Before I begin, I have a question I’d like an answer to. Who requested a 2000 rerun?
Although there were many winners and losers from this year’s elections, there is one group who definitely fall into the latter category: pollsters. You could swing a dead cat (and, really, why would you) and hit a pollster whose can’t-miss election predictions based on research was so appallingly bad TV meteorologists were saying, “Hey! That’s our schtick!”
Now, if this were the first time the polls were wrong, I could perhaps forgive the people who put them together and say they were having a 2020. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t the first time. If anything, the only consistency they showed was how wrong they’ve been. Yet, people outside of the polling industry based decisions on where to go and how hard to campaign based on these numbers which swung wilder than Charlie Sheen. Let’s take a look at the wonderful world of pollsters.
What the Left thinks it means – people who review numbers to create charts and graphics showing trends so people get an understanding of what is going on in a political race
What it really means – people willing to take your money and provide you with crap while knowing they will keep their jobs
When done right, polling can be an important and useful tool, and pollsters know this. What they don’t seem to know anymore is how to do polling right. Everything from sampling errors to confusing questions have rendered pollsters more useless than a second appendix. Even between pollsters, there are different methodologies and strategies at work, which create wide swings in the numbers. At any given time, a candidate could be up by 200 points or down by a gajillion. (Sorry to have to bust out the math jargon there, but it was necessary to prove the point.) Granted, the pollsters don’t share call lists, but the point remains there is no consistency in what numbers are produced.
Now, our friends in the media don’t care about the accuracy of the polling numbers for two reasons: 1) the accuracy isn’t as important as the horserace element of an election, and 2) they suck at math. The latter isn’t in question because any media type who still considers Paul Krugman to be credible has to suck at math or at least suck at making value judgments. That leaves the horserace.
The news game is funny in that it mostly relies on misery for ratings, which translate into money. Lately, even hard news has given way to celebrity worship and mixed celebrity with misery. Instead of worrying about whether the news they’re putting out is at least somewhat accurate, the media are now straight out of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry.” Under these circumstances, the need for accuracy takes a back seat to the need for ratings. Polling creates a buzz during election season across the board, whether it be Fox News or MSNBC. By focusing on the horserace, the media don’t have to do any actual work because that’s done by, guess who, the pollsters. All the media have to do then is take the pollsters’ work and report on it. Then, it’s a matter of Blather, Rinse, Repeat to continue the buzz until Election Day.
Then, there’s the donkey in the room: ideology. Most people in the media are Leftists, which means polling takes on an air of authority since there are hard numbers involved. After all, we’ve been taught to accept majority rules, even if we don’t understand how the majority became the majority. What better way to convince people the Left is, well, right?
Without getting too far into the weeds, the effectiveness of polls relies on a number of factors, including the number of people polled, what method is being used to get the results, and how confident the pollsters are that the results accurately reflect what the rest of the population believes. If any of these factors go pear-shaped, the results aren’t going to be reliable. Let’s just say media polling loves pear shapes. A lot.
Outside of becoming pollsters ourselves, we don’t have a lot of options on how to combat pollsters and the misinformation they peddle. One thing I can suggest, however, is to not put much stock in the polls. And that means not to put much stock in pollsters.
Given how inaccurate polls have been in the past 20+ years, I don’t think that will be too hard to do.