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An opinion on Thumtack.com/GW University Small Business Political Survey

I was forwarded an early look at a survey that was produced by George Washington University’s School of Political Management in conjunction with Thumbtack.com. As some readers know, I am an honest to goodness small business owner. Two business actually and they are as different as say a private practice physician and a florist. So…………I guess this is what has lead to a request of me to opine on this survey’s results.
 
 
I googled Thumbtack.com. I had never heard of them. There is some controversy out their regarding their business model. Yet, Thumbtack.com claims 250K users. The survey was of 6000 plus of their members. They have taken some steps to assure their sampling represents the distribution of small business throughout the nation. I’m going to trust that GW’s school knows how to do and produce a scientifically valid survey. Thumbtack.com had teamed up with Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation early this year. This work attempted to come up with a ranking of business friendliness based on the experiences of small business within a given state.
 
The headline, take away finding is presented as follows:
 
40% of all small business owners nationwide rate the economy and jobs as the most important factor in choosing a president. Ethics, honesty, and corruption in government is the second-most important factor for small businesses.
Considering ethics, honesty and corruption came in at 15% and the next item to be ranked the top issue was so ranked by 6% with the percentages becoming smaller to 2% for the issue of foreign policy I would say 40%ranking the economy and jobs the number one issue is kind of an intuitively expected finding because every other issue considered in the survey fell so far behind.  After all, we are talking business owners.
 

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Polls and reporting

Lifted from Robert’s thoughts:

by Robert Waldmann

Polls and reporting

It is clear that, whenever respected non-partisan media adopt rigid rules, Republicans abuse those rules. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are a very clear example. Since news organizations often present both sides of a debate without fact checking in each article, it is possible for a mass of lies to balance all available documentary evidence. Something similar is happening this year. New polling organizations are appearing and making Rasmussen look like less of an outlier.

A new mechanical approach to covering polls is to present an average of recent polls or a time weighted average of polls or to do what Nate Silver does which he explains very clearly (and which works). It is universally believed by politicians and their campaign staff that a poll which would be good news for a candidate if accurate is helpful to the candidate. This means that an effort to game the new poll averaging system will be based on polls which show higher support than in the population for the candidate the pollster wants to support.

It is obvious that unscrupulous operators are doing this. I have long believed that Rasmussen doesn’t do a terrible job just because they value quantity not quality. The basic problem (says Silver) is that they poll all in one day. This means that they don’t call back day after day if no one answers the phone, which means that they oversample people who are home a lot.

There is no doubt that Scott Rasmussen is a very partisan Republican. Rasmussen carefully removes noise without removing bias. They weight by self reported party affiliation. This keeps the numbers from their sloppy swift polls from bouncing around. But they weight using the average party affiliation from Rasmussen polls in the preceding month. This doesn’t remove any oversampling of Republicans which is undoubtedly there. They could weight using the proportions from polls by reputable pollsters. They chose not to. This is a deliberate effort to bias the results. they had an estimated bias of 3.8% in 2010.

The cost to Rasmussen of their demonstrated bias has been less than zero. Liberals ignore them, but Fox News loves them. (In passing, Silver stresses that he is using “bias” as a statistical term and not arguing that the Rasmussen bias is due to partisanship. In contrast, I assert that it is. This is not just because the estimated statistical bias fits Scott Rasmussen’s ideology and party affiliation. It is for the reason given above. There is no legitimate reason to use only old Rasmussen polls to get the proportions of Democrats, Republicans and independents to weight new Rasmussen polls.

I am absolutely sure that Rasmussen does this to generate results pleasing to Scott Rasmussen. I think that the success of this deliberate fraud has earned him emulators. A problem for fraudsters like Scott Rasmussen is that they stand out making their bias obvious. This problem can be solved at modest cost by setting up say 3 other Republican biased pollsters. Poll aggregators are unwilling to exclude pollsters based on their subjective judgment. That means they can be lead wherever the unscrupulous want to lead them. Nate Silver explains this too

But once in a great while, a poll comes along with methodology that is so implausible that it deserves some further comment. The Foster McCollum White Baydoun poll of Florida is one such survey.

