Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Christie the Hottest? No.

Here's the hed and lede from a recent Politico story:
Poll: Chris Christie the 'hottest' 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the “hottest” political figure in the country, according to a new temperature poll.
I know your first thought.  Christie?  Hot?  On what planet?  Let me explain.  A "temperature poll" asks respondents to rate a person or group on a 0-to-100 degree scale, with high (warmer) scores meaning you like that person or group more.  To say in the hed that Christie is the "hottest" suggests something far different than what the poll asks, which is warmer equals more favorable.

So on a 0-to-100 scale, I'm not all that "hot" about the hed and lede.  But wait.  It gets better.

Christie topped the "heap" at 53.1.  Hillary Clinton came in second at 52.1.  One "degree" difference.  But Christie is hotter, the story breathlessly reports, despite the poll's 2.6 percent margin of error -- a fact conveniently buried in the last graf.

The lesson?  Beware poll stories, and watch for statistical ties, and ask yourself whether the difference, even if statistically significant, is substantive.

See the actual poll results here.

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