points to 17 points.

All usual caveats apply ­ this is a poll of registered voters, etc., a lot can change (nice sample size, though, 1,320). But if Obama loses white women by 17 points on Election Day, McCain wins the election, and we’ll probably be able to call it a night relatively early that Tuesday.

Ponder those “internals” over your second coffee….

Third….

That last item above struck a chord. As fall progresses, a local hobby is to ruminate about what the impending winter will be like – with one sport being to try to extrapolate based on which past years behaved as this one has so far. I’m old enough to do that now. :-)

Electorally, after a few of these cycles, this year has a feel to this observer of being very much like 1980. That was a year when enemies were snarling alarmingly, it was supposed to be impossible for the other side to lose, and the polling data right down until Election Day were muddled, contradictory…. and close. We all loaded up supplies expecting a long, long, tense night – and then found to our surprised delight that it was all over very quickly.

As the financial prospectuses are wont to say, “Past performance is not a sure indicator of future performance.” But we may be closer to a repeat of the 1980 scenario than we can imagine right now….

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