Worth Reading 147: Inevitable snooker analogies

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Here’s why it matters where we draw city limits – A quick lesson in house building and spatial planning incentives from Jonn Elledge.
Dear members who read Liberal Democrat Voice, it seems that we aren’t as representative as you thought… – Interesting thoughts on the recent Lib Dem presidential election from Mark Valladares.
Shimer College: the worst school in America? – It’s not, according to Jon Ronson, but it’s an interesting look at a different way of doing higher education.
Convincing versus mobilising – Alex Harrowell with a more in-depth and interesting way of looking at political opinion poll reports.
Democracy at a TTIP’ing point – Professor Colin Crouch argues that the TTIP agreement between the US and the EU is an example of post-democracy in action, but reaction to it could provide an opportunity to reassert democracy.

Lib Dem Voice got the presidential race badly wrong, and it raises questions about their surveys

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deweySo, Lib Dem Voice took the route of the Literary Digest as their survey got the result of the presidential election completely wrong. They predicted that the first round results would be 52% for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne, with the actual result being 47% for Brinton, 27% for Cooper and 26% for Lynne. That’s one candidate given almost double the votes she actually got, while the other two are underestimated by about 50% each. Basically, as a prediction of the result, it’s not much better than a random number generator would have been.

So, we’ll have a quick pause for a ‘told you so‘ because that prediction felt wrong to me for the reasons I set out there – the LDV surveys come from a skewed sample that isn’t a balanced representation of Liberal Democrat members. Yes, I know they like to put various disclaimers on them, but those disclaimers always come after a headline that says ‘Lib Dem members think‘ (or something similar) which means the first impression is that this poll represents all members. Indeed, if you just look at the headline – and that’s all you get on the LDV Twitter feed and on other social media – you don’t get any disclaimers, and just get told ‘what Lib Dem members think’.

Now, we often get the claim that these surveys have shown similar results to other surveys of Lib Dem members undertaken by polling companies, so I went looking for the evidence on that. As far as I can see, this is based on a few questions from a few years ago (and Mark Pack’s FAQ on it that people point to is over two years old too), so hasn’t been done on a significant scale or recently. Pointing out that something was vaguely accurate a few years ago does not magically make it accurate now – especially when there’s a very big piece of evidence (the Presidential survey) that says it’s not.

This matters because the LDV surveys and their results are taken seriously by many people, and they could well be giving a wrong impression about what party members think. As it stands, people are being told that Lib Dem members overwhelmingly continue to support the coalition and think the party is on the right track, but what if they don’t? If the people being surveyed aren’t representative of the wider party membership, why are their views being presented as if they are? The most recent piece of comparable data suggests that using the LDV poll as a guideline to what members think isn’t accurate, and it’ll take a lot more than pointing at something from a few years ago to change my mind.

Could Lib Dem Voice be about to become the Literary Digest?

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litdigThe Literary Digest holds an interesting place in the history of politics, thanks to its role in the 1936 US Presidential election. For several elections before it had been conducting a mass poll that had allowed it to successfully predict the result of the election, which obviously helped to gain it a lot of attention and sales. In 1936, it did the same thing, sending out over 10 million surveys to voters, and receiving more than 2 million back, which gave it the confidence to predict the election result. The result of their poll was clear: Governor Alf Landon of Kansas was going to defeat incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt.

As we know, that wasn’t just wrong, it was badly wrong. Roosevelt won the election in one of the biggest landslides the US has ever seen, and the Literary Digest, which was already doing poorly in the face of the Depression, went out of business two years later. Meanwhile, George Gallup had used a poll of just 5,000 people and predicted the result of the election much more accurately (though not completely accurately – he missed the size of the Roosevelt landslide).

Gallup’s success came from something we take as routine now – rather than aiming to cover as many people as possible, his poll had taken a sample from the population. In trying to cover as many people as possible and sending their samples to names they had from their subscriber records, phone directories and car registrations, the Literary Digest had failed to sample across the whole of the population, as the poor were unlikely to fall into any of those three categories and were much more likely to vote for Roosevelt than Landon.

What’s important to note here is that the Literary Digest’s methods had worked before and successfully predicted the result of previous Presidential elections, hence their confidence in calling the 1936 result from their data. What they’d missed was the effect of the Depression on both their sample and voting patterns. A large group of people were excluded from their sample because of their poverty, and because of that poverty that group had a very different voting behaviour.

