Don’t Believe the Polls

April 20th, 2006 by Editor B

I’m skeptical of the polls on the upcoming New Orleans elections. It’s difficult to conduct an accurate poll under our current circumstances. I’ve seen at least one that used pre-Katrina landline phone numbers. The flaws in that methodology should be obvious to anyone familiar with recent events here, but just to drive the point home: Such a methodology misses me. I could never be included in that sample because my landline hasn’t worked since the 17th Street Canal floodwalls failed.

Some pollsters are apparently using cellphones, but this too misses me. Like many New Orleanians, I only got a cell phone post-Katrina, during my evacuation. Since I was in Indiana at the time, it has an 812 area code. As far as I can figure, there’s no way a pollster would know to call my number.

I don’t like any poll that can’t count me. So I scoff at the polls.

Based on these polls, pundits tell us things like “this race is all about race.” This is often presented as the crude idea that people will vote for candidates of their color: blacks for blacks, whites for whites. As Xy and I have asked around amongst friends and co-workers, however, we’ve found virtually no support for any black candidate for mayor, regardless of the voter’s race. Most of the black people we’ve talked to seem to be leaning toward Forman. (Yes, it surprised us too.) This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, that black voters will largely support either Nagin or Landrieu. In fact, I’ve only talked to one person who’s voting for Nagin.

I don’t mean to suggest that our informal poll is somehow superior to the polls I just criticized. It’s not. If anything, it’s much less accurate — wildly inaccurate, I’m sure. I’m just saying, take all these polls with a grain of salt.

Polls make some people feel like their individual vote doesn’t matter. Some people switch their vote based on polls. These effects strike me as undesirable even when polls are accurate. But this time around, when so little is known and so much is at stake, I hope people don’t pay the polls too much mind. Vote your conscience. Don’t try to game the system.

I think that’s a good philosophy, even if I’m wrong about the polls.

9 Responses to “Don’t Believe the Polls”

  1. Adrastos Says:

    You’re on the money, Celeb B. My neighborhood is very diverse and there is not a sign of Nagin support. Most of the black folks of my acquaintance, however, plan to vote for Landrieu. I think it’s partially because we’re fairly near Audubon Park and everyone seems to have their “Ron Forman is an asshole” story. To know Gorilla Ron is to dislike him unless, that is, you’re above him on the NOLA food chain.

  2. Editor B Says:

    That makes sense. Most of the people we’ve talked to are not uptown, and frankly don’t know much about Forman except for the TV commercials. “His track record speaks for itself,” one guy said. When Xy told her co-workers that Forman had been endorsed by the Times-Picayune, they were surprised — and their support for his candidacy weakened!

  3. Garvey Says:

    I am surprised Nagin is even running. Talk about hubris. I guess it’s to save face?

  4. Editor B Says:

    I feel like I should point out the most glaring flaw in my own methodology: We’ve been talking almost exclusively to people who have returned to the city. I think those who have returned have a different image of Nagin than those who are still in the diaspora.

    Garvey, I’m not sure what news coverage Nagin gets up there in the Midwest, but the common wisdom down here is that he will make the runoff. And maybe the pundits are right. They say that many in the black diaspora feel a vote for Nagin is the only way to make their voices heard. If that’s true it’s truly sad, considering Nagin wasn’t real popular with the black community last election, as I recall.

  5. Garvey Says:

    That’s interesting. Thanks, B, for the explanation. I wasn’t basing my opinion on any recent news coverage, per se. I was thinking that he would be blamed, fairly or unfairly (doesn’t matter, really), for at least some of the eff ups.

    Kinda like how a quarterback gets too much credit or too much blame. One of those “this happened on your watch” things.

    There’s plenty of blame to go around, obviously. That’s why I thought any incumbent would be vulnerable.

    But the idea of the diasporites* rallying behind Nagin makes sense.

    (*I know there’s no such word. Sorry.)

  6. Adrastos Says:

    Editor B be right. C Ray was elected by a coalition of white voters and the black middle class. Richard Pennington won the African-American vote. So C Ray is trying to change constituencies. I’m not sure if the diaspora will really support him: they blame him for many things and rightly so.

    This whole election is a gigantic crap shoot. I’m deeply in involved in the District B council race and I’m not sure who will finish first or fourth and the few polls that exist are muddled. It’s time to roll the dice and see what happens…

  7. Garvey Says:

    I watched the WWL debate feed on CSPAN2 tonight. Very interesting.

    Now I don’t know anything about most of these folks save for what they said tonight, but I thought Couhig and Watson were the most interesting. I don’t know what theior platforms are, but they each seemed to speak like someone who has no chance of winning.

    Those types of candidates are often my favorite (or at least most entertaining). They just say stuff, sometimes even the hard truths, and make the frontrunners look political, stodgy, and phony.

  8. Jon Konrath Says:

    I was an official Nielson family back in 2003 or 2004, and I didn’t have cable or an antenna and couldn’t watch shit, so I made everything up, and they still paid me. That tells you something about the scientific accuracy of polls.

  9. Michael Says:

    It seems the polls got it pretty accurate afterall.

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