Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Critique of French Polling Methods

Political scientist Jean-Yves Dormagen criticizes the methods used by French pollsters, in particular their use of quotas based on gender, age, and socioeconomic status. All pollsters are obliged to "correct" their samples to compensate for non-randomness in survey responses, but Dormagen argues that the quotas employed in France are applied to categories that are too broad and unrepresentative.

So beware of accepting the poll rankings (currently Macron no. 1, Le Pen 2, Mélenchon 3, and Fillon 4) as definitive. Big surprises may be in store. I'm making no bets on the outcome. Still biting my nails.


Anonymous said...

Regarding "the biting of nails":

Like Art, I am quite worried about the upcoming first round of the Presidential elections in France. With both Le Pen and Melenchon advocating exit from the EU and the Euro, the financial news services are reporting that a run on banks is expected, which would throw financial markets around the world into chaos. Traders are being given instructions to start reacting to the results as soon as they are announced, fearing financial meltdown. Aside from the financial impact of the victory of one or the other in the first round, Melenchon vs. Le Pen in the second round would be like Franco vs. Stalin, as far as I am concerned.

I hope fervently we do not get to that point. The dilemma is that France’s young voters have no memory, personal or received of the carnage of WWII. Speaking personally, I am older, and have a received memory of the Spanish Civil War that set the stage for WWII, and know how it affected directly my father and mother, and their families. To younger people the peace in Europe that the EU brought seems a dispensible privilege of membership in the EU, rather like the belief that “peace” is a “right”, not something achieved by negotiation and concession for a greater common good.

I am hoping that the prediction of a French writer for the Financial Times made in January —that the French would not vote for a candidate avowedly pro-Frexit because of the fear the new French franc would have on their pensions and savings would put paid to the present quality of life the French enjoy, such as it is. This may have been a theoretical possibility a few weeks ago, but as the first round approaches may come into focus. The attempted attack in Marseille, the targeting of Fillon, may focus the French on the possibility that two candidates as divisive as Le Pen and Melenchon, would push France closer to civil war --clearly a goal of the Marseille actors.

May the French realize elections have consequences, particularly this one, and vote for stability and solutions derived from the center.

Hoping for the best, fearing the worst.

benj said...

I read this article, but I would have expected its author to compare the polls with the actual results in past elections. It seems they did rather well. So?
(Plus, the quotas are tweaked with regards to past results. In this case, I wonder how do they adjust Macron's numbers.)
An interesting analysis coule be found here:

benj said...

(Ah, and it seems that FiveThirtyEight speaks about the French election in their latest podcast. I will listen to it and report.)

brent said...

@ anonymous
1) It's really time for people to stop declaring--inaccurately-- that JLM advocates leaving the EU and eurozone. He advocates negotiating to change the treaties, and possibly unilaterally violating certain provisions. Would the EU expel France in consequence? That could come at the end of a long road of failed negotiations, but I doubt it.
2) Even if a President Mélenchon tried to 'frexit,' I do believe he would need the support of a parliamentary majority (very unlikely) and at least one popular referendum to change the Constitution (also unlikely).
3) Comparisons to Stalin (and Chavez, Castro, Guevara, etc.) are way out of line, and their increasingly shrill frequency is cheapening rational debate at a crucial time.

So if this hysteria could be set aside, it might be possible to evaluate JLM's rather hopeful vision for France, one that seems to be giving encouragement to a rather alienated cohort of young people--but perhaps not if the bond vigilantes are poised to deny any political autonomy to their French subsidiary.

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Anonymous said...


Too bad about those bond vigilantes, but as long as France must rely on the kindness of strangers to finance its debt (50% of the national debt is held by foreigners), you can be sure that if there is a Le Pen/Mélenchon victory markets are going to be in turmoil on Monday morning. And I really do not see how one can discount Mélenchon's many, many idiotic statements about the EU, Nato, Russia, Cuba et j'en passe. The man is no more credible than MLP, even if he is more eloquent. So was Robespierre. I am apalled that he and Le Pen rack up together 40% of the vote.

