Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tennessee TV news anchors practicing modern day "Tasseography"?

Say what?
For the Google-impaired, "tasseography" is the practice of reading tea leaves in a tea cup to predict outcomes in life.
For the past two days I've watched and listened to a fair share of Tennessee news anchors repeat an assertion made by a flawed CNN poll about where things stand in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race.
In fact, if you take those very same news anchors, dim the TV studio lights overhead, fire up a candle in front of them, and ask them to wave their hands over a tea cup, we could be watching modern day "tasseography" in action via our TV sets.
I've yet to hear an on air media personality tell the whole story behind the flawed CNN poll. You could argue its because of newscast time limitations, but I suspect the blame lies more with a lack of understanding of how polling actually works.
Here's what's not being said - Opinion Research - the polling firm hired by CNN - did zero preliminary voter identification before it polled in our state. In fact, all they did was to simply set their system to randomly dial Tennessee phone numbers, asking the person who answered if they were registered to vote, and then if they said they were registered to vote, whether or not they planned to vote in this election. Based on affirmative answers - made up or real - to both questions Opinion Research determined that their system had in fact captured a likely voter resulting in what they claim is a true reading of where things stand in our U.S. Senate race.
Opinion Research's approach is akin to having one grade schooler ask another grade schooler if so-and-so really "likes me"...check yes or no. And not all that much more advanced than waiting for a floating clump of tea leaves in your tea cup to form the outline of a recognizable figure that symbolizes an outcome in life.
Legitimate pollsters for both parties work off lists of voters whose voting history has been analyzed to death to identify true "likely voters." The end result is that people who have a history of doing what they say they do get polled, not people who say they do but don't.
Why is this distinction important? If a pollster or news outlet declares "likely voters" believe this or that - they should be certain that "likely voters" actually believe this or that.
In the final days before the Election, voters are paying close attention to what the candidates are doing and saying, and more often than not, these same voters are relying on news outlets to help them understand what's going on.
Instead of practicing "tasseography," our local media owe it to their viewers and listeners to carefully dissect any information they are being fed before attempting to distill and broadcast it.
As an aside - not that it has any relevance to anything I just wrote - in my tea cup this morning tea leaves formed the figure of a shoe - the symbol of change coming for the better.

4 Comments:

Blogger August West said...

Google-impaired? The tea leaves are read after the liquid has been poured off, so they wouldn't be floating.

10:04 AM  
Blogger tennessee political pulse said...

great catch...as you can tell I only read about tasseography...I've not practiced it!

11:57 AM  
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