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  • Saturday, March 19, 2005


    Polls: Half Empty or Half Full?

    Do you see any problem with the title of this post? If you don't, read on.

    One problem (among many) with polls is false parameters. I'm sure professional pollsters have a term for this but I don't know it. The questions, the way questions are asked and the range of responses offered by the pollster, constrain and define the possible answers. No matter how impartially such questions are phrased, this can give completely unrepresentative results. The act of phrasing a question in a yes/no/I don't know format simplifies the tally process but also imposes a response universe of only three answers on the issue.

    The title of this post utilizes a well known water glass metaphor ("Is the glass half empty or half full?") often used to tell whether a person is an optimist or a pessimist. Half full, optimist; half empty, pessimist. An argument could be made that the glass is a vessel designed to hold liquid. Any description of its contents also depends also on its previous state (i.e., empty or full.) Its state is both static and dynamic, a snapshot and a moment with a past and a future.

    It's not always obvious what moment a poll is capturing or the boundries of its information.

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