Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Statistics is HARD

Byron York seems to find it so:

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

Bolds are mine, but the mistake is all Byron's. The overall rating is based on all those surveyed, you see, and you cannot take those people out of it whom you'd prefer not to have included in the first place. That would be African-Americans in this case.

See how very gently I approached this topic? A Serwer is a lot more decisive:

I'm not sure how it makes sense that this means Obama's positions are "more popular overall than they actually are", unless you're arguing that black people don't actually count.

This is another example of a really bizarre genre of conservative writing, which I call "If Only Those People Weren't Here." It reminds me somewhat of the absence of black people in most non-dystopian science fiction, except the subtextual desire in York's column is far more deliberate: If black people weren't able to vote, Republicans would win more elections. And Ann Coulter, at the very least, has had the chutzpah to say directly what she's really thinking: "If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president."

Indeed. Another recent example of this can be found in Peter Thiel's ode to libertarianism:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of "capitalist democracy" into an oxymoron.