The Black Poll Wars: The Coming Defeat of the Survey Polling Industry
In my previous post, I made the following rash assertion:
To be clear, here is my thesis statement for this post: The polling data being collected and published today will in all likelihood be wrong in November when the election takes place. Why? The pollsters and the public believe the polls. Right now, if you go to a website such as Polster.com, you will find an up-to-date list of all the major political surveyors and pollsters, professional and academic, party-affiliated and independent. The people who publish the results of their surveys, for the most part, are highly trained professionals and are working very hard to mine the opinions of the American public. They use the accepted methodologies for their survey research, collection and analysis.
Survey polling has a huge flaw. The “black poll war” is going to produce an across-the-board defeat of the field. The flaw is that survey polling is based on separating the majority and minority, and reporting it as if it were real. It is their philosophical “theory of everything.” The issue, from their perspective, is settled. Yes, methodologies can be refined and trend analysis can be made more robust by the addition of ever-more-precise demographics. Increasingly sophisticated software run on supercomputers can crunch data at mind-boggling speeds. All of those things however are no more than a paper mache’ disk painted to look like a man-hole cover. You don’t want to step on it.
The flaw is this: Survey polling is still operating in the classical world of majority research. It is by analogy the same difference between the classical world of Newtonian physics and the Planckian world of Quantum Mechanics. Survey polling has no equivalent of the Uncertainty Principle, and that is going to make all the difference.
I pick up my argument from here…
Waiter, there’s a quark in my soup bowl.
Think of it this way. Suppose I invite an experienced pollster to lunch for soup. I place two identical bowls in front her. One is filled with a steamy hot, delicious soup with a wonderful aroma. The other contains water filled to the same level. Then I ask her, as a pollster, to describe the characteristics of each bowl. Playing along, hoping that she will get the bowl with soup and not the water, she adeptly describes the contents of each bowl. Next, I ask her, “If each bowl represented a bloc of voters, which one will win?” Since both bowls are filled to the identical level, she correctly says, “I can’t tell. I can only make a decision which has the majority.” I take away the bowl with the water and replace it with an empty bowl. I repeat my question, and she quite accurately answers, “If the amount of soup is the equivalent to the number of votes cast, then the bowl with the soup wins.” I ask my final question. “The votes are based on the number of quarks (a subatomic particle that is part of every atom) in each bowl. Which bowl has the most quarks?”
How would you answer?
The question is not theoretical. Quarks are real subatomic particles. Every atom contains quarks and there just happen to be six kinds of quarks and each quark has “flavor” (appropriate to soup, as well) so to come up with an answer, that multiplicity has to be factored in. My pollster, growing hungrier by the minute, now has to solve a multidimensional model, for which she presumably has no statistical formula to work (cross-tabs won’t work here because she does not know which of the six types of quarks represent a yes vote or no vote).
To avoid my researcher becoming peckish and storming out, I bring her a fresh bowl of the soup so she can eat and think about the two bowls in front of her.
Classical statistical reasoning would look at the two bowls, one filled and one empty and conclude that the one with the soup, since the soup is made up of atoms, would therefore have all the quarks, so the empty bowl could be eliminated and the researcher could concentrate on determining which of the six kind of soup quarks represent which kind of vote. And that would be wrong.
Quantum statistical reasoning would look at both bowls being full. One with soup and the other with air. Gaseous atoms have quarks just like soup atoms do. Now my survey researcher asks for a second bowl of soup because this will take a while to figure out. In fact, she has a bigger problem than simply counting quarks. Since the soup is a fluid (we’ll ignore the atoms being steamed off) the number of quarks will remain reasonably stable. The air in the other bowl is in constant motion, however, so the number of quarks moving in and out of the bowl is in constant flux. And since placing a lid or layer of plastic wrap over the bowl to trap the air creates an artificial constraint, she just has to come up with a way to solve the problem as it is.
Her conundrum is that she can’t. She’s not a failure, rather, Classical Statistics in polling has no models or formulas to account for the quarks, or should I say the core basis for decision making by the American public. Probability and regression theory in statistics is quite sophisticated, and there are numerous models that are attempting to, some with a fairly high degree of success, that can predict the basis of decision making in the voting booth (or envelope in the case of my state, Oregon) within a narrow margin of error. But since these models continue to look for the majority, they are not measuring what I believe will be the cause of the Black Poll War.
It’s not that they are looking at the wrong data; it is they have failed to make the paradigm shift to be able to analyze the process out of which that data is born. It does not exist as a majority factor. It exists as a subpersonal factor. In quantum statistical reasoning, the function of democratic processes is not one person, one vote. Using the quark analysis analogy, the democratic process is one person, six isovotes (I know I’ve coined a new term here, but it has parallels in the quantum behavior of quarks that is called “isospin” which is a critical component keeping quarks in a state of symmetry). Depending on the way each voter processes the information stream to make those decisions those isovotes may or may not be stable through even one election cycle.
