The New York Times has given pride of place on its website to a story claiming that a “New Poll Finds That Young Americans Are Leaning Left.” According to the poll, the 17-24 year old Demographic hews to the liberal side on every single issue but for the War, as to which they have a happy optimism that should shame Harry Reid:
Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage, according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll. The poll also found that they are more likely to say the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.
They have continued a long-term drift away from the Republican Party. And although they are just as worried as the general population about the outlook for the country and think their generation is likely to be worse off than that of their parents, they retain a belief that their votes can make a difference, the poll found.
More than half of Americans ages 17 to 29 — 54 percent — say they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008. They share with the public at large a negative view of President Bush, who has a 28 percent approval rating with this group, and of the Republican Party. They hold a markedly more positive view of Democrats than they do of Republicans.
It certainly sounds devastating for the future of the Republican party. I’m wondering, though, about the poll’s accuracy. The article states that the pollsters talked on the phone to only 657 young people across America. Based on this sampling, they claim statistical accuracy of plus or minus four percentage points. My question: Is polling so accurate that 657 young people across America, out of a demographic population that must number in the millions, can be used to provide hard data about what most American young people believe?
I have to admit to being suspicious of polls, since it so often turns out that the collecting methodology was suspect or biased. (Both Best of the Web, on the WSJ’s Opinion Page, and Cheat-Seeking Missiles are exceptionally good at digging into polls and exposing the underlying problems with data collection.) In this case, the NYTimes, where I found the above article, doesn’t provide a link to the underlying poll. I’m rather cynically wondering here if we’ll discover that most of those polled are urban youngsters (that is, youngsters who live in areas that are more liberal in any event), or if repeated experience has shown that young adults who answer polls over the phone trend differently from other young adults. And, getting back to my original point, how accurately do 657 people reflect the attitudes of millions?
Clearly, I’m operating here from a basis of some pretty heavy duty ignorance about polls in general and this poll in specific. Any information you can provide would be very helpful.
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