Pollsters, Conservatives Flunk Math

Gershom Gorenberg

This post is really about Jews and Obama. Patience.

A Ha’aretz-Channel 10 poll a couple of days before the Kadima primary said that Tzipi Livni was ahead among the party’s voters, 47-28 percent. Exit polls last night showed Livni with about that share of the vote, with Mofaz doing better, but not better enough: 37 percent.

Earlier, Mofaz himself predicted that he’d win with precisely 43.7 percent, a number he got from his imported Republican mad dog, I mean campaign expert, Arthur Finkelstein.

Funny enough, Finkelstein’s number was pretty close to the 42 percent Mofaz actually got when the hand count of ballots was finished this morning. Only problem is that it was even closer to the 43.1 percent that Livni got to win the election. Maybe importing American experts on negative campaigning isn’t such a good idea.

Tangent: Neri Livneh at Ha’aretz points out that if Livni succeeds in forming a coalition and becoming prime minister, all three branches of Israeli government will be headed by women: Livni in the executive, Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch in the judiciary, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik in the legislature. Three out of three. Another example of misleading stats: This says nothing about equal pay for equal work in the rest of the economy.

Back to surveys and tea leaves: All the failures at polling Kadima pale next to John Podhoretz’s ecstacy at his Commentary blog on a Sienna poll of New York voters. The poll showed McCain beating Obama among New York Jewish voters, 54-32 percent. A month earlier the poll showed Obama ahead in this group, 50-37.

A well-intentioned reader sent me these poll results. I ignored them, because the spreadsheet he sent didn’t give the sample size. I figured that if it was a poll of the whole state, the number of Jewish respondents wouldn’t satisfy my stats professor from grad school. Forget the prof. I followed a rule my late mother taught me about math before I knew how to hold a pencil: If you do a calculation and the answer you get is crazy, defies reason, doesn’t fit reality, you goofed. A 54-32 win for McCain-Moosehunter among New York Jews? Mom would have told me to tear up the paper. She had a yiddishe kopf.

Podhoretz, it seems, checked the sample: 77 Jews, out of 626 people total. The margin of error, the pollsters told him, was 11 percent, which means that either number could be 11 percent more or less. More precisely, it could be anything. Polling 77 people is worth as much as asking your next door neighbor and whoever he has over for poker that night. Nonetheless, Podhoretz gets excited. He does not have a yiddishe kopf. But we knew that.