Part 1—Cillizza’s self-description: With regularity, major pundits describe themselves as if they were children or teens.
In November 1999, Time’s Eric Pooley described the behavior in the press room as the guild watched the first Democratic debate between Candidates Gore and Bradley.
Two other major journalists described this same remarkable conduct. Pooley provided the mental age of those who had performed in the way he described.
For one of our real-time reports on this matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/11/99. We had received a phone call from that press room just after the Heathers performed:
POOLEY (11/8/99): Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some helpless nerd.So true! Indeed, the press kept that up for the next twelve months, sending George Bush to the White House. From that day to this, the career liberal world has agreed to pretend that these events never occurred.
Poor Gore. For months the press has been hammering him for taking the nomination for granted and not showing emotion. Now it's hammering him for trying too hard and showing too much...
Voters aren’t asked to understand the way the world actually works. And everyone keeps his good job!
According to Pooley, his colleagues behaved like teens—“like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers.” Yesterday, in the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza knocked ten years off the guild’s mental age.
Writing in the Outlook section, Cillizza presented the weekly feature in which he reveals the person, group or enterprise which suffered the “Worst Week in Washington.”
How strange! In Cillizza’s assessment, “political polling” had the worst week as our White House campaign neared its end! As he began to explain his award, he playfully recalibrated the mental age of the mainstream press corps.
We start with the headline, as it appeared in its usual spot in our hard-copy Post, sitting atop page B2 in the high-profile Outlook section:
CILLIZZA (11/4/12): Worst Week in WashingtonPlayfully, Cillizza described his colleagues behaving like 5-year-olds at an earlier point in the cycle. He then presented an analysis in which his own intellectual age barely seemed to exceed that level.
Remember those golden days of this election season when a poll or two came out each week, and we political junkies pored over it with the glee of 5-year-olds at Christmas?
That joy has turned to ash in our mouths of late as each day is packed full of competing poll numbers that often seem to tell contradictory stories.
In the past week alone, at least nine polls have been released on where the presidential race stands in Ohio, and at least seven have come out in Virginia. A CBS News-Quinnipiac-New York Times poll in Virginia said that President Obama led by two points; in a Roanoke College survey, it was Mitt Romney by five. And the pollsters were in the field at the same time!
Consider Cillizza’s complaint. There are too many polls, he says!
According to Cillizza, things were better when the pundits would get only one poll to look at. In recent weeks, at least seven polls of Virginia were released—and they didn’t all say the same thing!
Cherry-picking the one outlier, Cillizza worried about the vast sweep of the Virginia polls. As he continued, he tried to explain the phenomenon which had him so upset:
CILLIZZA (continuing directly): What all that polling means is that partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different.According to Cillizza, voters are “baffled” when seven polls are released and they don’t all say the same thing. For the second time, he used the term “contradictory” to describe this familiar aspect of all polling, which is of course completely normal and completely expected.
And for those rare, exotic birds known as true independent voters, the panoply of polling leaves them at a loss—baffled by how so many surveys can show so many contradictory things.
Here’s the truth: Polling is, and always has been, equal parts art and science. Deciding what questions to ask, in what order to ask them and whether to weight the results to a preconceived idea of the poll sample’s partisan makeup are all judgment calls. And just like the charge/block call in college basketball, different pollsters define best practices differently.
Polling, for proving that you can have too much of a good thing, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
In fairness, some voters may be confused by “contradictory” poll results. But no one could be much more clueless than Cillizza himself—and he sits at the very top of America’s upper-end “press corps.”
Why don’t polls All Say the Same Thing? In his attempt at explanation, Cillizza skipped the most obvious part of the answer—so-called “sampling error.”
Duh! Forget about the order in which you choose to ask your questions. Forget the possibility of “weighting the results to a preconceived idea of the poll sample’s partisan makeup,” something most polls don’t do.
Just consider the very nature of all sampling: If you simply pull a thousand marbles out of a drum with a million marbles, your ratio of red-to-blue marbles will not necessarily match the ratio inside the big giant drum!
If you take several such samples, your samples will frequently differ. (As a general mater, that’s what is referred to by the term “margin of error.”) In short, no one expects election polls to All Say The Same Thing about who Virginians are going to vote for. Indeed: If election polls did all say the same thing, that might start to suggest that someone was polling wrong.
Cillizza doesn’t seem to know these things—or at least, he doesn’t bother to state them. He simply diddles about the better day when pundits only got one poll—when pundits got less information.
That one poll could be grossly wrong, of course—and in Cillizza’s silly dream world, the pundits would have no way of suspecting. But who cares! The pundits would have less work to do! They could simply rattle their piddle based on results of one survey!
The sheer stupidity of this column justifies Cillizza’s reference to age. It also provides the framework we will follow over the next several days.
As our nation moves toward its day of decision, the silly children who pose as a “press corps” have been very busy revealing their true mental ages. They’ve done so in their closing columns—and in their “news reports.”
They’ve done so in our biggest newspapers—and on the TV machine thingy.
As we review their mental ages, we’ll look at Milbank—and at Maddow! We’ll look at our pundits—and at our reporters.
We’ll see the patterns that persist from one Heather-driven campaign to the next. We’re going to see the very low intellectual standards of the modern American “press corps.”
We'll be looking at their mental ages. These ages are quite low.
Concerning the recent polls in Virginia: Goofus says one poll is plenty. Gallant knows that he can learn more from an array of polls.
To see all recent polls from Ohio and Virginia, just click here. Scroll down to the respective states, on the right side of the page.
In the case of each state, you will have to click once more if you want to see all the polls.
Goofus thinks that’s very hard work. Gallant knows he must do it.
If you click in the manner prescribed, you will see that Ohio polling has been quite consistent in the last week. You will see that the survey by Roanoke College is the one big outlier among recent polls in Virginia.
Gallant looks at all the polls. Goofus whines and complains, then jokes that he’s five years old.
He does this in a high-profile section of the Sunday Washington Post.