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October 21st, 2002:

Volunteer opportunities

If you’d like to do something that has real value and actually can make a difference, may I suggest the volunteer opportunities that Sisyphus Shrugged linked to recently. Progressive action without all that icky intifada stuff! What more could you want?

Divestment idiocy comes to Texas

There are days when you just want to chuck it all and spend the rest of your life watching TVLand and eating junk food. Today is one of them, now that I’ve read this appalling article in the Chron about the brain-dead movement to “divest” from Israel that has now infested the University of Texas. While I give the author some credit for skepticism, I nearly choked when I saw who was quoted as the “dissenting voice”:

“This is an anti-America movement and has solidarity with terrorists, which I consider very dangerous,” said David Horowitz, a leading university radical in the 1960s who has since become a prominent critic of student and faculty leftists.

“It’s a movement to destroy Israel, and there are always unwitting people who go along and believe slogans,” said Horowitz, who has started an ad campaign to try to debunk the divestment movement in college newspapers.

I’m not sure which is the more horrifying prospect: That one could come away from this article thinking that David Horowitz is in some form a voice of reason, that David Horowitz is once again trolling for student newspapers to reject his ads so he can cry “Censorship!” to every talk show host in America, or that I’m forced to be on the same side of an issue with David Horowitz. Whatever the case, I need a shower.

Texas universities were noted for a dearth of student activism even during the tumultuous 1960s, and there was little activism in the state during the South Africa divestment movement.

“Progressive students are afraid to speak out in Texas,” said Kathy Goodwin, a University of Houston student who heads a campus National Organization for Women group.

A petition drive has not been started at UH, but Goodwin and several Muslim students interviewed who oppose Israeli policies said there is no reason that one could not.

I don’t think progressive students are any more afraid to speak out now than they were back in the 80s when I was a student and nostalgia for the “good parts” of the 60s was still fresh. Maybe progressive students are choosing their battles more intelligently today. Maybe it’s not “progressive” to align oneself with people like Ali Abunimah. Maybe progressive students get just an eensy whiff of anti-semitism from this movement, despite all the “aggressive” denials from Hussein Ibish and the like. Shall I go on?

Sigh. It’s Ho-Hos and a Brady Bunch marathon for me today. Wake me tomorrow when things are looking better.

A few words about polls

First, go read what Dr. Limerick has to say about margin of error. Next, consider the following excerpt from this article from the Wilson Quarterly about polls:

Although the public displays no overt hostility to polls, fewer Americans are bothering to respond these days to the pollsters who phone them. Rob Daves, of the Minnesota Poll, says that “nearly all researchers who have been in the profession longer than a decade or so agree that no matter what the measure, response rates to telephone surveys have been declining.” Harry O’Neill, a principal at Roper Starch Worldwide, calls the response-rate problem the “dirty little secret” of the business. Industry-sponsored studies from the 1980s reported refusal rates (defined as the proportion of people whom surveyors reached on the phone but who declined either to participate at all or to complete an interview) as ranging between 38 and 46 percent. Two studies done by the market research arm of Roper Starch Worldwide, in 1995 and 1997, each put the refusal rate at 58 percent. A 1997 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found statistically significant differences on five of 85 questions between those who participated in a five-day survey and those who responded in a more rigorous survey, conducted over eight weeks, that was designed to coax reluctant individuals into participating.

Much more research needs to be done on the seriousness of the response-rate problem, but it does seem to pose a major challenge to the business and might help to usher in new ways of polling. (Internet polling, for example, could be the wave of the future–if truly representative samples can be constructed.) Polling error may derive from other sources, too, including the construction of samples, the wording of questions, the order in which questions are asked, and interviewer and data-processing mistakes.

I’ve seen poll numbers all over the place for various candidates. Right here, we’ve got polls showing Ron Kirk and John Cornyn in a tight race and polls showing Cornyn with a ten point lead. I look at the number of people surveyed, and while I know that it’s sufficiently large to be a representative sample, I have to ask: What assumptions are the pollsters making about turnout? Are they taking into consideration extra efforts in the candidate’s hometowns? Is there an axe being ground somewhere?

Fortunately, I have MyDD to tell me about the demographics of the DMN poll as well as the biases of various national polling companies. And it’s not just liberals who have been complaining. Conservatives have made many of the same points about sampling error, nonresponsiveness, and pollster bias.

The only poll that really matters is the one taken on Election Day. Early voting has begun. You know what to do.

(Temporary) new home for Atrios

Atrios is having some trouble posting to his blog, so he’s (temporarily) moved to this new spot. Hope you can get the glitches worked out, dude.