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.

Presented by

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

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Photos of New York City, in Motion

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Politics

Just In