Problems with polls

One of the problems with opinion polls in elections is that the margins of error are often greater than the majority for either side.

This can be seen most graphically in the Electoral Vote Predictor for last November's U.S. presidential election.

On election day this map shows what the editors of Electoral Vote Predictor believed the result would be.

Apart from getting the overall result wrong by predicting a john Kerry victory, no fewer than five states were won by the opposite party, and the errors were not all to the Democrats. New Jersey was also called an "exactly tied" state. I note Virginia listed as "Barely Bush" when it was won by about 9 percentage points.

The fault is not with the website editors, although they could have disregarded the less credible Zogby polling.


In praise of RealClearPolitics.com

Mrs Lynne Cheney, the wife of U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, is quoted from a recent television interview as being a regular reader of blogs, including RealClearPolitics.com.

Mrs Cheney said of blogs in general: "It is a real democratization of information so that people don't have to rely on one or two sources, they've got multiple sources. And I can tell in about two minutes on a blog whether this is someone whose opinion I value or not."

RealClearPolitics in particular Mrs Cheney said that she "certainly looked at a lot during the campaign."

For the basic mechanics of U.S. elections, I have found that the Green Papers is the most encyclopaedic source. If you want to know what the term limits for the Governor of Virginia are (1 four year term) or what the election cycle of U.S. Senators in Utah is (classes 1 and 3), or which are the six states that have been won by every succesful presidential campaign since 1972 (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee), then the Green Papers is for you.

However, if you want to know what's in the media right now, what the shape of the present political climate is and who's going to win next time, RealClearPolitics is an essential guide.

Not only is the sheer volume of material awesome: the home page alone is almost enough to make me quit blogging. The combination of totally professional opinion poll selection and analysis on the one hand and fearless commentary (on a different page) is a model for the rest of us, including the so-called mainstream.

I don't know what Charlie Cook's politics are, and I suspect that the editors of the Green Papers may have a liberal outlook. Both however have no hesitation in recommending RealClearPolics.com. I suspect that I am not alone in using RealClearPolitics as a portal for non-Republican sites.

The only complaint from me is that the typeface used is not as legible as using Arial would be.