Can You Say “Outlier?”

It is apparently important for the psychology of conservatives right now to convince themselves and everyone else that Paul Ryan’s selection as Veep has created a surge in the GOP’s direction. Never mind that we are in a silly season of polling where “bounces,” if they exist, will almost certainly subside. The Cause must be moving steadily towards victory!

This occurred to me when noting on an aggregator site that I use this item from a Fox News affiliate in Detroit:

Foster McCollum White Baydoun (FMW)B, a national public opinion polling and voter analytics consulting firm based in Michigan and representing the combined resources of Foster McCollum White & Associates (Troy, Michigan) and Baydoun Consulting (Dearborn, Michigan) conducted a telephone-automated polling random survey of Michigan registered and most likely November 2012 general election voters to determine their voting preferences.

In what will be a significant blow to Democratic campaign efforts, native son Mitt Romney has climbed into the lead in Michigan’s Presidential contest. The naming of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan has delivered a targeted affect on the Michigan and Midwest campaign dynamics.

Now it just so happens that I had a few minutes earlier read a post from Nate Silver that discussed a particularly crazy poll out of Florida:

I very much doubt that Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan will win Florida by 15 percentage points, as the Foster McCollum White Baydoun poll currently says. The survey is a huge outlier relative to the consensus of polls in Florida, which have been a bit variable but have pointed toward a race that is roughly tied….

The poll was weighted to a demographic estimate that predicts that just 2 percent of Florida voters will be 30 or younger. It’s a decent bet that turnout will be down some among younger voters this year, but that isn’t a realistic estimate. In 2008, according to exit polls, 15 percent of voters in Florida were between 18 and 30.

The poll also assumed that 10 percent of voters will be between the ages of 31 and 50. In 2008, the actual percentage was 36 percent, according to the exit survey.

The poll projected Latinos to be 7 percent of the turnout in Florida, against 14 percent in 2008. And it has African-American turnout at 10 percent, down from 13 percent.

If the turnout numbers look something like that in November, then Mr. Obama will lose Florida badly. He’ll also lose almost every other state; his electoral map might look a lot like Walter Mondale’s.

Nate went on to say that he was assigning the firm a “house effect” (i.e., a structural bias, perhaps unintentional) of 11 points in favor of the GOP, based on the Florida poll and an earlier poll of Michigan.

But you wouldn’t know any of this if you just happened to tune in to your local Fox News outlet and heard about this shocking new poll. Which is all the more reason to approach individual surveys–whether you like what you hear or don’t–with great caution.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.