September 27, 2004

CNN Headline, And I Quote: "Bush apparently leads Kerry in pre-debate poll"
— Ace

Emphasis mine.

The CNN/USAT/Gallup poll shows Bush ahead by 8 with likelies and, oddly enough, ahead by 11 with registered voters. (The ABCNews/WaPo poll also finds Bush doing better with RVs, so maybe this is a real thing going on here.)

CNN's headline: Bush is apparently ahead.


He's on the very edge of the margin of error. The MoE is +/- 4 for either candidate; but that doesn't mean that a 8 point lead is meaningless-- far from it. It is pretty unlikely these men are tied at the moment; furthermore, Kerry can't be ahead, unless this is one of those 1-in-20 polls that is simply unreflective of the greater population.

With the ABCNews/WaPo poll confirming the general picture -- Bush ahead, and significantly so -- the "1-in-20 polls are garbage" theory would seem to be weak.

Does CNN typically say that one candidate is "apparently" ahead by a whopping 8 points (more with registered voters), or do they only do that when the wrong candidate is "apparently" ahead?

Ace of Spades HQ Headline:

Panicked CNN Liberals Apparently Still Believe They Can and Should Cocoon Their Audience

Hey, look, I only said apparently.

Ace of Spades HQ Future Headlines (provided to me by my friend, the time-travelling bologna sandwich called Johnny Coldcuts):

Bush Apparently Wins Re-Election

Apparently Takes 325 Electoral Votes; Apparently Nets 55% of Vote in Reagan-Like Avalanche

Will Take Second Oath of Office in January, Apparently

Judy Woodruff Apparently Suffering From Clinical Depression; Will Apparently Spend a Few Weeks at the Hazelton Clinic

Posted by: Ace at 05:51 PM | Comments (25)
Post contains 280 words, total size 2 kb.

1 2.1 million voters apparently disenfranchised in Florida, Ohio, other states.

Nevermind, that one might be real.

Posted by: Joe R. the Unabrewer at September 27, 2004 06:03 PM (5anNT)

2 A real headline I mean--not a real event.

Posted by: Joe R. the Unabrewer at September 27, 2004 06:15 PM (5anNT)

3 It's simple: CNN apparently is fair and balanced.

Posted by: Charlie at September 27, 2004 06:34 PM (m3S0Y)

4 Wolf Blitzer apparently not an actual wolf.

Posted by: Tom Alday at September 27, 2004 06:36 PM (c3m2t)

5 Ace,

One small correction. The polls use a 95% confidence interval. The odds that Bush is 4 points lower is 2.5% because it's ONE TAIL of the normal distribution. Similarly, the odds that Kerry is 4% higher is 2.5%.

Therefore, the odds that Bush and Kerry are tied is .000625.

That's a 1 out of 1600 chance of Kerry being tied. The odds that he's ahead would have to be somewhere South of that. So the cocoon is much deeper than you imagined.


Posted by: Birkel at September 27, 2004 07:03 PM (1mwIk)

6 What's the last statement of a dead campaign: The only poll that counts is the one on election day.

Stick a fork in Kerry, he's french toast. And Bush will be applying the powdered sugar on Thursday in the debates, maybe fruit and whipped cream in October...

Posted by: Brett at September 27, 2004 07:09 PM (7OiLt)

7 Well, I don't know if your math is exactly right; I think it's worse than you imagine.

It's much more likely that the poll is accurate to, say, +/- 1 than +/- 4. Half of all polls like this will be accurate within 1; 10% or so will be accurate within 4. (These aren't the actual numbers; they're ferinstance numbers.)

Posted by: ace at September 27, 2004 07:12 PM (RGQgo)

8 Err, I agree with Birkel. I haven't done the calculations - but that's the proper setup.

Long version:
The margin of error is a direct measure of the accuracy of _the_poll_. 95% is the normal setting for the margin of error - and that leads to "There's a 95% chance that Bush _currently_ would win between 48 and 56% of the popular vote". That means (duh) that there's a 5% chance that he's outside that range. half-too-high, and half-too-low.

You're right that if you're given '52% with MOE 4%' you should always pick exactly 52% as the expected outcome - it is the most accurate guess available. The range 51 to 53 is also substantially more likely than the range 49 to 51... but the chance of it being 'lower than 48' is precisely 2.5%. (Assuming 95% confidence levels, which is normal, but not clearly stated here.)

Short version:
Holy crap. No changes -> toast even including a 2% cheat factor.

Posted by: Al at September 27, 2004 07:30 PM (bXUgf)

9 Regarding the math...

They almost always round up. The margin of sampling error is probably about 3.5% -- they always round up for no particular reason, which means it is outside the margin of error. Even if they didn't, then at a 90% level, the the margin of error will be lower, and it will be outside the interval....

Of course, you can throw all that out the window if they fucked up and didn't take a random sample. It wasn't a fluke that they initially called Florida wrong in 2000. It was incompetence by the VNS. Getting a random sample is harder than it seems it should be, but my guess would be that if anything, it might be a little biased in favor of Kerry, but that's pure conjecture based on 2002 polls versus actual outcomes. As in 2002, I think conservatives turn out.

