Statistical Rorschach Test

I consider myself a moderately well informed amateur political observer and occasional participant who also has some professional training and experience in rhetoric, more or less as Aristotle defined it.

Consequently, I am both acutely and chronically aware of my limitations when, from MSNBC, I learn of the following statistics:

1. According to a poll sponsored by the Washington Post, approximately 19% of American adults identify themselves as Republicans, whereas 33% of American adults consider themselves Democrats.

2. According to the same poll, 51% of Americans prefer “a public option” in health-care reform.

(To be fair, the alleged information was reported by more media than just MSNBC.)

Because of my limitations, I have only questions in response to the alleged information: How reliable is the sample and the poll? Assuming the information is plausibly reliable, what does it mean in terms of “political reality” (whatever that may mean)? To what extent should those who operate the Republican Party be concerned, and to what extent do those who operate the Democrat Party be encouraged? How does the term “adults” relate to the term “likely voters”? To what extent do “preferences” affect legislation, and to what extent does legislation affect the way things actually work–in health-care, for example? What does the poll and what do those polled consider to be “a public option”?

Therefore, I toss the alleged information to a professional, Wild Bill, to get his reaction to what I might characterize as a statistical Rorschach Test. That is, what does a professional interpreter and creator of statistics think–more or less immediately– when he (in this case) encounters such information from such a poll? What the professional thinks will likely be a lesson to us amateurs all. Stay tuned.

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