Editorial: The numbers game
Facts under attack in this election season
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
It is a longstanding cliché in the sports world that “stats don’t lie.” In politics, however, every poll and numbers report that is released comes under intense scrutiny, with politicians and pundits accusing anything that does not support their position as biased.
On Oct. 1, the UNH Survey Center released a poll that showed President Obama had a 15-point lead over Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. First, former N.H. Gov. John H. Sununu slammed the results, saying “what comes out of UNH is extremely volatile.”
Then N.H. House Speaker Bill O’Brien joined Sununu in dismissing the poll, writing on a private Facebook page for state Republican candidates that UNH “over-sampled” Democrats in order to skew the results, according to The Concord Monitor.
O’Brien wrote, “The fact that the Obama campaign (brought) Bill Clinton to Durham Wednesday demonstrates that there is exactly zero chance that the UNH survey has a shred of accuracy.”
Besides the fact that the Clinton visit was planned before the UNH poll was released, it’s hard to see O’Brien’s point. New Hampshire is widely known as a swing state, and it’s inevitable that both candidates will campaign heavily in the state all the way up until the general election.
Both Sununu and O’Brien appear to be accusing the UNH Survey Center of being tainted by the university’s supposed liberal bias. But it was the UNH Survey Center that showed poll results correctly predicting that Republicans would take control of the N.H. House of Representatives and Senate in 2010.
On the national scale, the recent jobs report numbers outraged a number of people who thought the numbers were juked to make up for Obama’s poor performance in last Wednesday’s debate.
Former General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch began the debate when he tweeted, “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.”
Welch was accusing the Obama campaign – those “Chicago guys” – of tweaking the jobs report that said the U.S. economy added 114,000 jobs in September and that unemployment had dropped to 7.8 percent.
A number of experts from both sides of the aisle quickly countered Welch and other conspiracy theorists. Former George W. Bush spokesman Tony Fratto tweeted that that the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics was not changing the data, as it would be a scandal of “enormous proportions.” Others defended the integrity of the bureau and it’s data-gathering process.
It is not surprising in the age of social media and information inundation that numbers will be questioned more than ever. But to suggest that polls and data that have long been trusted sources are skewed just because they don’t support your political beliefs is juvenile and unnecessary.
These claims also provide yet another needless distraction in election coverage that needs to focus on each candidate’s platforms and plans for a country that is still struggling.
Sununu’s and Welch’s public comments only offer unfounded reaction to unfavorable numbers. O’Brien’s comments, while on a private page, do the same. Their accusations further the partisan rift that has contributed to a poor political atmosphere in the United States.