Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fun With Numbers: Memphis Mayor's Race Department

FOX13 just released their own poll on the Memphis mayor's race but it is, as the two previous Commercial Appeal polls were, generally useless.

If you look at the only piece of hard data on the poll, it's a +/- 7% margin of error (MoE). Such a large error margin is usually not a good sign, so I called Yacoubian Market Research, the folks hired to conduct the poll, to get more information. Turns out, the sample size (the number of people asked the poll questions) was just 300. That's a very small sample size, one prone to a lot of error in its results. Hence, the 7 percent MoE.

Berje Yacoubian was satisfied by it. He pointed out that the only real result you could draw from the poll, the FOX13 story notwithstanding, was that Herenton was in trouble. His support has slipped dramatically. "Over a year, his popularity is low and sinking."

He said that this poll was meant primarily as a baseline against which polls between now and election day can be compared. "I'm not trying to figure out who is going to win or lose."

The numbers in the poll that matter (outside of the "Who would do a better job?" stuff)

He did offer some interesting observations based both on his thirty years of polling and what he's learned in this election cycle:

1. White voters break out 52% for Chumney and 20% for Morris. As the number of undecideds dwindles as we approach the election, that's bad news for Morris.

2. Chumney seems to be the choice of the not-Herenton voter. Morris isn't getting what Yacoubian considers his "expected level of support."

3. Conversely, he notes that as Chumney weakens, a possible trend in the flawed Commercial Appeal polls, Morris does benefit, although that's an obvious "last man standing" artefact.

4. Yacoubian expects Herenton to wait until September to launch a "four week campaign." It will dramatically change the race, and not to Herenton's benefit as voters will be forced to consider what Herenton's done up to now.

The poll did find that Morris is the second choice of most voters, some encouraging news to Morris supporters. Anything that cripples Herenton or Chumney stands to benefit him. But with such a large MoE, Herenton and Chumney are in a dead heat (something the Commercial Appeal poll found) and Morris is just below the MoE compared to both. Without a larger, better poll, it's pretty much anyone's game right now.

Yacoubian also didn't have kind words for the Commercial Appeal polls. He felt they traded their "neutrality for cheerleading. They made news so they could report it."

I agree with him. Wharton was not a candidate. He did not pull an application at any time. He had expressly stated he wasn't a candidate and wouldn't stab his good friend Herenton in the back. He was very happy as County Mayor, a position he felt (with some justification) was superior to the City Mayor. He and Herenton had a long personal history that Wharton would have had to callously jettison and then repudiate in order to run a campaign. For the Commercial Appeal to have pushed him as a possible candidate was partisanship of the strongest kind.

For the Commercial Appeal to have included him in the polls was just the worst kind of pot-stirring, a kind of underhanded journalistic story-making that Chris Peck should deplore. At a past Dutch Treat Luncheon, editor Blake Fontenay defended it as just reflecting the public's stated wishes. I didn't buy it then, and would be harder pressed today to buy it. They were ginning up a slim, dim fantasy.

The Commercial Appeal always claims to "tell the stories of Greater Memphis." But it has absolutely turned a blind eye to the most obvious story of all. For all that the campaign coverage has focused on the foibles and follies of Mayor Herenton, and for all the coverage given to his erstwhile opponents -- both real and imagined -- Herenton is still the man to beat. The story is his strength as the incumbent. Barring surprise or shock, he's going to win. But you don't see too much of that in the Commercial Appeal, do you?

You should wonder why.

It has bothered me to no end to see the reporters in this city make the most absurd statements about some of these polls. Jackson Baker and Richard Thompson have been among the worst, but let's not leave out the Commercial Appeal editorial staff.

Even when a poll's margin of error is 4%, Baker and Thompson have both referred to changes of less than the MoE as if they were actual evidence of real, concretely measured, results. Jackson Baker I know should know better because we've previously discussed this very thing. But no, he'll happily cheerlead for Carol Chumney anyway:
I had just seen a report on Fox 13 News about a fresh poll taken by my friend Berje Yacoubian showing Chumney to be leading a second-place Herenton and a third-place Herman Morris.
Nope. As we've just discussed, her "lead" is only half of the MoE, meaning it's anyone's guess who is ahead in that poll.

I mean really, is it so hard, so expensive for these folks to head on down to any bookstore and just pick up a standard text on statistics? They don't even have to read the whole thing! Just the first few chapters should give them enough understanding to make their analysis useful instead of ridiculous. Heck, eve a good used bookstore ought to have something, if money's an issue. Or do I have to embarrass them by making a gift of a book and then posting a picture of me making the presentation here on Half-Bakered?

Because you know I will.
Political Self-Image

Interesting numbers in this Rasmussen Report poll. It provides some insight into how Democrats and Republicans veiw themselves and makes plain some voter confusion.

Rasmussen found that 61% of Republicans found "conservative" a positive term of description. That rose to 74% for "like Reagan. That seems to show a clear self-identification among Republicans, and some clarity of ideology.

Among Democrats, only 32% consider "liberal" a positive descriptor, although it climbs to 42% if you apply "progressive." It makes you wonder what a Democrat considers a good self-description. Or it may be decades of demonisation of "liberal" by Republicans is paying off to an incredible degree.

What's weird is that 26% of Republicans think progressive is a positive description! In the immortal words of Fezzik, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Historically, (capital-p) Progressive has a specific meaning, in that it refers to failed defunct political parties. It also refers to the political movement dating back to the 19th century, started by Christian reformers. It later morphed into a political movement in the Twenties and Thirties dominated by Communist dupes and Soviet agents.

