Are Republicans just crazy?

Gideon Rachman thinks they might be. He is struck, as I was, by the startling numbers in a Harris poll that looked at Americans’ beliefs about Obama. One in four Republicans thinks Obama “may be the Anti-Christ”, according to this poll. Nearly 40% think he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”. Gideon finds that these numbers give a “fair insight into the challenge facing Obama”–namely that Republicans are nuts.

Well, as I say, the numbers are startling, but I don’t know that Gideon’s “fair insight” is all that accurate. Findings like these should send you straight to the small print. James Taranto reads it, and lodges several objections. His most telling point is that the panel for the poll is self-selecting: that is, it consists of people who have volunteered to be pestered by questions such as these. This is a sample akin, I would say, to the set of people who comment on blogs. In this set, the middle is under-represented, the extremes are magnified, and the lunatic fringes (at both ends) are amplified by several orders of magnitude.

If only for calibration purposes, this methodology should have been used, as Taranto says, to check for insane opinions about George W. Bush from the corresponding wingnuts on the other side. A Rasmussen poll in 2007 found that 35% of Democrats thought that Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, and that another 26% weren’t sure. I hesitate to mention this in case Europeans conclude that roughly all of the country is nuts.

My golden rule of opinion polls is, “If you want an intelligent answer, ask an intelligent question”.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

Clive Crook’s blog: A guide

Comment: To comment, please register with FT.com. Register for free here. Please also read the FT's comments policy here.
Time: UK time is shown on Clive's posts.
Follow the blog: Links to the Twitter and RSS feeds are at the top of the blog.
Schedule: Clive's column appears in the FT on Mondays and you can read an excerpt of it on this blog.
FT blogs: See the full range of the FT's blogs here.

Archive

« Feb Apr »March 2010
M T W T F S S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031