A few words of caution on these California polls

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at bellsouth.net
Sun Sep 28 23:12:54 MDT 2003


It was, of course, gratifying for folks who are generally sympathetic to
independent politics to see Peter Camejo back up to 5% but remember
these are relatively small samples, of about 500, and the degree of
imprecision of the numbers is fairly high. 

Nevertheless, all the commentary, and things like online polls (albeit
non-scientific because they're self-selected participants, not random
sampling) suggest that Camejo's support has increased and Adriana's has
declined. That isn't necessarily support shifting -- an early poll that
showed Arianna with 6%, if you looked at the detailed poll results,
showed most of that support coming from Republicans, probably people who
were unaware of her evolution in recent years. The Pew poll done in the
first half of September revealed support for both Peter and Arianna then
was relatively stronger in the Black community than elsewhere.

In addition, this is, in the CNN case, a poll of "probable" voters. The
word "probable" was chosen to get away from the traditional term "likely
voters," which in this case can't have the same meaning as in a "normal"
election because there's never been an election like this one.

Built into the numbers especially are projections --guesses-- about what
the turnout will be like. A higher turnout, conventional wisdom says,
and the model of the electorate the poll uses reflects this, will favor
Bustamante, as more Blacks, Latinos and poor people in general
participate.

This makes it very, very hard to compare this poll with previous ones or
ones done by other organizations, as it is quite likely the underlying
assumptions vary widely. 

In other words, part of the changes in the percentages you're seeing for
Bustamante and Schwarzenegger are driven by changes in assumptions about
what the electorate will be like on election day, not just by how X
number of people answered questions this time as opposed to last time.

Also, the previous polls were before the last couple of debates and the
court fight on postponing the vote. A lot has happened in the race since
then.

José


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