A call to skepticism

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An ocean of fakes out there…

Just got a couple of new polls. Let’s see…hmmm. Ever heard of Keystone Mercadeo Táctico? Of Top Data? No?

OK, let’s look at their websites. Oh wait, they have no websites! Funny that…

Well, maybe they’re down for maintenance. So, let’s see how have these firms done in previous elections. What’s that you say? Keystone is not on record having ever polled in Venezuela before? TopData only sparsely, in the MUD Primaries, and on occasion was hysterically wrong?

That’s all I need to know.

For me, it’s pretty simple: three strikes you’re out. No name, no website, thin to no track record? Chances are these “firms” don’t actually exist outside the confines of their PowerPoint slides.

That said, for the real obsessives, I’d add one more thing. Though the three-strike test above is enough to label TopData as likely fake and Keystone as almost certainly fake, there are other elements that give them away too.

Keystone Cops Mercadeo Táctico claims a sample of 10,183 registered voters, touting it as “the biggest sample in Venezuela.” They think this bolsters their credibility. In fact, it all but guarantees it’s a fake.

Let’s see why. On a population of 19 million voters, a standard sample size of 1300 gives you a margin of error of 2.72%, 19 out of every 20 times. (That is, assuming the sample is well selected, the real situation is within 2.72% of what the poll says it is 95% of the time.) A sample size of 10,183 gives you a margin of error of 0.97%.

In other words, you multiply the cost of carrying out the poll by almost eight in order to improve its accuracy by less than three. This makes zero business sense: no pollster anywhere in the world can stay in business long with polls that are eight times more expensive than the industry standard.

It’s a bit like finding a burger joint directly across the street from a McDonald’s trying to sell a burger slightly nicer than, but really very similar to, a BigMac for $25 each. A-It won’t last. B-It’s so obvious it won’t last, you can’t help but wonder about the quiquirigüiqui behind it.

There’s a reason all established pollsters work on samples ranging from 700 to 2,000 or so – that’s the sweet spot where reasonable accuracy criss-crosses commercial viability.

When you see a poll claiming a sample size that’s substantially above or below that sweet spot, you should already have alarm bells going off in your head.

And when a firm you’ve never heard of, with no website and no track record claims to have performed five times the number of interviews at the upper reaches of the sweet spot, it’s pretty certain you’re looking at a fake.

1 COMMENT

    • These ones, as the ones mentioned by Quico the post are encuestadoras de maletin. But, to be honest, there seems to be a lot of opacity among Venezuelan pollsters, even serious ones. This has been IVAD’s website for years http://ivad.com.ve/ and I cant even find a website for Datos.

      • Well, they – especially Datos – have business models that prize confidentiality. That’s their prerogative and I’m minded to accept it given that both have established track-records in Venezuela and nobody scratches their head when they’re mentioned.

        But if you’re new at this game, you need to actually establish your bona fides first. What amazes me is the way these Maletín pollsters don’t even try…

        • I agree, and I wouldn’t question their numbers based on the fact that they don’t have a website. But in today’s corporate world, no matter what business model you follow, being a marketing firm and not having a website sounds illogical. I mean that it wouldnt kill Seijas to pay for a decent website or Datos to establish one where in presents their basic information without giving anything. Can you imagine Gallup or Penn and Schoen having no website or sites under construction for years? My point is that if serious pollster would step it up a bit in terms of transparency and technology, it would make it easier to call on encuestadoras de maletin for their bs.

          • Linsan, Datos only sold its B2C store audit business to Nielsen. They continue to be pretty active in Consumer Surveys and Opinion Polling. They do a quarterly poll called “Pulso Nacioanal” which they sell by subscription. Their website is: http://www.datoslatam.com
            They’ve being doing political polling in Venezuela since 1954.

  1. You are wrong. Keystone DOES have a website

    http://www.empresaskeystone.com

    And they seem to be a serious source! OK to be a little skeptical, but please, don’t exaggerate! I mean, Capriles is winning in Varianzas, Consultores 21, Eugenio Escuela, just to mention 3 that are not what you would call “encuesta de maletín”. Let’s not talk about Predigmatica, Interdata, Hercon. So, I cannot agree with LVL’s opinion that he is the “papá de los helados” here and all the other pollsters are a piece of sh… Even Barclays said yesterday that Capriles has a shot due to the large number of DK/NAs

    The other: Datanalisis, IVAD and even conexión religiosa say the DK/NA item has as much as 18% and the difference is of averagely 14%. OK, then Datanalisis says than in June-July 85% of the “neutrals” went in Capriles way. Here is the hint: those guys are going to vote! So they will vote for Capriles.

    These elections are a toss-up, whether you believe it or not

  2. Fake polls will backfire on Chavez because his abstentions will increase. If Chavez tells everyone he is a sure winner, why would people come out to vote?

    Chavez is clearly trying to increase the credibility of any fraud he will use to keep in power. Like Amenijad in Iran, Chavez plans to ignore the vote.

  3. And then, are you actually worshipping a guy that said that Augusto Uribe would win in the 2008 Metropolitatian-city hall election, or to the guy that said via cell-phone that the opposition could only win 50 deputies or that sold a news to EFE saying the SI had won in the 2007 referendum? Come on!

  4. Margin of error of >1% only 3x better than margin of error of >3%?

    Is an automobile that can go 60mph 3x better than one that can only go 20mph?

    More importantly, is a tool whose uncertainty of measurement is less than the critical quantity being measured worth only 3x as much as a tool whose uncertainty exceeds that quantity?

    If you need to measure to within 1 cm to get pieces that will fit together, a ruler that measures to 3 cm is useless, compared to one that measures to within 1 cm.

    Which is not to say that this pollster is not as bogus as you suggest, only that it is not wasteful to expend the extra effort for higher resolution when that resolution is required for useful measurements.

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