Posted by: Mark at September 27, 2004 07:42 PM (uvpsw)

10 Oh, and apparently the internals of the poll are terrible for John Kerry. Never before seen unfavorable ratings for a challenger.

Posted by: Mark at September 27, 2004 07:51 PM (uvpsw)

11 But did you listen to the numbscull expert? He said, "And President Bush's approval rating is above 50%, which is better than being below 50%, of course."

Oh my God! That's like the fucking prophicies of Nostradamusor something. Thanks for clearing that up for me, douche Bag!

Posted by: Dacotti at September 27, 2004 08:37 PM (QvMeW)

12 Apparently Johnny Coldcuts is on some sort of depressent after the death threats and all.

Posted by: otalps at September 27, 2004 11:16 PM (Y1bWh)

13 wait a minute....holy bag of crap carefully encapsualated in an even smaller bag of crap, what the fuck is going on in the msm? is everyone at cnn having john hinkley fantasies or something? please tell me that this is not a collective nervous breakdown we are witnessing. im gonna go bake some pies and hope this all blows over. this is one of those publically uncomfortable moments where like the groom at a wedding is giving a speech, but he farts uncontrolably and real loud right when he is professig his utter love for his new wife. meanwhile, everyone in the room wants to laugh but they just kinda keep quiet and play it off cause they know its all downhill for him after that. this headline is fucked on so many more levels than that.

Posted by: mr.pie at September 27, 2004 11:34 PM (tDTe4)

14 I wrote a little analysis of the stats for anybody interested.

It's got some links and stuff. No big deal but if you're interested check it out.

Oh, and sorry it doesn't have any of that patented Ace of Spades humor. My bad--it's a dry subject.

Posted by: Birkel at September 28, 2004 12:43 AM (JBOkg)

15 Ace, the answer to your question:

"Does CNN typically say that one candidate is "apparently" ahead by a whopping 8 points (more with registered voters), or do they only do that when the wrong candidate is "apparently" ahead?"

is found here:

I'll give you three guesses...

Posted by: Superstar at September 28, 2004 02:21 AM (T5ThL)

16 Birkel: Supporting Bush and supporting Kerry are not independent events, so you cannot simply multiply as you have done. But I agree that if those are unbiased estimates, there is nothing apparent about Bush's lead.

Posted by: Mark at September 28, 2004 03:27 AM (uvpsw)

17 When pew poll showed a tied race after the 1st pew poll showed 11 points for Bush. The Aol news for three days showed as its lead political story that the race was tied. The two new polls (Gallup and Post) have barely been mentioned on AOL. Apparently Bush being up is not newsworthy for Aol. Check it out.

Posted by: Ralph at September 28, 2004 03:59 AM (AaBEz)

18 I realize they're not independent events.

But the question would then become what is the relationship of the two. Certainly it is not 1:1 as Nader and Undecided receive votes. There is no evidence that moving away from Kerry wouldn't just result in a non-voter (or an undecided voter). Ditto for Bush's side.

Also, the previous CNN/Gallup/USAT poll was in line with this one. Certainly that is evidence that the reported MOE for each of the polls overstates the MOE if the polls can be combined. If they can be combined it's even less likely the CNN headline makes any shred of sense.

Posted by: Birkel at September 28, 2004 04:32 AM (JM/Zq)

19 A quick search of CNN comes up with some other uses of apparently... "Video shows Turkish hostage apparently beheaded"

or "Poll: Bush apparently gets modest bounce"

Posted by: James at September 28, 2004 04:35 AM (rP4OC)

20 Whatever. Statistics can be used to prove anything. Seventy-five percent of all people know that.

Posted by: Sobek at September 28, 2004 06:31 AM (XwlU1)

21 This just in...I highly placed source in the Democratic Party has hinted that, perhaps, there are rumors that John Kerry has apparantly inploded due to an overdose of Botox and tanning cream.

Posted by: Nickie Goomba at September 28, 2004 06:53 AM (9B2q6)

22 RVs??? I didn't realize fifth-wheels and Winnebagos were such a coveted voting demographic. Why wasn't I informed of this??

Posted by: kelly at September 28, 2004 07:33 AM (c2+Oq)

23 It's CNN, what should we expect? If past behavior is any indication, just more of the same. Is it any wonder that CNN is falling off the ratings cliff?

Posted by: MD at September 28, 2004 07:41 AM (hoo48)

24 "Despite our best efforts here at CNN and our sister network, CBS, George Bush has an 8 point lead over our Democratic god John Kerry. Bush also leads Kerry over the issue of terrorisim by a 'close' 30 points... dang it."

Up next, Bill Schneider will tell us how we can do a better job of shilling for John Kerry.

Posted by: Bladebender at September 28, 2004 07:51 AM (YvgQi)

25 Damn, I'm late to the party again. Kudos to Brett for sticking Kerry with the French toast metaphor: Dusted with sugar, Smothered in whip cream, Buried with fruit.

Posted by: dano at September 28, 2004 09:21 AM (zqLrp)

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