Wednesday, February 3, 2010

You're all the same!

Provided you ignore the opinions of the majority.

First off: I have a lot of respect for Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight political blog. When it gets close to crunch time, and qualitative analysis in elections really matters, there's none better.

That being said, when he pontificates on the opposing party he tends to get it wrong more often than not. The thing is, in this case anyway, he should probably know better.

Take a look at the following graph: The data points in this graph (from the Daily Kos/Research 2000 Poll of Republicans is spun by Mr. Silver to indicate a sameness of thought within the Republican party. "McGOP" as characterized by Silver.

The problem with this categorization is that it ignores the fundamental results of the poll:
When viewed from that angle, the Republican Party opinion on the impeachment question is fairly fractured. Compare that to a June 2007 poll where 69% of Democrats called for the impeachment of then President Bush. By any measure the Republican third/third/third split reflects greater diversity of thought than the two-thirds/third split among Democrats two years prior.

The rest of Silver's post takes aim at several examples using the same, incorrect, reading of the graphs in question. While it's true that there is 30-40 agreement across all age/demographics there's nothing within the entire poll to suggest that Republicans are this big, homogeneous group of like-thinking people that are more in lock-step than are Democrats.

Even if Republicans are in agreement, on the big questions, isn't this somewhat to be expected? Wouldn't you assume that the so-called "Conservative" party has a like-minded approach to some of the bigger issues of the day? After all, large majorities of Democrats support the current health-bill, Climate change legislation, increasing taxes on oil & gas companies, card-check union-vote legislation, etc. Is this evidence of a McDemocrat approach to politics?

No. It's not.

The impetus for writing this is not to provide cover for the Republican Party. When it comes to political philosophy I'm finding myself more and more at odds with them every day. Nor is it really an attempt to pick a fight with Nate Silver. When it comes to statistical analysis I'm bringing a knife to a gunfight in that one. He's still one of the best at what he does. No, my intention here is to highlight the pratfalls of only getting your information from one source, instead of capturing information from a variety of sources. It also illustrates why I believe that having a perspective on the news you report is not a bad thing, provided it's disclosed honestly and often. We all know that Mr. Silver is a Democratic analyst. When reviewing his work that fact should be taken into consideration, his analysis filtered and then a hard, honest look taken at the results.

The result here is that the beginnings of the 2010 Democratic campaign strategy may be starting to appear. Casting the Republicans as non-thinking, anti-intellectual automatons who lack the ability to think independently.

That the poll numbers don't suggest that is beside the point.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics after all.

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