Back in 1962, Elmo Roper, a pioneer in public opinion polling, identified a problem in his field.
“A preference for certainty over doubt, for the plausible over the proved, for drama over accuracy, for hunch and intuition over the hard-to-assemble facts, is a common human tendency,” he
Fifty-five years later, Nate Silver — today’s political-statistics guru — has the same complaint.
“There’s a strong desire for a narrative, and a lot of groupthink,” the founder of Fivethirtyeight.com told me last week.
Silver, not for the first time, argues that the numbers themselves are not to blame. In aggregate, and allowing for margins of error, they were reasonably accurate.
It’s the interpretation by journalists — particularly the pundit class — that’s to blame, he says. For one thing, they often don’t use the aggregation of the various polls, but rather a single one, often the most recent.
And they interpret them to create a dramatic — preferably surprising — horse-race story.
“They start out with an idea and backfill the justification,” using whichever numbers help make the case, Silver complains.
Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post, November 12, 2017