I know most don't like to discuss politics in here, I do, but most don't. This isn't exactly politics, but rather how the media talk about politics.
And the reason I am bringing this up in a Football forum is that NFL people are uniquely experienced to understand the problem I have.
When Big Media presents Presidential Election Polling numbers they present it as : 52% Candidate A and 48% Candidate B.
However, that isn't the question that was asked. The people/readers/viewers want to know "Who is going to win?" or at least "What is your current probability eastimate of winning for each of the candidates?" Just like betting on football games.
And the Media spits out numbers like an adding machine on speed. Yet almost no one gives you the probabilities. They present the polling results (which attempt to predict the popular vote, i.e. the score) without ever turning the score into a probability.
And they also present the score as a percentage, just like probability percentages.
So when the public want to know the answer to the question "What is the probability of Obama winning?", the Media spit out numbers like "Obama 53%" and graphs showing "Obama 53%/ Romney 47%". They don't answer the question about probability, instead they guess the final score.
So the polls actually give you the Media's latest guess on The Score. In a 53%/47% poll, they are essentially saying Candidate A has to give 6 pts. But the presidency is a Winner Take All contest. The fans of Romney only are happy when he wins, not just covers. So probability of winning is THE ONLY number worth finding out, yet the Media never tells it.
You might conclude that the probabilities are unknowable from polling data. Actually that is very wrong. There are zillions of academic studies about turning polls into probabilities. There might be disagreement among the PoliticalSabermetricians, but there isn't a darth of methods. Yet almost ALL Media never give a probability. And the media spends 10 Megawords describing the "horse race" as if it was a sporting event. And they give the spread but they don't want to give the Money Line.
The reason is very clear. There is one exception to this rule. Nate Silver and his 538 blog in the NYT.
Nate's current prediction is:
Popular Obama 50.3% Romney 48.8%
Probability Obama 72.9% Romney 27.1%
And this is with the SAME DATA. Just Moneyline vs Spread.
My beef thus boils down to this.
1) The question interested by the public is "Who's gonna win?" It is reasonable and typical to give probabilities as percentages of 100%.
2) The Media covers the Presidential Elections with numbers and charts for over a year. Almost all Media, almost never (Nate Silver is the only main exception) answer the main question.
3) They answer a different question (i.e. "What is the score going to be?") with numeric data presented in a Percentage Format, just like the real answer to the real question.
4) The Score shows a lot more variability and closeness than the Probability does. The Probability for Obama has been 70% +/- 10% for all of 2012. Yet the Score has been within 6 pts several times during the year. The single time both numbers have been given, the Score had a spread of 1%, while the Probability had a difference of 46%. Thus reporting on the score makes the contest seem MUCH CLOSER and MUCH MORE DYNAMIC than reporting on the probability. Especially if you present the SCORE data in a manner which can be easily misconstrued as the Probability, and NEVER report the Probability. And DOUBLE Especially if most of the public isn't used to dealing with spreads and odds, like we are in the NFL base.
So my rant is that the Media suppress the Probability and report the Score in a percentage format, to justify the 10 Megawords of coverage and numbers and charts to maximize ratings.
And they have been allowed to get away with it so long because most of the Political Press is innumerate. And the pollsters, campaign Sabermaticians and various campaign mercinaries have a vested commercial interest to project a tighter race, thus needed more polls and mercs. And most of the public, unlike us NFL people, don't deal in spreads and moneyline and probabilities.