The Fruits Of Polling Failure

One last point about the election, and then it’s time to move on:  it’s pretty clear that the entire polling edifice about which modern campaigns, and much of modern political journalism, have been built came crashing down Tuesday night.

poll-public-opinion_001-13The Hill has an interesting article on the degree of polling failure, with a headline stating that pollsters had sustained a “huge embarrassment” as a result of their general failure to predict, or even detect the possibility of, a Donald Trump win.  By way of example, no poll indicated that Trump would win Wisconsin, and instead showed Hillary Clinton with a 6.5 percent lead in that state.  As a result, none of the know-it-all pundits who were pontificating on Election Day even identified Wisconsin as a “battleground state” — when in reality Wisconsin may be the crucial state that handed the presidency to Donald Trump.

I’ve written before about the many judgment calls that go into polling, and how a few tweaks in turnout modeling and the demographic makeup of “likely voters” can change the results.  With this election, we’ve seen the suspicion that polling is not quite as “scientific” as we’ve been led to believe become a painful reality.  Pollsters were just wrong in predicting who would turn out, and in what numbers, and as a result their numbers were skewed — which is why the ultimate results were such a shock.

Polls have become a crutch for campaigns and journalists, and also have been used to crush the aspirations of challengers out seeking to raise money.  Maybe now the “national media” covering the elections will actually get out on the campaign trail, go to events, and report on what the candidates are actually saying and how their audiences are reacting, rather than reporting on polling data and insider leaks about the shape of the horse race.  Maybe now campaigns will pay more attention to what people on the ground are saying and doing, and whether they are responding with enthusiasm to a candidate’s message.  And maybe people deciding which candidate to vote for or financially support will pay attention to the candidates themselves, rather than trying to pick a likely winner based on polling data.

I would never say that this awful election had a positive impact on anything, but if it results in our political processes being much less poll-driven, that would be a step in the right direction.

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