Monday, January 31, 2011

[ A special FGAQ op-ed ]

Following up: An urgent message to the Gallup Organization
George Gallup, Jr
After World War II, my father was an up and coming statistical analyst who seemed on the verge of greatness. Justifiable, as he had correctly predicted the winners of the three previous election using sampling populations as small as 5,000 respondents. But in the fateful year of 1948, with the press regarding him as a statistical demigod, he boldly predicted that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman by as much as fifteen points. He could have averted this disastrous forecast had he only asked the proper follow-up question: "Thomas Dewey is as vacant as a commercial lot, and he looks like Orson Wells in Citizen Kane... May I assume that you are jesting?"
The fact is that by 1948, Americans were finally starting to relax after the Great War. Endued with a more playful spirit, they were increasingly comfortable joshing with a pollster. However, when reminded of the seriousness of the query, they were usually swift to reveal their true opinion. Avoidance of this simple follow-up is undoubtedly the reason that my father toiled in obscurity for another ten years before he was able to establish the Gallup Organization, a mistake he vowed never to make again.
I am proud of the years I spent at the helm of Gallup after the departure of my father, and I faithfully followed his credo of respecting the follow-up question. And though I am no longer involved with the day to day business of the organization, I continue to follow their findings with great interest. This is why I now take pen to paper, and ask current Gallup CEO Jim Clifton to explain what in Hades is this piece of excretory claptrap that you saw fit to publish today?
"71% of National adults feel that is very important or somewhat important for the GOP to consider Tea Party ideas". Even setting aside the vast gulf between 'very important' and 'somewhat', this might at least serve as statistics to ponder were it not for the further delineation of the sampling pool.
It probably is futile to search for meaning in the true composition of those who label themselves as independents in the current environment, for these are tricky devils and their motivation are often unclear, but surely they are a group that is worthy of the follow-up my father infamously neglected to use.
It is with the group self-identified as Democrats, however, that the absence of this second question is most sorely missed. 53% believe that it is important for the GOP to listen to Tea Party ideas. In light of the fact that previous statistics had already established that only 11% of Democrats admitted having even a somewhat favorable view of the Tea Party, the proper follow-up should not be 'are you jesting?' but a hearty 'what in the blazes do you mean by that?'
Many explanations are possible: hope that further radicalization alienates the GOP from the mainstream, a desire for the higher entertainment value that Tea Party candidates tend to provide, or an honest desire to see these views have full access in the marketplace of ideas, but they are all as unexplored as a distant universe of barren planetoids.
I note with interest that during the three days required to conduct this half-hearted survey, a mere 1032 respondents were sampled. Surely there was sufficient time for an illuminating secondary multiple choice. In my tenure at the Gallup helm, we worked eight hour days, and coffee breaks were only fifteen minutes. Mister Clifton, this lack of follow-up has thoroughly destroyed my enjoyment of the latest Gallup poll, and I fear that it sullies the great reputation of the entire organization through the sin of omission. Be advised that I shall carefully poll this matter among my constituents, and should my fears be born out, I shall look upon you and the Gallup Organization with great disfavor.

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