Are Republicans Just Crazy?

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Gideon Rachman thinks they might be. He is struck, as who wouldn't be, by the startling numbers in a Harris poll that looked at Americans' beliefs about Obama. One in four Republicans thinks Obama "may be the Anti-Christ", according to this poll. Nearly 40% think he is "doing many of the things that Hitler did". Gideon finds that these numbers give a "fair insight into the challenge facing Obama"--namely that the opposition is nuts.

Well, as I say, the numbers are startling, but I don't know that Gideon's "fair insight" is all that accurate. Findings like these should send you straight to the small print. James Taranto reads it, and lodges several objections. His most telling point is that the panel for the poll is self-selecting: that is, it consists of people who have volunteered to be pestered by questions such as these. It is a sample akin, I would say, to the set of people who comment on blogs. In this set, the middle is under-represented, the extremes are magnified, and the lunatic fringes (at both ends) are amplified by several orders of magnitude.

If only for calibration purposes, this methodology should have been used, as Taranto says, to check for opinions about George W. Bush among the corresponding wingnuts on the other side. A Rasmussen poll in 2007 found that 35% of Democrats thought that Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, and that another 26% weren't sure. I hesitate to mention this in case Europeans conclude that roughly all of the country is nuts.

My golden rule of opinion polls is, "If you want an intelligent answer, ask an intelligent question".

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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