The solution is to create a quantum statistical equivalent of the Uncertainty Principle.
Any number of you are saying, “Now wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute here, fella. You promised no more formulas.” Indeed, I did. But I am trying to develop a concept that voting in America has undergone a shift of such a dramatic change, it has evolved into virtually a new species of behavior. It is the equivalent of the transformation from circumnavigating the earth in 80 days into orbiting the planet in 80 minutes. We made that scientific and technological shift in transportation, from surface vehicles to the International Space Station. We are in the middle of its evolutionary transformation in our voting behavior. That is the metamorphosis of our political behavior from voting to isovoting.
Bowling for Votes: Not Your Grandmother’s Bowling Pins
Isovoting, unlike voting, is dynamic and has a meaning assigned to it by the person. Imagine that an isovote is like a bowling pin. Since the beginning of the republic, we have assumed that the vote is the triangle shape of the 10 bowling pins. We have also assumed that the vote triangles could be colored. The colors used by the television networks of late have been blue for the Democrats, red for the Republicans, and various other preferences for those who were voting independent. Any color combination of colors could be assigned (I’ve never heard the explanation of why the colors were chosen in that manner, but it might be an interesting footnote in the history of reporting votes.) Each vote might have an additional attribute or two attached to it, but even if it were envisioned as a 3-dimensional triangular wedge, it was, almost exclusively, solid and predictable. People voted for one party or another (many states allowed you to go into a voting machine booth and pull a lever therefore choosing in one action all the candidates of that political party).
That is no longer the case. The solidity of any bloc of votes is now, well, not solid. We’ll assume for the moment we still have ten pins but peeling back the outer surface of the nice, neat triangular wedge reveals that the ten pins are not standing neatly at attention, but are in a constant state of motion. Suppose that each pin, as an isovote, has a set of variable characteristics, let’s say:
- Size: From a minimum of some volume to a maximum of volume not taken up by all the other isovote pins together
- Shape: From classic bowling pin to any other extrudable shape that will fit within the triangular vote box, or even to exceed that volume
- Motion: From stillness to rapid
- Connectivity: From pin to pin, to the surface of the triangular block, and to any other receptor site outside the block
- Meaning: The isovote pin, like a living cell exists within a specific environment, and therefore being part of the human capacity to decide how to vote, has to be capable of receiving information transmitted from the person to the subperson
The characteristics I’ve described above are an analogy of what an isovote is, not a literal suggestion of an anatomical mechanism. What is important, however, is that the analogy gives the reader a sense of the complexity of what really constitutes the dynamics of voting. As long as pollsters rely on defining “majority” and “probability” and “margin of error” as their gold standard, no matter how refined their formulas become, they will still lose the Black Poll War.
The basis of voting I’m describing is much like that of the infamous “Schrödinger’s Cat” thought experiment by physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. Basically it says if you had one thousand cages with solid doors, 500 of which had a live cat and the other 500 had a dead cat, there would be no way to determine which state the cat was in until you opened the door, and the act of opening the door determined if the cat was dead or alive. Observing what was in the box was what created the certainty of the cat’s state of being, not whether the cat was alive or dead before hand because you could never be certain without opening the door. This is the basis of the Uncertainty Principle, and since I already presented the formula if the previous post, I can keep my promise not to repeat it here. You however could not be certain with any degree of accuracy or probability that I would keep that promise. It is this counterintuitive manner of thinking that makes quantum mechanics so darned frustrating to try and figure out. But quantum physicists turn out to be right, or able to adjust their theories to simplify the complex wrong part into simpler right parts.
That leads to my concluding point. The transformation of the vote into a compilation of isovotes is the key to understanding the American Electorate. The pollsters from now on have to make the assumption that testing for probability and the majority will no longer provide accurate results. The Uncertainty Principle shows that the isovotes cannot fit the Classical Statistical models for voter behavior. Like quarks in atoms, isovotes behave in dynamic ways that cannot be predicted with certainty either before or after they are observed, and that the very behavior of the survey taker will have a direct affect on the nature of the isovotes, especially with regard to the person assigning meaning to them, creating a new future for that person’s set of isovotes that did not exist prior to being polled on his or her preferences.
November 2, 2010 will be a very interesting day in the history of the United States. For one, I will find out if my theory of the Black Poll War is vindicated. If it is, you can say you read it here first. If it isn’t, you’ll know I’ll be working on the assumptions of my hypotheses to see if I can be as clever as a quantum physicist and adjust them so they fit the reality of the situation more closely. Perhaps, I’ll just have to throw out the whole thing and start over. That is the only way to do good science.
In the meantime, I’m very glad I don’t have to actually count the number of quarks in my bowl of soup. They are very small and would take many human life times to total them, even if I physically could do it. That, I’ll leave to the quantum physicists and their amazing quark-counting machines.