Monday, September 28, 2009

Politics: Quit Makin' Things Up

TORONTO, ONTARIO - For those that don't follow, blogger Nate Silver has in recent days uncovered some reasonably disturbing information about pollster Strategic Vision LLC that implies--though does not prove--that the company has fabricated some of its data. In a series of posts, Silver has laid out statistical arguments that call into question the methodology of the firm--with specific questions that the company has yet to respond to, all of this coming in the wake of a reprimand of Strategic Vision by the American Association for Public Opinion Research for not revealing its techniques. Considering that some of their polls have had results favoring Republicans (an especially bizarre one last year showed John McCain with 74% of the youth vote) and that the company apparently sells tickets for events run by the local office of the Republican party in Georgia (see another Silver post), the upshot is a serious allegation that this firm made up data to support a right-wing agenda.

Considering that it was right-wing darling and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin that not long ago called for the media to "stop makin' things up", one would think that the left would be eager to put on display this seeming hypocrisy. Yet, so far the response has been pretty muted, though some organizations are undoubtedly still fact-checking and Strategic Vision president David Johnson has been aggressive in refuting the allegations, which may indeed prove unfounded.

One must remember, however, that this is fundamentally about politics. The truth does not matter in politics, as discussed previously, including this year-old post. What does matter is crafting a pre-conceived negative vision of the opposition, and then trying to place them in a position in which their actions appear to match that pre-conceived vision. Ironically, whatever the validity of the Strategic Vision polls, the fact that these accusations are out there will leave the right wing thinking that the left is again making up things about "their" pollster. If the polls do prove to be legitimate, that image will spread beyond the right-wing base into the mainstream, and those on the left will be widely perceived as liars. Never mind how careful Silver tried to be in his use of statistics or how much more careful he has been in his statements than I have been in this post. He'll still suffer in the general public, as will the mainstream media that pick up the story.

Of course, Strategic Vision could end all this discussion by simply releasing the key information at the center of the dispute, response rates and weighting procedures. They apparently consider this information proprietary despite the fact that all other pollsters examined have released this information, sometimes in remarkably simplified form. But, it wouldn't further the story line about a left-wing media "makin' things up" to release it quickly, so don't expect it to happen until the mainstream media in general and Nate Silver in particular can be made to look bad.

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