USA Today Produces Meaningless Poll to Attack Ryan

Caught off-guard by Romney's surprise announcement of his running mate this weekend, the media are scrambling today to cast the selection of Paul Ryan in a negative light. The gold medal for the hackiest attack, though, goes to USA Today who today released a hastily conducted poll which "found" that 42% of Americans thought Ryan was a fair or poor choice, against 39% who thought it was excellent or pretty good. Usually I advise caution when reading skewed polls. On this one, though, I would advise throwing it out and not reading it at all. 

Now, I haven't had a chance to look at the internals of the poll, as USA Today does not make them readily available. But, with a poll like this, there really is no need. There are three things you need to know about this poll:

  1. Its a one day poll
  2. It was conducted on a Sunday
  3. It is a poll of adults

There is a reason Gallup and Rasmussen conduct polling daily, but release their numbers as a two to three day moving average. One day alone can have too many statistical quirks. Moreover, weekend polls are notoriously a bit sketchy, especially in the Summer. A large number of people aren't home or are engaged in other activities. The profile of people you reach are decidedly different than during the week. Also, this Sunday also happened to be the closing day of the Olympic Games. You can't help but end up with a very noisy sample. 

In addition, the poll was of adults and didn't filter for registered voters. Polling people who aren't going to vote about their political opinions is, in itself, meaningless. You might as well poll Canadians about their views. Beyond this though, polls of adults have a built in 7-9 point bias in favor of Democrats. Simply screening for registered voters would likely flip the results. 

But, the games USA Today plays don't end there. They try to compare reactions to the Ryan pick with the announcement of other recent running mates:

USA TODAY/Gallup polls of registered voters after the announcements of running mates since Dick Cheney in 2000 all showed more positive reactions. 

See what they did there? They compared a poll of registered voters with a poll of adults. There is next to nothing to be learned from such a comparison. 

The media is in a full-court press to attack Paul Ryan. Fortunately, we are onto their tricks.

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