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For instance, we have our house effects adjustment, which corrects for most of these tendencies. Based on this poll, and a prior survey the firm conducted in Michigan, we calculate the firm’s house effect as leaning Republican by roughly 11 percentage points relative to the overall consensus. We do not subtract out the entire 11-point house effect from the polling firm’s results — the model allows polling firms to retain some of their house effect — but the model does adjust the poll substantially, treating it as about a 7-point lead for Mr. Romney rather than a 15-point one. That’s still a very good number for Mr. Romney — enough to make him a slight favorite in our forecast for the state — but at least a little bit more reasonable relative to common sense. Is there argument for just throwing the poll out? In this case, perhaps. But as I said, I’d rather design a system where we have to make fewer of those judgment calls and err on the side of inclusivity. Our threshold for calling out a poll’s technique as being dubious, as we have here, is pretty high — but our threshold for actually throwing a poll out is higher.

Silver is by far the most sophisticated aggregator published by mass media. He notes that outrageous nonsense which is pro-Romney by 11 points compared to the average of other pollsters only counts as if it were pro-Romney by 7 points. I think the 11 point estimated house effect is a new record. I don’t like to make predictions, but I am willing to predict that it will be surpassed. The other plainly biased pollsters are “We Ask America” (which belongs to a business lobby) and “Purple Strategies” whose CEO is the notorious Alex “hands” Castellanos one of the vilest partisan operatives in the business.

Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic thoughts

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Why can’t the Washington Post report on the Washington Post’s poll ?

The Washington Post had two articles on their latest poll. The first focused on the Presidential horse race. The second noted that US adults disapprove of congress and then went on to discuss other results. At the very end of the the second article this follows:

Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on millionaires to help close the deficit enjoys wide public support — three-quarters of adults, including majorities of independents, moderates, conservatives and Republicans, back it.

Among the few groups that don’t favor such tax increases are Republicans who strongly support the tea party movement; they oppose the proposal by more than two to one.

This isn’t news to anyone who pays attention to polls anymore, but it is more newsworthy than the observation that most US adults have noticed that Congress is not functioning. Importantly, opinion leaders don’t pay any attention to polls even when discussing public opinion.

It is widely argued that Obama has decided to fire up the base with populist proposals which will increase turnout of Democrats and liberals but reduce his support among moderates and independents. In fact, his populist proposal is supported by a majority of self identified Republicans and conservatives. Obama is moving towards the center of public opinion. He is also firing up the base*.

Also and less importantly:

Paul Kane’s and Scott Clement’s understanding of statistics is essentially as low as possible.

They wrote

Only 3 percent of Americans said they “strongly approve” of the performance of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — essentially as low as possible, given the poll’s margin of error of four percentage points.

That is they said that mathematical statistics proves that we can’t agree on anything. They definitely asserted that it is “essentially” impossible for 100% to agree on somethnig.

The problem is that pollsters have reported nonsense standard errors for so long that journalists have been convinced of something absurd.

In fact, the variance of the mean of a sample from a binomial distribution depends on the true probability — in this case the fraction of the population which strongly approve of the performance of Congress. To be modest, pollsters always present the highest possible standard error corresponding to an evenly divided population. To be honest, I think they report the largest plausible standard errors due to sampling alone to hide the fact that poll responses deviate from actual voting for reasons other than sampling error.

In any case the standard error corresponding to 3% is 100% times the square root of (0.03*0.97/(smple size) or roughly 0.55%. The convention is to report a number plus or minus 2 standard errors so 3% plus or minus 1.1%. This would be a 95% interval if the distribution were normal. Using the normal approximation, one can reject the null that the true fraction of strong approvers of Congress is zero at the 95% level.

Of course if one has any sense at all, one rejects that nul at the 100% level not the 5% level, since some people said they strongly approve of Congress. The normal approximation works very well even for fairly small samples so long as the true probability is close to 0.5. Obviously it doesn’t work whenever it gives an x% level which includes the hypothesis that no one in the population would say something which someone in the sample said.

But that is an advanced topic.

Next topic English. An obviously false statement is not made true by adding the qualifier “essentially.” The fact is that some US adults strongly approve of our Congress. This is appalling, but they really exist. The word “essentially” was used to assert that this mere fact is negligible. This contempt for mere facticity reminds me of Hegel (them’s fighting words where I come from).

