December is for Cynics

It is hard for me to decide what was the most cynical abuse of a news story for political opportunism this week:  do I choose the national story of Republicans wailing that the failed Christmas Underpants Bomber was the President’s fault because he refuses to use the phrase “war on terror” every day, or should I choose my local tiny-town story of potheads linking a violent rape to police preoccupation with chasing around potheads?  Oh let’s go for the local angle – you haven’t heard it before, it’s filled with lies and foolishness, and worst of all, they’ve abused the good name of polling! Takoma Park, Maryland is the self-styled “Berkeley of the East,” a longtime bastion of liberal crankiness and nuclear free-zones, population ~20,000, that hugs DC’s northern border.  I spent 5 eye-opening months serving on the City Council this year, but we’ll blog about that later.  It is absolutely the type of place where one would expect local scrungies to form TIME, Takomans for Intelligent Marijuana Enforcement, to keep the police department from harshin’ their buzz.  Fine.  Political advocacy and involvement is the heart of the American Dream for me, no matter what the views.  I’ve started this blog primarily to enlighten readers on the nuances of polling that are difficult for a layperson to interpret, and to call out abuse and misuse of numbers (I’ll never be able to keep up with it all, but there will always be something to talk about) by the media, advocates, campaigns, and pretty much everyone else.  Starting in my own little microcosm is as good a place as any.

This article in the local paper gives me a lot to work with.

Ah, an exit poll on election day!  How surprising that 70% of those asked supported this statement:  “In order to focus police resources on violent and property crimes, would you support a local ordinance directing police to stop arresting people for possession of marijuana for personal use?”  I don’t need to spend a lot of effort pointing out why this question is leading, but I do want to stress that leading questions DO have their place – I use ‘em all the time.  The problem comes when you do not recognize the bias(es) you are introducing, and when you do not have the counter-measure of a “straight” up or down question asked beforehand.  What I really want to point out here is how many other things are wrong with this “informal” poll.  Exit polls actually have a methodology to them –

--were respondents picked in a planned fashion, either every nth person coming out of the polls, or certain quotas for age/gender of every nth person?

--were all exits and entrances adequately covered, and records kept of how many people used each door and were interviewed at each door?

Resounding No’s to both – one table was set up at the main entrance, but there are as many as a dozen doors into the community center (only 1 polling place; if there were multiples, this post would never end).  My favorite part is that they were clearly cherry-picking their respondents for people they thought would agree with them – I was eyeballed and passed by.  Cripes, am I really so old that I’m seen as a certain ‘no” vote on marijuana reform?  Tiny group, tiny minds – I would not be picking on this little abuse of polling were in not for the jaw-dropping audacity of the suggestion that a violent, rare-for-our-area sexual assault on a jogging path could have somehow been prevented if these folks got their way on marijuana reform  -- this piece of crass opportunism wins my year-end Bah Humbug Award.  For the record, the Takoma Park Chief of Police has said over and over again that they do not pick folks up for simple possession unless other crimes are suspected – after all, he understands that he’s got bigger problems to deal with every day.