I agree with the first anonymous poster. The younger generation has no historical memory.

Nathaniel said...

Alecia's jibber-jabber is not that much crazier than the earlier commenters' end-times prophecies of the catastrophe that would be a Le Pen-JLM second round. Calm the heck down. It would mean that JLM would win the second round (easily), and then, unable to win a parliamentary majority, would be reduced to the level of hard-left-but-isolated president, meaning he would only be able to follow through on a fraction of his campaign promises. For leftists like me, this would be better than any other outcome; for centrists and paranoid technocrats like most of you, this would be far from a doomsday scenario.

At any rate, we can all agree this would be better than a Fillon-Le Pen second round, no? That would be the true catastrophic outcome of Sunday's vote.

Tim said...

Just from looking at the latest polling released today I wonder if JLM has not peaked. He seems to be settling back down to the 18%(still more than most expected) level while Macron is moving back towards 24%/25%. The odds of a JLM perhaps would have been a lot higher last weekend than this coming weekend.,_2017

bert said...

Picking up from earlier, FiveThirtyEight (specifically, Nate) said that the polls are suspiciously consistent. The normal amount of variation that one would expect hasn't been appearing in the French numbers. This suggests that pollsters are tweaking their numbers because they do not want to stand apart from the consensus.
They gave this a name - ”herding” - and said it's a clear reason not to rule out any possible ranking among the top four.

Having said that, when discussing the candidates none of them could come up with Mélenchon's name. One of them tried, and wasn't even close. So your mileage may vary regarding the confidence you have in their reading of this race.

Bernard said...

perhaps Nate is influenced by the ridiculously low numbers of people polled in American polling - often as low as 800.

JLM versus MLP is simply not going to happen as it makes no political sense. The issue will be openness versus closing or pasr against future. Great opportunity to buy bonds, comrade!

Lapinot said...

The Economist has an article on herding. I don't know enough about the subject to say whether it's good or not (well, I know next to nothing about the subject) but it sounds reasonable:

'The safest conclusion is that the evidence for herding is mixed at best, and that we should regard the current polling averages as no less reliable than those in previous French presidential campaigns.'

Anonymous said...

Melenchon, with two diphtongued sounds, is hard enough to pronounce, let alone memorize. :)

JLM vs. MLP would indeed be a match ups of memories : the 50's- 70's. Either as a time when all people could have a good, stable job... Or a time when you could be a guiltless racist. Add a dose of ecology and constitutional change for JLM and a dose of sovereignty against Europe for MLP and you've got two rivals.
However, I can't be afraid of Melenchon as a whole. I don't like him and his liking foe Putin out if dislike for the US scares me, but I have no worry, nor for a minute, that markers would collapse and that his whole platform would be set in motion overnight. He would likely have a moderate left and moderate right Parliament and would impulse moderated versions of his ideas. I also think a new constitution is a very good idea, since the French don't alter an original document but build it wholesale to reflect the times they're living in. They invented one for the post war era, they now need one for the 21st century. I am especially puzzled by the dire warnings of impending chaos were Melenchon to be elected. (In History of the Americas you study for example how there were ads in Chile promising that if Chileans voted for Allende they'd have Moscow tanks parading on their steeets, would starve due to the chaos, and would lose all freedoms. The recent warnings sound just like that to me.) in short, I'm convinced Melenchon would be stopped from enacting his craziest ideas.
On the other hand, look at what is happening in Hungary : the European Union is not lifting a finger, Parliament follows along. The hard right can enact discriminatory practices or curb freedoms (of religion, of the press..) and far fewer people will protest let alone will stop the process. If Marine Me Pen is elected, it'll be open season on anyone dark-skinned, with a sense of impunity from the perpetrators. Can you imagine being 4th generation French in Hairs DE France or Corsica? Can you imagine being a gay youth in Perpignan or Beziers?
Some of the people who want MLP to win are itching for a fight. Those who support JLM too, but purely verbal. Not so the FN supporters (some of whom had put broken glass in their poster glue when they pasted it in forbidden places, so that the town's employees or political opponents would butcher their fingers when they pulled the posters off.)

