Bad Incentives

Josh Marshall on Zogby polls:

If there wasn't a record, you might think that Obama was heading for a major upset victory in PA next week. Zogby has Obama just one point behind Clinton at 45%-44%.

But remember, Zogby was out in front this year predicting Obama's big wins in California and Ohio too. So it's hard for me to put too much weight in this sounding.

This illustrates a real problem with the public polling game, namely the lack of incentives to get things right. Presumably there's some level of consistent wrongness at which people stop giving you the links, readership, buzz, and whatever else it is you're looking for but it's really not clear where that is. And, indeed, for your average media poll where the objective is to produce an "interesting" article accompanying the poll, you're probably better off being wrong.

Suppose I somehow screwed up my polling and got the result that 50 percent of African-Americans say they'll vote for John McCain in November if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. Does that sound plausible? No. Would it be a big story if I had a poll that said it was true? Yes. And if I'm in the business of producing big stories, then that means I run with the poll and come away very happy with a day's job well done.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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