10.18.2022 – A 4 year old could

A 4 year old could
understand wonkiness go
find a 4 year old

Adapted from the Marx Brother’s Movie Duck Soup.

In the movie, the Treasury Secretary presents his departmental report saying, “I hope you’ll find it clear.

Grouch, in the role of President of Freedonia, Rufus T. Firefly, accepts the report and responds, “Clear? Why a four year old child could understand this report.”

Groucho hands the report to Zeppo playing the usual role of secretary to Groucho and in a lower voice says, “Find me a four year child. I can’t make head or tail of it.”

I just finished reading the article, NYT/Siena Poll Is Latest to Show Republican Gains.

The article asks, “Is four points the real margin nationally? That’s a good question.”

The writer of the article, Mr. Nate Cohen, then tries to answer the question.

His response seems to focus on the wonderful polling/statistical concept known as WONKINESS.

(I present a representative section of the article with buzzwords in bold for artistic license.)

Mr. Cohen writes:

Is four points the real margin? (Wonkiness 4/10)

Our poll may show Republicans ahead, 49-45, and yet it may not be accurate to say they lead by four points. In fact, they actually lead by three points.

This is a polling custom that has always left me a little cold. The case for rounding is straightforward: Reporting results to the decimal point conveys a false sense of precision. After a decade of high-profile polling misfires, “precision” is most certainly not the sense pollsters want to try to convey right now. And in this case, reporting to the one-thousandth of a point would obviously be ridiculous. We didn’t even contact a thousand people; how could we offer a result to the one-thousandth?

But there’s a trade-off. Characterizing this poll as a four-point Republican lead doesn’t merely offer a false sense of precision — it’s just false. That’s not something I can gloss over.

Sometimes, the difference is enough to affect the way people interpret the poll. We’ve reported one party in the “lead” by one percentage point when, in fact, the figures are essentially even. These differences don’t actually mean much, of course, but no one — not even those of us well versed in statistics and survey methodology — can escape perceiving a difference between R+1 and Even.

I am reminded of the old Saturday Night Live sketch of Chevy Chase playing Gerald R. Ford.

When he gets an question about economic numbers, Chase (as Ford) looks at the screen and says quietly, “I was told there would be no math.”

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