Which brings us to Liberal Democrat Voice. They’ve been conducting regular surveys of members of their forum (which you have to be a Liberal Democrat member to join) and publishing the results on the site for a while. Now, while this is a sample of Lib Dem members, it’s not a randomly chosen sample but a self-selecting one, especially skewed towards those who like to talk and read about politics on the internet. Now, they regularly claim that when tested against other surveys of Lib Dem members their poll is generally accurate, and thus they refer to the poll as a survey of ‘Lib Dem members’ not ‘our forum members’ in headlines, but we’ve now got a strongly testable prediction to see just how accurate a representation it is.

As many of you will likely have noticed, voting in the Liberal Democrat Presidential election finished yesterday, and Lib Dem Voice published the results of their latest survey, asking how people would vote in that. That gave a result of 52% of first preference votes for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne. Unfortunately, there’s no George Gallup in this scenario, who’s done a survey using a different methodology, so it may turn out that they’ve got the result right. However, to me, it looks like a very big hostage to fortune that might well have oversampled a particular type of party member whilst missing out a large chunk who will vote in the election.

We shall see when the result comes out, but there might be a few nerves at LDV Towers while they await it…

Worth Reading 141: Hide this number

An election that UKIP should have won? – Matthew Goodwin looks at the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner election and questions why they didn’t win it.
Lez Miserable – A personal account of how every public high-profile coming out helps to make the world a better place. “Of course, it is getting easier almost by the day for (especially) a certain kind of white, middle-class person to come out. But let’s be very clear; that doesn’t make it easy.”
On the Party Presidential Elections, and why I still haven’t sent off my ballot – Jennie Rigg sums up my dilemma in the current Lib Dem elections.
This Is How ISIS Smuggles Oil – How the black market works to get it across the Syria-Turkey border.
Don’t mock Norman Baker – he accomplished more than most ministers do in a lifetime – Ian Dunt points out what many people (including some in Baker’s own party) don’t want to acknowledge. “And therein lies the key to media treatment of politicians: Look vaguely presentable and don’t rock the boat – they’ll treat you like a sage. But fight for radical policy and they consider you an embarrassment.”

Presidential questions response: Linda Jack

(Linda Jack was the final candidate to respond to the questions I posed in my earlier Presidential post, and here are her answers in full after the cut. You can, of course, ask any questions about her answers in the comments.)
Continue reading Presidential questions response: Linda Jack

A request to Lib Dem conference reps, Presidential candidates and party HQ

A lot of Lib Dems will have received an email from Tim Gordon, the Chief Executive this afternoon. In it, he asks for those of us who are conference representatives to use our power to nominate one of the four candidates for the party presidency. Each of them needs 200 nominations from representatives to stand, and I believe not all of them have currently reached flat figure.

I think it would be a shame if any of them were denied the chance to stand because of insufficient nominations, so I would appeal to anyone who hasn’t yet nominated anyone to do so. It doesn’t lock you into voting for that person in the election itself, but helps ensure that everyone gets a choice.

I would also ask the four candidates to make it clear if they need more nominations or if they already have enough. It would be a bit silly if there were a flood of nominations for people who already had the numbers required, while others remained short of the target,  so that would allow for some co-ordination.

In the same vein, it would be good if party HQ – who receive the nominations – could also inform us if and when candidates make it to 200. After all, if people are sending in nominations independent of the candidates then it’s possible for them to make it without being aware, while HQ are.

This isn’t about favouring any particular candidate, but ensuring people get the chance to choose between a wide range of them. The nomination hurdle for the party presidency is ridiculously high, and the party would be weaker with a reduced field of candidates in the election.

UPDATE: I’m informed that Liz Lynne has sufficient nominations.

Presidential questions response: Sal Brinton

(Sal Brinton was the third to respond to the questions I posed in my earlier Presidential post, and here are her answers in full after the cut, which were originally left as a comment on the earlier post. You can, of course, ask any questions about her answers in the comments.)
Continue reading Presidential questions response: Sal Brinton

Presidential questions response: Liz Lynne

(Liz Lynne was the second to respond to the questions I posed in my earlier Presidential post, and here are her answers in full after the cut. I’ve formatted them as she had them in the Word document she sent but not edited them in any way, but please tell me if anything looks wrong. You can, of course, ask any questions about her answers in the comments.)
Continue reading Presidential questions response: Liz Lynne

Presidential questions response: Daisy Cooper

(Daisy Cooper was the first to respond to the questions I posed in my earlier Presidential post, and here are her answers in full after the cut. I’ve formatted them as she had them in the Word document she sent but not edited them in any way, but please tell me if anything looks wrong. You can, of course, ask any questions about her answers in the comments.)
Continue reading Presidential questions response: Daisy Cooper