Articles and Analysis


The Uncertain

Topics: Diageo-Hotline Poll , Targeting , Undecided

I contributed to this week's print National Journal as part of a special feature titled, "What Will This Election Hinge On?" In a piece called "The Uncertain," now posted online, I focused on the voters in the Diageo-Hotline tracking survey who are uncertain either about how they will vote or whether they will vote.

The pollsters at FD that conduct the Diageo-Hotline poll were kind enough to roll together and share the 2,449 registered voters interviewed as part of their daily tracking survey over the first few weeks of September. I was able to profile the 23% that were either totally undecided or uncertain about their choice (n=973), and the 9% that are only "probable" (not "definite") to vote (n=377), and compare these voters to the larger sample.

The print edition includes a short summary table, but I have put my complete data run in a table below (after the jump).

The results I found most interesting involved the voters that are undecided or uncertain about Obama and McCain:

[T]hese voters harbor doubts about the shortcomings they perceive in Obama and in McCain. By a 34-point margin (52 percent to 18 percent), they see McCain as "more prepared to lead the country" than Obama. And by a nearly opposite 31-point margin (50 percent to 21 percent), they say that Obama "better understands the needs and priorities" of people like them.

The key difference, omitted from the print piece, is that the Obama numbers on the "prepared" question was much lower among the uncertain voters than among all voters. Similarly, the McCain number on the "understands" question was lower among the uncertain voters than among all voters on the full sample.

2008-09-29_uncertain small.png

This sense of uncertainty underscores the point about last Friday's debate that Marc Ambinder made over the weekend:

The first presidential debate was watched by tens of millions of people who were seeing the candidates discuss their views for the first time.

Both campaigns know that the most get-able voters at this point are the ones who are highly engaged with the race but tend to base their views on the highest, loudest levels of information.

The people most likely to move the poll numbers one way or another haven't been tuning into the 30 or so primary debates we've had; low information voters were the most relevant audience Friday night.

The rest of the data follows after the jump.

2008-09-29 uncertain_demos.png

2008-09-29_uncertain attitudes.png



Data follow, they don't follows. ^_^



Whaddayamean it don't?


Super Doggy 55:

Data in Modern American English is both singular and plural, like deer and beer. Therefore, data may do whatever it damn well pleases.


Mark Blumenthal:

The data did not follow (at first, when GrammerFreak checked in). Later it did. My bad, as was the typo in the second table, now corrected. Sorry all.



Fine then, I'll just take my deers and my beers and leave ^_^

The OED does not list "data" as it's own word, only as a plural of "datum," though it acknowledges its use with the singular construction. I guess I just like fighting losing battles? Let's hope that's not the case with the presidential election...



Could the fact that the responses about who is "better prepared to lead" simply be the result that people will almost always say that about a candidate who has the greater "experience" at the higher positions in public office. It doesn't necessarily translate into "I want him to lead", or that the "better prepared" will make better judgements. By the "experience" criterion the current officeholder has eight years of experience actually in the Office of the President. He's supremely "prepared"...but most folks would say he's an utter failure AS a leader, despite the "preparation".



@ GrammarFreak:
I'm a linguist so I can help out here. Nouns in many languages can be divided into 'count' and 'non-count' classes. In English, words like 'water' and 'rice' are unambiguously non-count, which means we don't use them in the plural (except poetically). Non-count nouns tend to be those that don't have clear object-edges (like water) or are so finely particulate that they behave more like sets (like rice). Data has shifted from being a count noun (with an associated singular 'datum') to being a non-count noun -- so now 'data' instead of being a plural is a singular. Interestingly, some words can be used as both types with different meanings: 'beer' in the singular can mean the fluid, while 'beers' must mean 'cans or bottles of beer'.



... or fishes for various species of fish. That's all fair, but I think that the "singular" data is a matter of the misunderstanding of a word with a Latin ending that makes it look singular to us. We still need the word "datum" to refer to one piece of information (though we don't wish to do so all that often I realize, part of the reason "data" has become singular-ish). Further, we certainly can't "pluralize" the now-singular data to "datas" for any reason whatsoever. Thus, in that sense, it is different from any of the examples above. I don't intend to be unnecessarily proscriptive; I'm not honestly bothered by the use of data in the singular. I just like to pay attention to how language is used. Also, I am a chemist, so to me data still means something very close to the original sense. In any case, I would argue that it's not a true non-count singular, but that its common usage as such should certainly be listed.



The data may or may not follow, but if tortured long enough, they will confess to almost anything.


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Maybe this election will hinge on this must see video.

Obama Gets His Wish


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