I'll go listen to the podcast.
But the numbers must be smoothed out, and probably haphazardly since pollsters use previous elections as models and there's no previous testing of Macron since he's new. We know Melenchon typically scores lower than predicted, but that may be because some of his covers went to theirs candidate in an effort of 'voter utile ', in which case in a reversal we may expect Hamon 's actual number to drop and Melenchon to hold?? I'm pretty sure some of LePen voters are underpolled debtor polling being online, so old people and rural people, IE., LePen and Fillon voters, so are pollsters compensating and is their formula correct or is it wrong due to the unique circumstances we're in (uncertainty, one indicted candidate...)

Anonymous said...

*some of his voters went to the PS candidate...
* are underpolled due to polling being online
(myos, correcting auto-correct)

bert said...

Good link. But there's two conclusions being made.

- Overall: ”mildly suggestive of modest herding”
- On MLP: ”downright disturbing”

We'll know soon enough. Meanwhile Art's finished his fingernails and is starting on his actual fingers.

Lapinot said...

About Melenchon, while there's quite a lot about his current campaign which I find appealing, there's still too much overheated intolerance surrounding him for me to look forward to a Melenchon presidency. The issues between his supporters and BHL and Joann Sfar, for example, or the reports that his team 'often shared bogus material':

I'd much rather him than Le Pen or Fillon, though.

Anonymous said...

Not I. I would rather see Fillon than Mélenchon in the second round and I do not consider myself a conservative. I think Fillon, as the more moderate pro-European and economically literate conservative, would win against MLP. I am not so sure that Mélenchon would win, and even if he did, his program is almost as crazy as MLP's.

Anonymous said...

Fillon is a liar and a thief. He betrayed his political family. Platforms come and go, policies can be altered by Parliament, but character is or isn't. You judge the man by the content of his character and Fillon's is despicable. Electing him would mean France rewards graft and dishonesty. It's unthinkable to me.

Anonymous said...

Platforms come and go! LOL. Well then why vote for anyone or for any platform? If you thinkthat a vote for a feckless, pompous, pseudo-communist buffoon like Mélenchon is better than a vote for dishonest but competent Fillon, you are seriously deluded.

I intend to vote for Macron, but sometimes I find myself wishing that the 40% of the electorate who intend to vote for the two clowns would get their wish. It would teach them a lesson. It might even encourage them to think.

Stuart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lapinot said...

I have plenty of doubts about Melenchon but (if I were French) I don't think I could vote for Fillon except against Le Pen - not least because of his plans to scale back gay rights but mainly because I don't think there's anyone in politics I despise quite as much.

There are certainly worse people (Le Pen for one) but he turns my stomach like few others. His recent Trumpian lies about there being more attacks in Paris are typical of the man, or at least what he's become. I used to think of him (on the rare occasions I did so) as fairly innocuous - preferable to Sarkozy; inferior to Juppé. I was probably not paying enough attention.

The thought of this hypocrital moralist from the bleakest depths of Molière‎'s imagination representing France in Brussels, Berlin, Rome and Madrid, or Washington and Beijing, is too much to contemplate.

Lapinot said...

On a brighter note, today's poll for Paris Match has Macron up half a percent with all the other top six stable.

bert said...

A non-article in the Post: ”The Guesstimator: Predict the French presidential election and win a free Post subscription” [link]

Two points:

- Every single one of the experts they somehow persuaded to contribute has Le Pen winning the first round and Macron winning the second round. The one dissenter is the man writing the article (”a contributing editor to Corporate Responsibility magazine”) who thinks Macron will win at the weekend too.
This is herding. No other word for it. They may be right, but still. Moo.

- Problem free unlimited access to the WaPo can be yours by the far simpler method of turning off their javascript.
Recommended, unless you view them as a charity case.