Saturday, October 6, 2012

Deciphering Public Opinion Polls

For the next month, the press will bombard the American public with a flurry of election polling: some good, some bad, many unintelligible, and almost all of them meaningless. Most of the polls will be presented to support one agenda/candidate/party or another. Usually the substance, if any, will be buried in a steaming pile of irrelevant facts and unsupported assertions.

With this in mind, allow me to suggest some basic rules for understanding and evaluating public opinion polls.

Rule #1: Polls are fundamentally easy to understand.

The first rule is to accept the basic principle that polls are easy to understand--so easy that a news reporter could do it . . . if the reporter actually tries. Regrettably, too many reporters consistently fail to even make the attempt.

Anyone who can add, subtract, multiply, and divide simple numbers can understand the results of a poll. Beyond the basic math, it's just a matter of knowing and applying a few principles and understanding a few key terms.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Barricades of Washington

A Photo Essay of the Capital's Response to Terrorism

I had intended to write this post more that a year ago, but life beyond the blog intervened.

In the eleven years since 9/11, the landscape of Washington, DC, has undergone dramatic changes. Yet while these changes are dramatic from the perspective of a decade, they have occurred so gradually that they quickly fade into the background. These changes were foreshadowed by temporary responses to previous wars and bombings, but they have since been incorporated into the very structure of the city--a city and a federal government that is much less accessible than it was in the 20th century.


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