Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Math of Politics

Whether its sabermetrics, moneyball or just old fashioned batting statistics, applying math to baseball has provided Major League teams with an objective way to assess talent that goes beyond the “gut” of a veteran scouts and managers. It also provides endless (and often useless) material for the commentators who love to string together previously unrelated facts in hopes that they will make an accurate prediction of future events. They say things like “this pitcher has never given up extra bases to a right-handed batter in a postseason game after the 4th inning in a domed stadium.”  Next thing that happens is – of course – a righty triples in the 5th inning, giving them something else to yap about. I must note that our friends at NESN almost never engage in this, but after being subjected to the TBS broadcast of the ALDS this last week, it’s at the top of my peeve list.

In my day job, it’s equally perturbing when a poll is released and in the rush to interpret its significance, it becomes the “extra-base hit that has never occurred inside a domed stadium” stat that just begs to be proven wrong.

A few weeks back Mayor Angel Taveras’ campaign released some tidbits from their internal poll that showed Taveras with a huge 19 point lead over Treasurer Gina Raimondo in their potential Democratic primary matchup. While some media outlets (okay, maybe just AP) practiced restraint, others clamored about the release of the poll while pundits wondered whether it was released to provide a boost to Taveras’ fundraising. Perhaps that poll allowed him significantly outraise Raimondo in the last quarter, but today’s independent poll from Brown University could stymie his 4th quarter efforts. The Brown poll shows Raimondo with a 9 point lead over Taveras and ahead with Democrats, labor, women, men and independents.

So how does one explain a 26 point difference in a matter of weeks?  The answer is that they can’t even be considered together because you have an apple and three scraps from an orange. WPRI’s Ted Nesi did adeep dive with Marion Orr so we know the methodology of the Brown poll but we know very little about the private Taveras poll. What we do know is that the next election is a long way off and there will be many more opportunities for partisans to throw out their meaningless interpretations. It might be hard to do, but I’m tempted to turn off the volume and just follow the action in front of me.

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