It isn’t unusual for the state of the polls to be a big issue this close to an election, but this week has been different from any previous campaign I remember — it’s not who’s ahead in the polls, it’s the polls themselves that are the big topic of discussion. My article “Skewed and Unskewed Polls” got picked up by both Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh’s Stack O’ Stuff and — along with plenty of other contributions — made the topic of how polls are being performed into a national one.
The problem is that the discussion (as happens only too often) is now being led by people who don’t understand the whole topic very well. So let’s just talk about this a bit. I promise to almost completely eliminate the math; believe it or not, people can learn to reason about statistics without learning the central limit theorem.
Imagine a future day when, through technology and psychic powers, we can at any moment take an instant poll, checking what people mean in their heart of hearts to do when they vote in November. (And let’s not think what else could be done with that technology — this is a thought experiment.)