Broken meters

News agencies are constantly reporting on polls and statistics. Often the same survey questions are asked week after week, and reporters give them back to us as if they were the pulse and pressure of the nation.

But how are these numbers generated? Who is doing the surveys, and how accurate are they?

We hope to shed some light on that issue. Just like blood pressure measurements, some patterns of numbers are extremely unlikely, and may indicate that there is something amiss with the meter rather than the thing being measured.

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2 Responses to Broken meters

  1. Shouldn’t organizations like DailyKos and TPM require their pollsters to provide the raw data 100% of the time? Wouldn’t that deter possible tampering and allow for extensive crowd sourced analysis?

    There is no good reason for pollsters to keep the raw data in house.

    Alternatively, how about opening up a new polling house whose policy is precisely to be fully transparent with the raw data?

    • sqrtnegone says:


      The thing is, a lot of polling firms are actually doing analysis and prediction in addition to polling. Often a clear distinction isn’t made, and the numbers reported are actually estimations or predictions that come from post-processing the initial sample. A real poll will just be the initial sample data.

      People need to make a clearer distinction between these two, and then publish their raw data. Right now they just sort of put a veil over it all because they don’t want to disclose their estimation techniques.

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