Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maybe You Shouldn't Introduce Yourself as "Zombie"

I wrote about guerrilla photojournalist Zombie's musings about the unreliability of poll data here. Yesterday, he decided to see for himself by volunteering at an Obama campaign phone bank. His reflections are interesting:
I feel, as I surmised in my essay, that the any polling samples generated this way are potentially way off, and exclude most voters who simply refuse to be polled. The real question is: How do those people intend to vote? Because the “unpollable registered voters” demographic is likely to be the largest demographic of all. And we have no idea how they intend to vote, nor why they refuse to be polled, and if there is some correlation between refusing to talk to an Obama campaign volunteer and refusing to vote for Obama. Could the same principle hold true for calls made by professional polling organizations?
I suspect it probably does, and that the majority of the discrepancy between polls and election-day reality comes down to the fact that Zombie notes here, that the unpollable are probably the most important demographic in the world of opinion polling, which nobody really seems to acknowledge.


Shane said...

Heh. As one of the unpollable, I wonder what kind of subsets of "unpollables" there are.

But the reason I'm commenting is because I cringe every time I see "blurred" photos of text to "protect privacy." Seriously, anyone who is knowledgeable and slightly interested can reasonably piece together enough data to figure out who these people are, and what their phone numbers are. One of the commenters mentions this. But yeah, you could treat the blurring as a very insecure hash function, build yourself some rainbow tables and you'll be all set.

As disturbing as the fact that a major campaign ALREADY has the plaintext database and is giving out pieces to anyone with a cell phone? No. But that's another battle for another day.

Shane said...

Oh, and the truly terrifying prospect is that it'll probably take less than a decade before a convincing AI voice/voice recognition software combination does the polling over VOIP, eliminating nearly all the cost of doing this kind of mass-calling (including the need to get volunteers).

Evan said...

Wow, way to take the spooky level straight through the roof there, bro.