I guess we're far enough along that those meanings are largely forgotten by enough people to make a safe haven for modern Democrats to adopt it. But why Republicans like it? I can't say. Maybe there's a new latent strain of activist conservatism waiting to bloom in reaction to the piggery and elitism of the current Republican leadership?
Why I Hate Registration

Having to register with a website so they can prevent spam comments is understandable, but when the folks making you register then turn around and use their database to spam you, well, that's a circle of hell I hope these marketers get well acquainted with.

It's been annoying in recent weeks to have Memphis Flyer spam showing up in my mailbox unasked for. For folks who love to trade off the image of young, hip and alternative it's so very uncaring corporate tool for them to do this. If I want to read your website, I'll go there. You'll know it because my little cookie will tell you so.

Quit sending me unasked-for email like some desperate street corner whore flashing her wares. Even the Commercial Appeal doesn't do it. Sheesh.
Minimum Wage, Maximum FUD

Since I've been on hiatus, the minimum wage hike has been in the news. I only have a couple of comments on it by this point, so I'll peg them to this Commercial Appeal editorial from local activist Rebekah Jordan.

She conveniently uses some distorted numbers, for one:
According to the Economic Policy Institute, about 153,000 Tennesseans will directly benefit from the raise, and another 294,000 workers in our state will benefit overall, because of pay raises many companies are likely to make in order to retain workers who are already earning around $7.25 an hour.
The actual numbers of people affected looks more like this:
In truth, very few Tennesseans actually have to live on a wage of $5.15 an hour. Only 1.5% of the state’s workforce—approximately 40,000 workers—is employed at minimum wage levels. Furthermore, the majority of Tennessee’s minimum wage earners are either teenagers living at home and working for weekend pocket money or married individuals working part-time to supplement their spouse’s income....

Of Tennessee’s 40,000 minimum wage earners, fewer than 4,800 are single parents.
Speaking as someone who has worked in the minimum wage world most of his life (both as an hourly and as management) I can tell you that very few fast food workers only get paid the minimum wage. Most wages start at $7 and hour and go up from there. Most warehouse, general labor jobs start at $10, or more.

So why all the self-serving misdirection from folks like Jordan? Simple: election year politics.

Nearly every union in America has its wage structures pegged to the minimum wage. Raise the minimum and you raise their wages. That's where Jordan's numbers come from, union workers who will benefit from the hike.

That's why, in the political announcements last week from legislators on the minimum wage hike, you saw so many union workers sharing the stage and union banners hanging behind podiums. It's all about placating and paying off the base.
The Presumption of Guilt?

LeftWingCracker falls into a common trap in this post about Michael Vick, the NFL player who is indicted for running a pit bull fighting ring.

He says:
The first thing you have to do is remember that, like all defendants, Michael Vick is innocent until PROVEN guilty by a jury of his peers.

Then, go read the indictment, and THEN tell me that. OK, it's only an indictment....

In a word: No. In a court of law, yes, you are entitled to the presumption of innocence. It's a deeply rooted principle of American justice because at one time English justice meant bringing charges was a presumption of guilt (else why the charges?) and you had to prove your innocence. That led to all kinds of abuses.

It's also a protection. Protecting citizens from government action (which is often incontestable) based on pre-trial feelings is important. Otherwise, possibly innocent people can lose pensions, benefits, jobs, careers, etc. You can literally lose your freedom and your life.

For example, a lot of folks wanted to toss Edmund Ford from the City Council as soon as indictments against him were handed down. The voters of Ed Ford's district would lose representation for the time between his being removed from office and a new person being voted in. That's an unaddressable wrong.

But in the court of public opinion, the First Amendment reigns. We are free to think and say whatever we want based on what's in front of us and how we feel about it.

Vick's employers and sponsors are perfectly free to disassociate themselves, as it's all private contracts. No need to wait. If it turns out they did so wrongly, or prematurely, then Vick is free to pursue redress in a court of law and get compensated. It is, as they say, only money.

LWC doesn't need to twist himself all up and make insincere genuflection to some misunderstood principle. This is America and he's free to say what he wants here.

But LWC seemingly wants to punish Vick NOW. He seemingly wants to waste no time in condemning Vick's actions, rather than waiting to see what's what. He wants to abhor not just with the force of his indignation, nor the force of public condemnation, but with something more. Something like the force of law, which LWC apparently thinks is too slow and hesitant.

Thank goodness for that! Conflating personal outrage with legal consequences is a very dangerous and volatile weapon. I'd hate to be in Vick's position and have someone like LWC leading the prosecution.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Herenton Confirms Public Perceptions

Mayor Herenton is widely cast as someone who stays within the safe walls of his hard-to-access office downtown and his home in a gated community out east. His antipathy for the media is sometimes put away for limited interviews in controlled circumstances, usually in response to some high-profile situation involving City government.

And in this Commercial Appeal story:
"Is the mayor soft on crime? If you want to find a mayor who's tough on crime then you want Willie Herenton."

Herenton, who is running for a fifth term on Oct. 4, said he will be attending more such press conferences than he has in the past and that he will continue to do so after the election.

"You're going to see a lot of me," the mayor said.
I also find it very interesting that he's confirming public fears of drug crime, and tacitly admitting he's in a campaign. He must have some kind of nervousness if he's actually out there touting himself now, instead of continuing with his prior behavior.

I believe we can call this the first crack in the wall.