I had fun today in class with the following formula: 0.98/√N.
This formula is a radical simplification of 1.96×√p√(1-p)/√N, the confidence interval formula for a sample proportion; in other words, it’s how you calculate the 95% margin of error due to sampling error for a survey (use .5 for p and simplify). For the complete gearheads in the audience, I've occasionally seen the 1.96 replaced by the critical value of the t distribution with the appropriate number of degrees of freedom (and it may explain how the poll below got a 4.3% margin of error when I got 4.2%); not sure if I should or not, but at N>200 it really shouldn’t matter much anyway. If N<200, you likely have more serious problems anyway.
I think the students were somewhat bewildered though, although they were amused when I played with subpopulation statistics in this poll to demonstrate that Ron Paul’s lead in Florida among likely black voters in the Republican primary (based on an N of approximately 6, give or take 3) was really very meaningless; feel free to do the math yourself.
IHE reports on a new study appearing in the January 2008 edition of PS which “examine[s] to what extent African Americans are integrated into the study of American politics.” Or at least American government textbooks, the modal example of which is a pile of flaming crap that has more to do with high school civics than political science.
Funnily enough, the report says that Landy and Milkis’ American Government text (which they single out for praise) was not published in a second edition, yet I just got mailbombed† by Cambridge* with two adoption review copies of the second edition. A brief review: personally I find the American political development approach Landy and Milkis employ to be uninteresting in its own right, and I’m exceedingly unlikely to adopt a textbook that spends nearly as many pages on the bureaucracy as it does on mass political behavior (per the authors, “public opinion and political participation”). That said, a skim suggests the book is somewhat better than the median, with the inclusion of a chapter on political economy being something of an interesting novelty and ditching the endless parade of Supreme Court cases that characterizes most treatments of civil rights and liberties in intro texts being a step in the right direction, not to mention its effort to at least allude to the fact that Woodrow Wilson was a white-sheet-wearing sleazebag (even if it weasels out of giving him the “credit” for bringing Jim Crow to the federal government and D.C.). So if APD is your thing, or you like to tell stories in your intro classes, you could do far worse.
I’ll be sticking with Kernell and Jacobson myownself, though; yes, you have to get the kids over the hump of understanding collective action problems early on, but really any college student should be able to handle that—if not, they’re not going to understand the material on interest groups or political parties either (or, for that matter, the bureaucracy and the judiciary—see regulatory capture and agency loss) unless it’s thoroughly dumbed-down.
† Not literally, but Cambridge seems to send me 2–3 unsolicited copies of everything they publish, usually arriving on the same day.
* Incidentally, Cambridge publishes both PS and the Landy and Milkis text. Left hands and right hands and all that.