Monday, September 29, 2014

Lies, damn lies, and TV election polls

So Atlanta's Channel 11 came out with a new poll in the Georgia gubernatorial and Senate races with a big surprise. According to the detailed "cross-tabs," Georgia Latinos are going for our ultra-corrupt Republican governor and his "pants on fire" lying running mate in the race for U.S. Senator by a 4-to-3 margin.

I've gotta ask: dudes, what have you been smoking?

Because even more surprising than our supposed support for these two anti-Latino bigots is the poll's projection that Latinos, who are less than 1.8% of the registered voters in the state, will be 7% of those that go to the polls in November. Assuming every last Latino voter actually showed up, that would mean an overall turnout of 1.3 million, less than one in five adult residents of the state, impossibly low, even for Georgia.

And that brings us to the poll's surprising Latino results. The total sample was said to be 550, which gives us a theoretical "margin of error" of 4.3%, which in reality means 4.8%, since you have to add a rounding error of up to 0.5%.

But --assuming that the projection of a 7% Latino turnout was based on the number of Latinos the poll encountered-- that would be around 38 persons. So the question isn't what is the margin of error for a poll of 550 but what is the margin of error for a poll of those 38 Latinos. Using the standard formula, that would be around 15%, meaning the supposed Republican advantage is not statistically significant. It might be real. It might not.

Except that statistical science says, when samples get that small, the "margin of error" formula doesn't apply. The results are meaningless -- overwhelmed by statistical noise and the practical difficulties involved in public opinion surveys.

That's why at CNN, where my work included reporting precisely these sorts of numbers through 11 successive election cycles (1990-2010), we had a hard rule not to report cross-tab (subgroup) results of a poll where we had less than 100 interviews for that group. And even then, results had to be very dramatic, with big differences in the numbers, for us to rely on small samples.

Think of it this way. If the WXIA pollsters talked to 38 Latinos, Governor Deal's 40% would be about 15 people, Democrat challenger Jason Carter's 29% would have been 11, and 12 were undecided (reported as 31%). If you were calling 1,000 people, who were the first 20 who answered when you called, and agreed to be interviewed, isn't than significant. But if that is the majority of who you talk to, you have skewed the poll tremendously.

That's especially true when dealing with Latinos. Who was available to answer the phone? What languages are they comfortable with? The overwhelming majority of adult Georgia Latinos are immigrants, whose first language is not English.Was the survey conducted bilingually? Almost certainly not, because otherwise WXIA would have bragged about it. Pollsters rely on mechanisms like asking for the oldest or youngest adult to "randomize" a sample. In Latino households, that won't work.

And the Latino community in Georgia has been the most heavily hit of any state in the nation by Obama's "secure communities" deportation dragnet. It is a community that has been profoundly traumatized. Based on the information the government was forced to hand over thanks to a lawsuit by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights --with the support of the Georgia ACLU, NDLON and the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law-- I estimate that ICE, the immigration cops, have made some 100,000 arrests in Georgia since Obama was elected, overwhelmingly of Latinos, in a state that officially has less than one million Latinos.

 I do not think it is possible under such conditions to do an accurate public opinion survey of this community. There is simply too much fear.

But leaving that aside, I am sure WXIA's figures are, in essence, bogus. The Latino vote would need to be ten times its current size to be even measurable by a poll of the size done on behalf of WXIA. As a news organization, WXIA does not have the competence in polling nor the knowledge of our community to be making claims about how we're likely to vote.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are none of us spics 'fit to print' in the NY Times?

Today I was at Plaza Fiesta in Atlanta, for the Mexican and Central American Independence Day celebration, when someone approached me about comments I had made a couple of days ago as the co-host (sidekick) on the "Hablemos con Teodoro" radio show on Radio Información 1310 AM.

I had quoted an editorial in the New York Times blasting Obama for his latest betrayal of the Latino community. After dismissing Obama's specious explanation, the Times says, "The real reason ... is that the midterm elections are upon us, and Mr. Obama ... didn’t want to jeopardize Democratic control of the Senate. As for the immigrants ... they were once again seen as safely expendable.

"A political emergency collided with a human one, and the humans lost."

That last line had a really nice ring to it and I had said on air this was especially welcome coming from such a notoriously anti-Latino newspaper as the New York Times. The listener who came up to me wanted to know why I had said the Times was notoriously anti-Latino. The editorial sounded pretty good to her.

Well, first, because while it is true that I may be getting fat and old, the flip side of that coin is that an elephant never forgets. In the 1970s and early 80s, when I lived in New York and read that newspaper religiously, I remember the Times railing time and again against bilingual and bicultural education, such as in a 1975 editorial with the poetic, symbolic headline "Divisive Languages." (Don't bother following the link unless you're already a subscriber: they'll try to hit you for $4 for an editorial that's not worth 4 cents. The title says it all: if you let people keep on speaking languages other than English, slit your wrists. You're heading straight to disaster. Just like Canada. Canada, I tell you!!!)

But, of course, then there's today. The Times's Editorial Board has 18 people on it. There is not a single Latino among them, or if there is, they are completely undercover. Then there are the regular columnists. They have 12; none of us there either. Finally the top editors listed on the Masthead. There are 10 people listed as responsible for the presentation of the news.

That's a total of 40 people. There's not a single Latino that I could find, not even your token Mexican self-hater or right-wing Cuban. Add the 16 corporate/business bigwigs on the masthead, and its still zilch city. Or if there is some Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones on there who is Latino, why are they and the Times hiding their background?

That is astonishing: New York City is 27.5% Latino, the metro area 24.2%, one out of four. The New York Times doesn't even have one out of 40. Or 56.

You cannot get a result like that without a culture that is profoundly racist, chauvinist and exclusionary. Where people are holding hands thinking they are singing kumbaya without realizing that with the burning crosses, to someone like me it looks just like a Klan meeting.

And it is not just the Times.

About this blog and Hatuey

Hatuey was a cacique, a leader of the Taínos in the island the Spanish called "Hispaniola" around the time when that clueless adventurer Christopher Columbus stumbled onto Caribbean lands imagining he was all the way to India. But Columbus and those that followed were more interested in raping and looting these lands than in geographic precision.

There were others who resisted, but Hatuey is the one that history remembers. He fled to Cuba, where he warned his tribesmen against the depravity of the invaders. "Here is the God the Spaniards worship," he told them, holding up a basket of gold and jewels. "For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea....

"They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break."

Hatuey was captured and burned at the stake in Yara on February 2, 1512. His attitude on that day, described by Spanish Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, is why he is remembered as "The First Rebel of the Americas" and the first Cuban.

It is said that Hatuey's ashes led to the character of the Cuban people. Cuba's national day is not independence day, or revolution day, or constitution day but is called, "Día de la Rebeldía Nacional," the Day of National Rebelliousness.

This is the blog of a rebel, someone born on that island that, having spent a lifetime away from it, has not succeeded in purging Hatuey's ashes from his soul.