Thursday, February 11, 2010

Palin & Polls

With Sarah Palin back in the spotlight over the past several days much is being made of this Washington Post/ABC News poll showing 71% of Americans stating she is not qualified to serve as President.

Yet I find the poll results to be question begging.

First, the poll interviewed 1,004 adults by telephone between February 4th and 8th. I don't think that is nearly a large enough sample size. For instance, when Gallup tracks President Obama's weekly approval ratings it does interviews with more than 3,500 adults. That's more than three times the size of Post/ABC News poll. Although the accuracy of polls can't be determined by size alone I tend to give more weight to a poll which interviewed 3,500 people as opposed to a thousand.

Second, this poll is ostensibly a "random national sample." But all polls are skewed to some degree. How do we know that 750 of the 1,000 plus participants weren't from the Upper West Side? How do we know that 70% of the respondents sampled weren't Democrats? But let's assume for a moment that form of bias wasn't an issue in this poll. We still don't know if these were registered voters or likely voters. Even if two thirds of Americans don't think Palin is qualified to be President doesn't mean that they will all show up to the polls to vote against her were she a presidential candidate. There are other variables to consider as well - age, gender, education, income level, religion, etc. But above all else, I have to wonder about the geographic distribution of this "random national sample."

Third, what jumps out at me the most about this poll is how Palin is singled out. Here is the question which prompted 71% of the respondents to indicate Palin isn't qualified to be President:

Regardless of whether or not you'd vote for her, do you think Palin is or is not qualified to serve as president?

Now, I'm not saying it isn't a legitimate question to ask. But the survey doesn't ask respondents if they think Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee is qualified to be President. I'm sure if either Romney or Huckabee wants to take another shot in 2012 they might like to know the answer to that question especially if the results are favorable to them. On the other hand, their results might very well be similar to Palin. But we don't know since those sets of questions were never asked.

The fact that the polls asks only about Palin's qualifications and no one else's reinforces the message that Palin is not qualified. The survey itself is structurally biased. Agenda setting undoubtedly plays a big roll in that structural bias. The last thing The Washington Post ABC News wants is a Palin presidency and they will move heaven and earth to prevent such a thing from coming to pass.

When Barack Obama was weighing whether or not to run for President did any pollster ask the public if he was qualified to serve as President. Absolutely not. If The Washington Post, ABC News or any other polling entity had asked such a question it would have been deemed racist. But with the Post nor ABC News rooting for Obama to win why would they have asked such a question in the first place?

Fourth, how accurate is this poll? This isn't an exact science. Remember The Boston Globe poll that had Martha Coakley with a 15 point lead over Scott Brown a week and a half before the election?

Finally, despite my misgivings, let us assume for a moment that everything in the Post/ABC poll is accurate. It is well worth remembering that a poll is but a snapshot in time. If a week in politics is a lifetime then a year is an eternity. So many things could come to pass in the next year. The ground is not standing still.

If Palin were to run in 2012 I suspect that she would announce at this time next year. If those poll numbers are where they are now or are worse then it could be said the White House might be too steep a climb. But she has time on her side. Let's say her poll numbers do improve. I don't think the liberal media would be too enthusiastic to spread that information around.

And with that I wish Sarah Palin a happy birthday.

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