Hegel did have a point. A historical movement can turn into its opposite. So the theory of statistics has become a way for some people to dismiss inconvenient data as “essentially” non-existent.

* More on taxes (my usual rant)

*I have long complained that the MSM failed to report the strong majority support for a more progressive tax code (revealed by dozens of polls on the question dating back to the early 90s). They are now reporting it — at the very end of articles. I think that under reporting of the strength of left populism is a systematic error partly caused by the self interest of opinion leaders.

Even now, many people (including the usually reasonable Charlie Cook) consider a proposal with majority support among conservatives the result of a decision to give up on winning the support of moderates. This is crazy.

I think part of what is going on is that people naturally approximate the infinite dimensions of opinion with one dimension left vs right. If you average over issues and people, the average US adult is to the right of Obama (he believes in evolution and global warming and is skeptical about the death penalty. It bothers him when he violates due process right. Etc). Even two dimensions are enough to find one where Obama is to the right of the average American. The average American is eager to soak the rich. Obama prefers soaking the rich to the alternative, but he’d really rather reform health care and regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Another part of what is going on is that political reporters lose touch with the USA outside the beltway. In official Washington raising taxes on the rich above Clinton era levels was (until yesterday) an extreme left wing position. In the general population it is a centrist position. On this issue, the median voter is far to the left of the median congressman,the median political operative, and the median pundit.

Finally there is the “opinions on optimal re-election strategy differ — both sides have a point” problem. There are people who call themselves Democratic strategists who argue that running on a soak the rich platform is bad strategy (Penn-Schoen no not the PR firm the … yes the PR firm and the P stands for politicians). This approach would clearly cause increased turnout of liberals and Democrats. If one assumes they must have a point, one must assume that it will cause moderates and independents to vote Republican or make Republcians more likely to vote. Therefore one must conclude that moderates and independents will vote against a proposal supported by a majority of moderates and independents or that Republicans and conservatives will be outraged by a proposal supported by a majority of Republicans and conservatives. This is crazy. But there is the methodological a priori that both sides must have a point, so it must be true.

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Crisis? What Crisis?

As I should have noted yesterday, and as Arnold Kling discusses today, sometimes the questions are as revealing as the responses. And sometimes, the answers are suspiciously inconsistent.

Below is the graphic from my question for the Q2 Kauffman Economic Outlook: A Quarterly Survey of Leading Economics Bloggers. Link to the survey press release here, graphic results for the questions from Bloggers here, and the general Kauffman Institute blog site, Growthology, here.

I’m failing miserably at developing a Macro model that supports the majority answer for all the questions.

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Prof. Pollkatz: Bush Approval & the three Commander in Chief Moments

Stuart Eugene Thiel is a retired lawyer and economics professor (at least he taught at Wash. St and DePaul U’s) who comments around the blogosphere here and there. But to me he will always be Prof. Pollkatz proprietor of a really fantastic polling website with a concentration on Bush approval as aggregated from 15 national polls: Professor Pollkatz’s Poll of Polls Prof. Pollkatz graciously has made his graphics available for distribution as long as it is free, reproduced in its entirely and clearly shows his name. Conditions I think I met (certainly nobody is paying me for content here).

His work did a huge service to those of us who couldn’t figure out why the American people continued to support Bush. And the answer was that they really didn’t. Instead they rallied around the Commander in Chief at three separate points: 9/11, the Fall of the Statue (capture of Baghdad), and the capture of Saddam. At all intervals in between he lost approval at a steady rate. Prof. Pollkatz shows this with these two graphics (among others). I am having trouble getting the second one to load (the one that shows the spikes), so I’ll try to get it up in comments.

(Click on graphic to enlarge) This is really an amazing result. Bush never had any significant year over year improvement. He fractionally beat his previous number in a handful of shown sample points. But in total you can’t really quarell with Prof. Pollkatz’s caption.

Prof. Pollkatz shuttered his site on Nov. 8th with the signoff: “My work is finished. Farewell. We done good. Yes We DID.”

Well I can’t disagree with that. Consider this a lovely parting gift for the political genius Karl Rove. Nothing he did actually worked in any substantial way. His client bled support almost from beginning to end, numbers boosted by three events which were largely or totally out of either man’s control.

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