The Liberal blogosphere just exploded

We have unconfirmed reports that the Liberal blogosphere has just exploded, however some eyewitnesses are claiming that it was more of an implosion rather than an explosion.

The cause of the event is universally agreed to be the recent poll which was released by the Strategic Council (available here) which put the Liblogers beloved party down in the polls (gasp!) and the Conservatives up in the polls (double gasp!).

Now, information is sketchy at best at this time, but we have one eyewitness describing Libloger Scott Tribe writing:

“I don’t need to remind you about their Harper majority government poll numbers last year, do I? 2ndly, despite the aforementioned scepticism [sic] of any poll commissioned by SC, the poll still shows a neck and neck when the MOE is factored in. That would put it in line with the Decima and SES polls which showed a virtual tie between the Liberals and the Tories last week.” (source)

We have other eyewitnesses describing blogger Stephen Downes as writing:

“It is irresponsible journalism to merely repeat poll results with no analysis or criticism.  This is especially the case when the response to the question “How would Canadians vote if an election were held today?” is misinterpreted to read “How would _you_ vote if an election were held today?”” (source)

Moreover, we have further reports of the king of the Libloggers Jason Cherniak has written about “Polls Schmoles” (source).

We’re going to turn this over now to our Senior Asian Reporter Trisha Takanawa who is interviewing Paul from Paulitics:  Paul’s Socialist Investigations.

Trisha:     Paul, thanks for speaking with us, today.

Paul:     My pleasure.

Trisha:     Paul can you talk to us a little bit about Scott Tribe’s attack on the Strategic Council’s methodology.

Paul:     Well, Scott actually makes two accusations against Strategic.  The first is that since they were in his opinion inaccurate in last year’s election, they ought not to be taken as seriously as other polling firms.  As I discussed on my Polling Resource Page, it is true that SES had by far the closest predictions, Strategic actually came in second (behind SES) of the four polling firms that I analyzed in terms of accuracy.  So I don’t know if it’s entirely reasonable to just write their methodology off.

     The second reason for disregarding this poll that Scott makes is that “This poll still shows a neck and neck when the MOE is factored in.”  Now, I have to admit that I’m not a polling expert.  My background is in Canadian politics, political theory, media studies and Marxist philosophy.  However, I did take a stats course in my undergraduate degree and I do still have my old textbook kicking around.  So, I may be missing some aspect of this or I may be confusing some aspect of this (for instance, multi-directional or uni-directional z-scores always tripped me up) and if I am, then I’ll be the first to admit it.  But here’s what I found when I examined Scott’s second claim.

     What Scott’s claiming is that, since the Margin of Error (MOE) of this poll is +/-3.1%, and since the Liberals are at 29% and the Conservatives are at 34%, then they’re only 5% apart.  Hence, since (3.1) x (2) = 6.2 > 5, then the Liberals and Conservatives are actually tied.  This is highly problematic reasoning.

I’ve brought along some diagrams with me, do you mind if we show them to your audience Trisha?

Trisha:     No, not at all, Paul.

Paul:     Thanks.

     Well here we see two normal distributions which illustrate the probabilities that we’re looking at.  I’ll explain the math later, but let’s go ahead and take a look at these right now.

image-a.JPG

image-b.JPG

     Since, there are 5% points separating the Liberals and Conservatives, the Liberals would have to be 2.5% higher and the Conservatives would ALSO have to be 2.5% lower than the Strategic poll predicted.  Therefore, what we’re really looking at is the probability that the Liberal number is beyond the point I’ve drawn all the while simultaneously the Conservatives are below the point I’ve drawn. 

     Since probability is the area under the curve, it looks like there’s a pretty good chance that Scott’s right, doesn’t it Trisha?

Trisha:    It sure does Paul.

Paul:    That’s right, at first glance it does.  But let’s take a closer look.

The MOE for this poll was 3.1% 19 times out of 20.  In other words at the confidence interval of .95, we have a MOE of 3.1.  Therefore, if my undergrad stats class didn’t fail me, then we can find the standard deviation like this:

Since 0.95 = a z-score of 1.96

Therefore, then standard deviation (s) = 3.1/1.96 = 1.582%

Therefore, using this standard deviation, we can find out that: 

2.5% = a z-score of 2.5/1.582 = 1.5806.

