Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Poll is Better Than Yours

My fish is always bigger than yours.

In political-speak, my poll always turns out better for me than yours.

Last weekend, the Boston Globe published a poll that showed Mayor Menino a comfortable 20 points ahead in the race to be Boston's Mayor. However, Boston Phoenix reporter David Bernstein rained on the Globe's parade, citing a poll released by the Mayor's opponent, Michael Flaherty, showing the race as being far tighter (though the Mayor still led by seven points, which is not exactly a small margin).

It should not surprise anyone that Flaherty's team felt the race was closer than the Globe's poll indicated. Here's where it gets interesting, though. Bernstein concluded, "I think the race looks much more like Flaherty's poll than the Globe's."

As an observer, I must say that Bernstein's conclusion is somewhat baffling. Why would a reporter trust a poll released by one of the candidates over a poll conducted by another publication?

I actually sent Mr. Bernstein a Facebook message asking him why he trusted Flaherty's numbers so much. I will update this post if he gets back to me.

I also have not seen the actual data related to Flaherty's poll. However, based on a college course on research, there are other questions and concerns I have.

One example: Poll results are influenced by how questions are asked. What would stop the Flaherty camp from asking a few questions during the poll that might cast doubt on the Mayor before asking for the voter's preference in the election. After hearing something negative about a candidate posed as a question, the voter is more likely to lean away from that candidate.

I certainly don't blame any campaign from using this style, and I am not saying the Flaherty camp used this tactic in this case. However, it's one reason why we should all be trained not to trust polls released by a given campaign.

Editor's Note: I am volunteering for Mayor Menino's campaign in this election.

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