Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Polls Creating False Expectations

According to biographers Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, James Baker III was the man who ran Washington. I have only just started reading their book, but I can already recommend it-- for being fair, comprehensive and highly appreciative.

One may agree or disagree, but Baker knew how to get things done. You might not always have liked what he did, but clearly the Reagan presidency would not have been as successful if he had not been in charge of the White House for its first four years.

This morning Baker weighs in on the matter of political polling. He is especially concerned about the quantity of bad polling in the last two presidential elections. And he suggests, rightly, that the polling is not just bad or incompetent, but that it is undermining democracy.

He writes:

It would be funny if it weren’t a sad reality that American democracy is being undermined by bad polling that consistently favors one side over the other. Though not as ingrained in our national heritage as politicians and the press, polling is an important component in the governance of the nation, as it presents snapshots of the positions Americans take on the challenges that confront us. Elected leaders, candidates for public office and constituents often rely on polling as they make their choices on issues that affect the health of the nation.

How does this skew election campaigns?

Polls that repeatedly favor one side create false expectations that adversely influence the actions of both sides. The favored side becomes overconfident and suffers when the results on Election Day don’t meet expectations. And the disfavored side is disadvantaged in both fundraising and voter turnout by the appearance that the outcome is foreordained.

Baker calls consistently biased polling a form of voter suppression:

Sadly, Americans too often don’t get straight information from pollsters. When this is done knowingly or intentionally, it could be considered a form of voter suppression. For weeks this fall, Americans received a daily dispatch telling them that Donald Trump was facing a loss of near-historic proportions. At the same time, we were confidently assured that Democrats would take control of the Senate and add to their lead in the House. We were also assured that the pollsters had corrected their well-noted mistakes of 2016, when they predicted that Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president.

Today’s pollsters, people who have been indoctrinated into believing that there is no such thing as objective fact, do not care to present things as they are. They present things as they wish they were:

Their role should simply be to reflect reality as it stands by presenting an honest and candid view of the public’s attitudes toward the issues and the candidates. One could draw the conclusion that some pollsters present a picture of what they want the country to become rather than what it really is. Instead, they should strive to be unbiased reporters of the facts and not participants in the political contest. Nor should they be activists hoping to promote a new reality.


Ares Olympus said...

We should remember the Electoral college is a fickle place that exaggerates on purpose, so a few percentage difference can lead to 100+ EC delegate swings. And for that matter, if Biden really takes 306 electors, it will be identical to the "landslide" win that Trump claimed in 2016, which is to say not a landslide at all. A small shift of strategic 50-70k votes in given states could have given either candidate in 2016 or 2020. I didn't know a single Democrat who felt secure Biden would win given 2016 results. Everyone was afraid the polls would be off.

Expectations are important. If people stay home because they think it won't be close, whether on the losing side or winning side, that's the wrong message. But it doesn't look like that was a problem, with over 150 million voters when counting is done. The main reason I use polling is to decide if I want to vote third party or not, if not close at all, I'm freer to offer a protest vote, like I voted the Marijuana party candidate for US Senate for Minnesota, not because I use drugs, but I think criminalization causes more problems than it solves.

Sam L. said...

I have never been polled. If I ever am, I have two answers: I'm voting the Full-Tilt-Boogie Loony Party slate; and "Hello? This is Detective Brown of Homicide. How do you know the victim?"

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares, when you pontificate about the Electoral College, you reveal yourself as a full-blown idiot. It’s not fickle. It is designed to prevent large population centers from overwhelming the views of 50 states. It’s wise because it’s designed for the continuity of the country — the Idea that America is a NATION. Clue-in to this reality. You’ll sleep better and stop believing in a fantastic lie that the United States of America is a (gulp!) democracy. It’s not.

We are a constitutionally-limited federal republic. Please digest that, and your fantasies will heal. Dismiss it, and you open yourself to the dystopian tyranny of majoritarian rule. God forbid.e win or have America for much longer if that happens.

The popular vote is meaningless in the American Constitutional system. It’s like saying you had more touchdowns but still lost 23-21. You still lost. No one cares. You are appealing to the rank idiocracy of the Democrat Party. Electoral voting issues are decided by each of the 50 states. If the popular vote mattered, it would encourage ballot stuffing in one-party states like California (which it does — ballot harvesting as born in CA). In 2016, Hillary’s vote margin in 49 states and the District of Columbia was 1.1 million votes. In California ALONE it was by 4.3 million votes. That’s why the popular vote as a sole measure of electoral success is a bad, bad deal for Americans. If you corrupt the vote in your state, you can tip the election.

And of course you voted for the Marijuana Party. How cute. The American Constitutional system makes third party runs very difficult — unless the two major parties aren’t meeting the needs of We the People. Thank God. So silly people like you don’t have undue influence.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC, we're agreed electoral college is what wins elections, and Biden is projected to win 306 electoral votes, along with 78-80 million votes (absolute majority 50.8%), all good signs for success. But winning isn't everything. 73-75 million votes sends a message too (more than Obama!) and affects who runs and can win in 2024. Also in my case, Minnesota rewards major party status to candidates with 5% of the vote (5.92% for Marijuana party 2020), including campaign funding for the next 4 years. If major parties or candidates want more votes, they know where to look.

Christopher B said...

Speaking of the Electoral College, per the second chart down in this very interesting post at PowerLine by Steve Hayward (, Biden's effective margin (i.e. the number of votes in the states with the closest races that would switch the EC to Trump) is almost exactly Trump's effective margin in 2016, around 39 thousand votes.

And, as with Clinton in 2016, Biden's popular vote margin is entirely contained within the popular vote margin in California and New York.