Thus, the probability that EITHER the Liberals OR the Conservatives are 2.5% off from what Strategic predicted is 5.71% (to find out how I got this number, just look up a standard z-score chart).

Trisha:     Well that doesn’t sound so low Paul.

Paul:    Well, just a second there Trisha.  5.71% is the probability that EITHER the Liberals OR the Conservatives are 2.5% off from what Strategic predicted.  But in order for Scott’s contention that the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck, they BOTH need to be 2.5% off.  The way we calculate that is by multiplying the probabilities together.

Thus:

(probability the liberals are off by 2.5%) x (probability the conservatives are off by 2.5%) = the probability that Scott Tribe’s right.

Thus the probability that Scott Tribe’s right(0.0571) x (0.0571) = 0.0033 = 0.33%

Trisha:     That’s a pretty small chance that’s Scott’s right, Paul.

Paul:     That’s right Trisha.  But then again, I’m not a statistician, so you’d have to consult somebody who’s more knowledgeable on his subject to check my numbers.

Trisha:     But what about Stephen Downes’s loud claims?

Paul:    Well I really don’t really fully understand what Downes is getting at, but if you go to Strategic’s actual report and not the Globe and Mail article, you’ll see exactly which question they ask and it seems pretty normal to me (and I have worked for the Decima polling firm in the past, so I’ve personally conducted polls like this one.)

“If the federal election was being held tomorrow, do you think you’d be supporting the (ROTATE LIST) Liberal candidate in your area, Conservative candidate in your area, the NDP candidate in your area, or the Green Party candidate in your area or (QUEBEC ONLY) Bloc Quebecois candidate in your area?”

Trisha:     But Paul, what do you make of Jason Cherniak’s dismissal.

Paul:     Well Trisha, I’ve been told that if you can’t bring the Yiddish, that you shouldn’t try, so I wouldn’t want to attempt anything with regards to Cherniak.

     What I can say though is that all three of these bloggers are hardcore partisans who simply don’t like the prospect that their beloved party is down in the polls.  I don’t see them complaining when the Conservatives, NDP or Greens take a “nosedive” in a given poll, so it seems like here, in my opinion, we have a case of ‘the lady doth protest too much methinks’.

Me, on the other hand, I hate both of these parties equally and really couldn’t care less which one is ahead in the polls.

10 Responses to “The Liberal blogosphere just exploded”


  1. 1 Werner Patels 20 February, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Let the Liberals lose; they’ve earned that right. And you know what? I have never voted NDP, but I’d rather see the NDP win more seats at the expense of the Grits.

    I may not agree with everythigng the NDP stands for (in fact, there are only a few rarified occasions when this happens), but NDPers are at least principled and honest people, unlike the Grits.

  2. 2 janfromthebruce 20 February, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Isn’t that sweet – A con cuddling up to a NDPer!

  3. 3 janfromthebruce 20 February, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Great post. Too funny

  4. 4 paulitics 20 February, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    janfromthebruce – Thanks for your kind words. I do however feel I need to reiterate something which I discussed in my post here:

    https://paulitics.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/a-word-on-my-partisan-affiliation/

    I am NOT a New Democrat. I have never been a New Democrat. I probably will never be a New Democrat.

    I’m a Marxist and a socialist.

  5. 5 paulitics 20 February, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    P.S. Just to everybody reading this: I recognize that there are some typos in this post, for some reason WordPress is screwing up right now and not letting me edit my post, so I can’t fix them. I know probably nobody cares, but it was bugging me, so I just wanted to mention it.

  6. 6 Morgan 21 February, 2007 at 1:41 am

    “= the probability that Scott Tribe‘s right.”

    bahahah, I laughed so hard at that equation. Even before I looked up the answer of %0.33.

  7. 7 Mark Dowling 21 February, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Hmm… not so sure about that 0.33% figure. Multiplying the probabilities together only applies for fully independent events if I recall MY stats-as-part-of-a-different-course. While the Liberals would not get all the benefits of a 2.5% offset in Conservative support they would not get none, while rules out the events being independent. Anyone around that actually did take stats voluntarily?

  8. 8 Stephen Downes 21 February, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Before you characterize me as a “hard-core partisan” as you do above it would be helpful to learn at least something about where I stand politically.

