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The Numbers Behind the Numbers

January 14, 2008

In every election year we are inundated with numbers. New polls are announced almost every day. Unfortunately, the polls are often wrong, and even when they are correct, the way they are reported often changes the way people understand their message.

A good example of this occurred a few days ago when Real Clear Politics announced its average of the national polls concerning the Republican candidates. MSNBC reported that Romney was the leader, McCain was in second place and Huckabee was third. The other three GOP candidates were described vaguely as trailing the top three. As usual, MSNBC's reporting was faulty, as the liberal network failed to report accurately that the three leaders were in a virtual dead heat. It also failed to report that MSNBC's favorite, Giuliani (more on this later), polled about half as well as any of the three leaders.

Fox News, known for its fair and balanced reporting, gave the numbers behind the numbers. The polls didn't show a simple 1, 2, 3. They showed Romney with 20.3%, McCain with 20.0%, Huckabee with 19.3%, Giuliani with 10.3%, Thompson with 4.5%, and Paul with 4.0%.

Let's examine the numbers that MSNBC failed to report. The normal margin of error for the polls that were averaged to create the Real Clear Politics is plus or minus 4%. Since there was only a 1% difference between Romney and Huckabee, this means that any of the three could actually be number one, and any of them could be number three.

What could MSNBC's motivation be for obscuring what Fox News made clear? MSNBC is well-known for its liberal bias. Romney and McCain are both more liberal than Huckabee. (Until recently, Romney was pro-abortion. McCain votes with the Democrats as often as with the Republicans.) So it comes as no big surprise that MSNBC would try to position Romney and McCain as leading Huckabee.

And what of MSNBC's attempt to obscure the fact that Giuliani was so far behind the leaders? As I mentioned earlier, Giuliani is MSNBC's Republican candidate. This is clear from the frequency of his appearances on the network in comparison with the other Republican candidates, and the kid-gloves treatment they give him when he appears. The network would obviously prefer a Democrat to a Republican in the presidential race. But if a Republican wins, they want the most liberal Republican available. And Rudy is their choice.

These particular poll results don't matter. The next day there were more polls, and there will be more polls every day, each showing different results. So why have I spent time analyzing the numbers behind the numbers of an average of polls that will be forgotten in a matter of days?

I want you to have your eyes open. Don't take anything at face value. Realize that the media lies and manipulates the news, and that almost every news outlet has an agenda in this election. Fox News is the only news network that even tries to be fair and balanced, but even they sometimes lean left in an attempt to be fair.

When I was a teenager, kids my age had a saying: "Don't trust anyone over 30!" Today I say, "Don't trust the news media's analysis of anything to do with the election." The news media long ago abandoned the notion of unbiased reporting of news. Everything they "report" is slanted toward their political viewpoint, usually to the left. 92% of all the people who decide what news you will be allowed to see, what news to censor, and how to spin it are registered Democrats or Socialists.

Normally the facts (at least the ones they choose to report) will be fairly accurate, since outright lies are easy to catch. But you have to beware of their "analysis" of the news. As I showed you in the example above, selective reporting of facts can easily mislead the public if they are not wary.

The danger in all of this is that citizens may decide not to support their candidate because the media has convinced them that the candidate has no chance. They may not go to the polls for the same reason. These things have happened often enough in the past that the media has intensified its efforts to sway elections in recent years.

How can you defend yourself against deliberate manipulation of the news intended to influence the way you vote? Here are some suggestions:

1) Use common sense. Trust your own judgment. If something the media reports runs counter to what you know about your candidate, ignore it. The source of most of the rumors leaked at crucial times in an election year (and repeated ad nauseam by the media) is the candidate's political opponents. And the media decides which rumors it will report based on their own preference of candidates.

2) Study the candidate's website. Look for direct quotes from the candidate. Of course they can lie on their website, but they are far less likely to put lies in print in their own words. If they want to lie, they usually direct their surrogates to say the words. Then they can deny any knowledge of the lie. Listen more to what they say about their positions on their websites and less to how others characterize their positions.

3) Use multiple sources for your news. If you watch only one channel or read only one paper, you will get only one point of view. Remember that most newspapers endorse candidates. Don't expect them to report anything unfavorable about someone they have endorsed.

4) Utilize the Internet. Even though Al Gore claims to have invented it, it has become a great leveler of playing fields. Many times bloggers have been way ahead of the major media at exposing lies during elections. Some examples of this are the way bloggers exposed the source of the slanderous lies against President Bush during his first campaign, and the way they demonstrated that John Kerry's "Band of Brothers" were not what they claimed to be. Beware, though. All bloggers are not created equal, and many lie. Check them out with other sources.

5) Ignore mass emails. 90% of them are hoaxes, and the other 10% usually contain only partial truth. Many times people pass these on without checking their accuracy, because the contents support their own prejudices. Never forward an email (or trust one you receive) without checking them out at www.Snopes.com or www.TruthorFiction.com.

Finally, always take polls with a whole box of salt. A recent example showed just how wrong they can be. The New Hampshire Democrat polls showed Obama crushing Hillary in that state's primary. Hillary won by a comfortable margin. It is likely that the polls had two effects. First, many Obama supporters probably got complacent and reasoned that they didn't need to go out in the cold since Obama was sure to win. Second, Hillary supporters didn't want to see her embarrassed (especially after her recent embarrassing crying stunt) and redoubled their efforts to get out the vote.

People lie to pollsters; pollsters skew their polls by the way they ask their questions; and then the media distort the poll results. Mark Twain (among others) is quoted as saying, "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics." Today he might say, "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and polls."

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Copyright ©2008 Tom Barrett

Dr. Tom Barrett is a pastor, teacher, author, conference keynote speaker, professor, certified executive coach, and marketplace minister. His teaching and coaching have blessed both church and business leaders. He has been ordained for over 40 years, and has pastored in seven churches over that time. Today he “pastors pastors” as he oversees ordained and licensed ministers in Florida for his ministerial fellowship.

He has written thousands of articles that have been republished in national newspapers and on hundreds of websites, and is a frequent guest on radio and television shows. His weekly Conservative Truth article (which is read by 250,000) offers a unique viewpoint on social, moral and political issues from a Biblical worldview. This has resulted in invitations to speak internationally at churches, conferences, Money Shows, universities, and on TV (including the 700 Club).

“Dr. Tom,” as his readers and followers affectionately refer to him, has a passion for teaching, as you can see from his ministry website (www.ChristianFinancialConcepts.com); his patriotic site (www.ConservativeTruth.org); and his business site (www.GoldenArtTreasures.com). Tom's friend Dr. Lance Wallnau wrote of him, "Tom Barrett is a Renaissance man with a passion for subject matter ranging from finance to theology and American history."
Visit Dr. Tom Barrett's website at www.DrTom.TV