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Sunday, October 15, 2000 Volume XXV, No. 36

Roswell, New Mexico

Quote of the Day:

" Al Gore blaming 'guns' for Columbine is like Rosie O'Donnell,
blaming 'forks and spoons' for being fat."

--------a New Mexico Republican

In this issue:

"On Friday, a new Marist poll showed Clinton and Lazio in
a '**statistical dead heat.**' [Emphasis mine.] The poll showed
Clinton at 47 percent to Lazio's 43 percent among registered voters,
which falls within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4
percentage points."

---AP Story, Albuquerque Journal, October 14, 2000

[This story is inaccurate, and it has nothing to do with the pollster,
his sample (you may notice "registered voters" as the
sample, which is useless at this point, but that is not being discussed
here) or his results. Rather it has to do with the journalist's
conclusions which he has written into the story. They are wrong.]

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**The Truth about so-called "Statistical Dead Heats"**

If you stop to think about it, the oft-repeated phrase "statistical
dead heat" is at best a redundancy. More accurately it is a
malapropism, a solecism, or some other misusage of plain language.
The term "dead heat" in simple language means a tie. I
believe it comes from horseracing, and the post-race photographs
which show zero separation at the finish line between the frontrunners.

When used in elections it is understood to include the only "statistic"
being measured, i.e. votes---or in the case of polls, the percentages
indicating support for one candidate or the other.

A tie, whether based on counting votes or counting responses to
a poll question is still a tie. Putting the word "statistical"
in front of it is meaningless. It is the definition of redundant.
(It is reminiscent of baseball announcers: "The White Sox have
won eleven straight, consecutive, games in a row without a loss."
Any one of the four terms alone would be enough.) Put another way,
you never hear a baseball announcer say the White Sox and Yankees
are in a "statistical" tie after 7 innings of play, the
score is 4-4. They are merely tied---that is all the explanation
that is needed.

The problem in the media right now, and the reason they have conjured
up this phraseology, is that they are trying to tell you something
that isn't true. They are positing the notion that a race is "tied"
in the polls when it in fact is not. Thus the mumbo jumbo with the
word "statistical."

Throughout this poll-driven process of media campaign coverage you
have no doubt heard, or read, the term "statistical dead heat"
on any number of occasions. I have. The news copy reader, whether
Wolf Blitzer, Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather, will look into the camera
and intone, "the presidential candidates (or some other set
of candidates in some other race) nationwide (or in some state)
are separated by only two points---that is a statistical dead heat."

But it isn't. If Gore is leading Bush 43-41, or if Bush is leading
Gore (as most now think) 44-40, guess what? Those respective polls
are NOT telling you it is a "statistical dead heat" or
a "tie." One is saying Gore leads by 2 and the other is
saying Bush is ahead by 4.

But wait, you say. Don't they usually say the margin of error is
plus or minus 4 points, or three points, or something in that range?
Yes. But the idea, pushed by the press, that you simply add the
margin of error to the trailing candidate (or subtract from the
leading one) and voila! they are tied, is an erroneous one at best,
and an extremely misleading one at worst.

What the "margin of error" means is this: If you were
to conduct the same poll, among the same number of randomly-selected
participants at the same time, 19 times out of 20 (all major polls
are at the 95% level of validity) you will get responses that are
within the stated margin of error for each candidate. (The margin
of error for a nationwide poll can be 5 to 7 points for samples
of 400-800, and it can be from 3 to 4½ points for samples
ranging from 900 to 1800.)

So if Smith leads Jones 44 to 43, (with a +/- 4% margin of error)
what does that mean? What it means is that based on the very best
job the pollster can do, Smith has a one point lead over Jones.
It does NOT mean that the difference between Smith and Jones is
meaningless----as the press (and the Jones spin team) will have
you believe. By the way, both the Jones camp and the Smith camp
know this. But both spin operations they know it can be to their
advantage to let this story go without challenge----plus it is way
too close to worry about it, and, besides, they have 13% undecided
to go after.

What about the margin of error? In this case, the pollster is saying
that if you were to take the poll 20 times, in at least 19 of them
the Smith total would be between 40 points and 48, and the Jones
total would be between 39 and 47. Oh, so Jones could be ahead 47
to 40? Or Smith could be leading by 9 points, 48 to 39? Theoretically,
yes. But this is unlikely. And certainly just jumping to the conclusion
that that is the case is plain wrong. (This is something I can guarantee
you neither side will do, not even their spin machine.)

In fact, assuming anything---other than the result shown by the
pollster--- is wrong. The pollster's best random sampling, best
question technique and best internals (the demographic balances
which must be achieved, sometimes by weighting) says Smith leads
by 1.

Believe me, that is the conclusion that the actual professional
consultants reach. They are not standing around musing about being
in a tie, both sides know that one is up by one and the other is
down by one. No one in the Lazio campaign, for example, believes
his candidate is in a "statistical tie." The Lazio people
know they are down by 4. Period.

Here in New Mexico, Research and Polling in 1986 published its last
sampling of the Attorney General's race showing Republican Hal Stratton
leading by some 15 hundredths of one percentage point. While one
could definitely conclude the race was simply too close to call---and
one would be right----the fact is the BEST DATA AVAILABLE led to
the conclusion that Stratton would win. And it was accurate. Stratton
won the race by 690 votes out of some 370,000 plus.

**From the What it's Worth Department**

Speaking of Lazio, at least a half dozen polls now show Lazio behind
Clinton in the New York senate race by three to six points. At least
one shows Hillary leading 50-43. This represents a steady drift
toward the First Lady over the last six weeks.

I for one still believe Lazio will win---as I have since he got
into the race. True, Hillary has finally reached 50% in a least
one poll, something I predicted she would not do. But I do not believe
that is a solid "definitely vote" for Hillary figure.
I also believe current events worldwide will subtly work against
her---and her non-New Yorker status will help undermine her. I also
find it significant that Lazio has a $6 million to $3 million lead
in available funds in the last month.

In the final analysis, I am trusting him and his campaign. If he
doesn't have the best campaign advice available in America, then
I would be both surprised and disappointed. I have to believe they
can craft a message and develop an approach which will result in
his prevailing by about a 2 point margin on November 7th.