    Nobody would ever call be a Liberal. Trust me. Yes, I have voted Liberal a couple times in the past – Maclelland in Edmonton, for example, and Claudette Bradshaw here in Moncton, but that was in cases where there was no appreciable NDP presence or where the margin was so slim a vote for the NDP would have been a mistake.

    I have voted Green a few times as well. I actually worked for Glen Staples’s Green campaign in Calgary in 1984 or so (I forget the exact date). And of course I supported Tooker Gomberg in the Edmonton municipal elections.

    But other than that my support has been pretty much solidly NDP. I worked on Barrie Chivers’s campaign several times in Edmonton Strathcona, sought the NDP nomination there in 1993, worked at the press officer in the Peace River riding, also in 93. I supported Drew Caldwell and other NDPers in Brandon, Manitoba, and once ran for mayor in that city on an anti-poverty platform.

    I have in addition posted extensively on my website in support of NDP-type causes, including articles like ‘Everyday Socialism’, among others. You can view them here: http://www.downes.ca/page/7

    My complaint about the poll was a legitimate one, and not motivated out of partisan positioning (though an NDPer might ask how the Greens suddenly managed to become the favorite of 12 percent of the population). That certainly doesn’t jibe with recent trends, which leave them at around 6 – 8 percent.

    As for the statistcs, I would recommend getting a better statistics person.

    You write, “But in order for Scott’s contention that the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck, they BOTH need to be 2.5% off. The way we calculate that is by multiplying the probabilities together.”

    This would be true if they were independent variables. But of course, they are not. Since both report the result of the same survey, if one is in error, then so is the other. Indeed, the only way for the PCs to be 3 points high is for some other party (or combination of parties) to be 3 points low. The correct way to calculate the probabilities in this case is to use a conditional probability (Bayes theorem). But, based on what I read, this is probably too advanced for your guest expert.

    Now, as one NDPer to another, let me say: be nice, especially to people you don’t know.

  9. 9 paulitics 21 February, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Stephen – Just a couple of points.

    I was the first to admit that I’m no expert in statistics and as such, you’re absolutely right that the statistical analysis in this post should be taken with a grain of salt. As such, if you present to me a detailed solution to the problem, I would be more than happy to give you (or anybody else) a platform on which to present an alternate mathematical analysis. Either way, I’m sure we can all agree that unless there’s something disastrously flawed with Strategic’s methodology (which, as I discuss on my Polling Resource Page, I do not believe to be the case any more than for any other polling firm) then the probability that Scott Tribe is right must be less than {5.71% + 5.71% = 11.42%}. Which, if my math is correct, would still mean that Scott would have a better chance of playing Russian Roulette with FIVE bullets and surviving than he would of being right on his contention that this poll shows the Liberals and Conservatives as neck and neck.

    As for the legitimacy of your complaints about the poll’s question, I humbly would have to disagree with you. I saw no reason to draw concern over the question asked since I’ve worked for a polling firm and the question they published seemed to me to be very much in line with the questions posed by other reputable polling firms. As such, I do not believe you have established your case sufficiently at this point in time.

    Lastly, insofar as my characteristization of you as a Liblogger is concerned, you’re absolutely right that I do not really know you or your blog and as such I erroneously assumed that you fell into that category. Consider that portion of the post retracted with apologies. [As an aside though, I do however feel there is ample evidence to demonstrate that both Tribe and Cherniak are “hardcore partisans” even if one of them is relatively new to the Liberal camp and as such I stand by that claim as it pertains to the other two bloggers.]

    That said, your characterization of me as a New Democrat is equally false. I am absoutely not a New Democrat as I have emphazed now on three occasions in as many days. I am a Marxist and a communist. (see one of my above comments for details on this).

  10. 10 Polly Jones 21 February, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    “Either way, I’m sure we can all agree that unless there’s something disastrously flawed with Strategic’s methodology (which, as I discuss on my Polling Resource Page, I do not believe to be the case any more than for any other polling firm) then the probability that Scott Tribe is right must be less than {5.71% + 5.71% = 11.42%}. Which, if my math is correct, would still mean that Scott would have a better chance of playing Russian Roulette with FIVE bullets and surviving than he would of being right on his contention that this poll shows the Liberals and Conservatives as neck and neck.”

    Correct by my math and too funny.

    Point made!


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