26 December 2012

Your Good Mother, Part the Third

Your Good Mother has just figured out another situation you should listen to. The Gallup folks are not happy about being fingered as Romney Borgs, so now they're crying wolf. If the "aggregators" manage to get elections (and, by extension, other polling efforts such as used in, say, advertising) right, does this mean that pollsters will be put out of business, until there's only one left? Could be. That's Gallup's assertion.

One one hand, Gallup is right: the cheap drives out the dear. On the other, in this case, aggregation does identify the perpetually wrong, who will in time fade into Chapter 7. There's nothing wrong with that, given the Social Darwinist imperative. If, over time, aggregation finds the perpetually correct, and that one pollster dominates, so what? It may be that many (not widely admitted) social goods exist in our economy. In other words, Adam Smith may be largely wrong in his point of view: much of commerce devolves to one (or a few) producers. And having one (or a few) producers, means socialism. Otherwise we get monopoly, and restricted access and concentration of power. Remember, Smith's archetype was straight pin manufacture.
Organizations that traditionally go to the expense and effort to conduct individual polls could, in theory, decide to put their efforts into aggregation and statistical analyses of other people's polls in the next election cycle and cut out their own polling. If many organizations make this seemingly rational decision, we could quickly be in a situation in which there are fewer and fewer polls left to aggregate and put into statistical models.

Welcome to the world of oligopoly. And here's the coup de grace:
The aggregators that came closest to Obama's overall winning margin were the ones that attempted to account for pollsters' house effects.

In other words, making reasoned decisions on bias does the best job of removing bias. Imagine that: brains beat data. Read through the piece. Once again, lemmings end up killing each other.

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