Are polls any good?

The polls were wrong in 2016, so nobody will ever believe pollsters again.

Actually, they weren’t. The election went pretty much as predicted. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. An electoral system originally designed to preserve slavery, and never changed, put Trump in the White House, a victory of the minority over the majority.

“Polling on the 2020 presidential race,” as this article points out, “has been pretty unambiguous: Joe Biden is ahead.”

I don’t doubt that. And it probably means something more than nothing. But it doesn’t mean he’ll win. As that article points out, “Being ahead in the polls ― as gun-shy Democrats, indignant Republicans and hedging-prone pollsters all know ― isn’t synonymous with ‘going on to win.’ Surveys serve as snapshots of the state of a race, not predictions of the final results.”

Actually, I don’t think that’s much of a reason to doubt the reliability of the polls. Assuming the polls are accurate, the snapshot you take now is probably a pretty good picture of how the voting will go, keeping in mind that voting starts in just a few weeks (mail ballots are sent out in advance, and voters often return them weeks before the election date, so the start of actual voting isn’t very far away).

Nor do I think a significant number of minds are going to change between now and the election. If you look at a 50%-41% polling result in favor of Biden, even if the 9% representing voters who are undecided, leaning to third party candidates, or don’t want to say, break mostly for Trump — Biden still has a majority of the votes.

In fact, virtually no one believes Trump will win the popular vote. Every scenario I’ve seen discussed in which Trump gets re-elected has him doing the same thing he did in 2016: Scraping an electoral-vote majority from a popular-vote defeat. Unless all the polls are wildly wrong, which they’re almost certainly not, there’s no other way for him to win.

Trump is acting like he believes the polls: To wit, increasingly desperate, and feeling cornered.

Reading “how reliable are polls” articles is mostly for entertainment anyway, because the only poll that matters is the ballot tally (talk about cliches). But let’s play along.

There are different kinds of polls. The basic categories: General public, registered voters, likely voters, partisan, nonpartisan, and news media. Some polls are more dependable than others. Nate Silver, who is not a pollster but rather a poll aggregator (i.e., he collects pollster’s polling data and averages it, or something like that), grades pollsters on their track records for accuracy. If you want to follow up on this, go to his website. Reading up on this is for people who have time on their hands.

Despite all the caveats surrounding polls, people are fixated on them, and in some cases addicted to them. Why? Because they can’t stand suspense. Or waiting for the actual election results. And, more than anything, they’re desperately hungry — like castaways in a lifeboat — for assurance that their candidate(s) will prevail. These people gravitate to polls that tell them what they want to hear. Professionals call that confirmation bias. These polls tend to be the most partisan and least accurate. But that’s wholly beside the point. They’re a vital part of our political process because they enable a large part of our population to sleep at night, until the morning of the rude awakening.

Who do I think will win the 2020 presidential election? Why are you asking me? Heck, I don’t know.

Video below: Hollywood’s depiction of information-hungry voters emotionally invested in the outcome of the 2020 election




0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    The poll that counts is the election. We are just now in the real election. Polls can tell which candidate has momentum. Of course the pollsters are sometimes guilty of not asking the right questions.

    I think there is a chance that Governor Ensley will not win reelection. I think a lot of people here are upset with the governors Corvid emergency rules. The governor election seems to be flying under the radar, Culp seems competent. If he should win just how long his coattails are could cause a surprise as in Trump winning Washington state. No Senator election.
    Seems unlikely but Culp could win. That might sway the Presidential election, usually it is the President influencing the down ticket…though it can work the other way.
    Statistically though one should bet with the incumbent.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    Hoping and praying Culp wins are no substitute for getting the most votes, and he won’t by a long shot. He’s popular in eastern Washington, but that’s only 21% of the state’s voters. He’ll be crushed in the Puget Sound counties.

Your Comment