Data analysis can be a subjective thing; so it is with today’s USA Today and Gallup coverage of their joint poll on Sarah Palin.
While its story didn’t provide numbers, USAT tells us it was referring to the fact that 15 percent of Republicans surveyed said their view of Palin had become more favorable because of her decision to resign, vs. 12 percent less favorable. (Using decimals the difference actually rounds to 4 points.)
One problem from my perspective is that this difference among the 316 Republicans surveyed is not statistically significant at the customary 95 percent confidence level (nor indeed at 90, 85 or even 80 percent confidence). Another is that a different result shows a 9-point drop in the number of Republicans who want Palin to be a major national political figure – a result that, by contrast, is significant.
USA Today’s Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, says the point of her piece was to show that Republicans had a different reaction to Palin’s announcement than did Democrats or independents, both of whom were more apt to view it negatively than positively (Democrats by 23 percent to 6 percent, independents by 15 percent to 8 percent).
Fair enough, and not terribly surprising. But as far as I’m aware, in customary poll reporting standards, differences at the 95 percent confidence level are reported without reservations; at 90 to 94 percent are qualified with terms such as a “slight” change; and below 90 percent aren’t reported as meaningful. (Another approach, admittedly a bit cumbersome, is to give the actual confidence level.)
On the other data point, as USA Today’s piece notes, “Two-thirds of Republicans want Palin… to be ‘a major national political figure’ in the future.” But awkwardly for the “boosted her a bit” conclusion, this actually is down from 76 percent just after the election last November. (It's also down among all Americans, with more undecided.)
Should Palin be a major political figure? 7/6/09 11/9/08All 39% 45% Rep 67 76Ind 34 43Dem 18 20Source: Gallup/USAT
Gallup’s analysis, for its part, does not assert increased support for Palin among Republicans. It simply bottom-lines as follows: “Palin's announcement last Friday may have taken many political observers by surprise, but the data show her decision to resign the governorship did not affect most Americans' opinions of her. The poll finds 70 percent saying their opinion of Palin has not changed as a result of her resignation. Though this is clearly the minority of Americans, more say their opinion of her has gotten worse (17 percent) than improved (9 percent).”
This same poll also finds that 43 percent say they’d be very or somewhat likely to vote for Palin if she ran for president; 54 percent say the opposite. Questions like this don't mean a whole lot, since what matters is whom you run against. But as a measure of basic acceptability, it’s not a good showing – neither overall, nor given the fact that there are twice as many people at the negative extreme (not at all likely, 41 percent) than at the positive extreme (very likely, 19 percent).
Last point: As noted, while the overall result on Palin's being a "major national political figure" shows movement away from her since last fall, there is no increase in opposition to this prospect. More now are undecided. It's a useful measurement, and one worth watching as Palin's future unfolds.
Should Palin be a major political figure? Yes No No opin. 7/6/09 39% 52 10 11/9/08 45 52 2 Source: Gallup/USAT