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Dewey Defeats Truman

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The real statistical story behind the "Dewey Defeats Truman" blunder from the Chicago Tribute headline.

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Have you ever seen this famous photo?  It's from the 1948 election where after election day, Harry Truman is holding up the Chicago Tribune that wrongly announced that the Republican candidate Dewey defeated him. But do you know why the Tribune got this wrong? 

Despite their headline blunder, the Tribune actually did a good job in their statistical analysis. They surveyed enough people to get a good sample size, they normalized the survey respondents with the right demographics across the US at that time, and they correctly analyzed the data they collected. So why were their conclusions so wrong? 

Since it was election night, they simply called people across the US to find out who they voted for. Makes sense, right? But what they didn't consider is that most people in the US didn't have telephones in 1948; they were mostly owned by wealthy people who tended to be Republican. So they unintentionally biased their data by primarily calling Republicans who naturally voted for Dewey, the Republican candidate.

So what can we learn from this? We already know it's important to have unbiased data, but we also need to consider HOW we collect that data . It doesn't matter how good we are at doing statistical analysis if we can't ensure the data we're analyzing is completely unbiased, including what method we use to collect that data.

Matt Hansen

Matt is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has led and consulted on hundreds of process improvement initiatives for 20 years across several industries such as Government (Dept. of Defense), Insurance, Telecommunications, and Transportation.  He has developed and led an enterprise Lean Six Sigma Training and Mentoring Program as well as a one-day crash course on "Dangerous Analytics" using the most critical Lean and Six Sigma tools and concepts. The savings from the projects he has led well exceed $100 Million.

For more details about Matt's experience, you can check out his profile and connect with him on LinkedIn.  If you'd like to use Matt for consulting or speaking engagements, please contact him here.

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