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By Nazarul Islam. Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi. TIO: Finally…it’s Joe Biden! Or, is it? I think it is!
Yesterday, the presidential-election picture was still smeared with mud, and there was a gin-clear stream flowing over it. Obviously, the standard American political narrative as put forth by supposed experts had been upended.
It’s broken, in fact. As the show-biz mantra had put it, “Nobody knows anything.” The pundits and pollsters were so wildly wrong about the way the 2020 electorate would vote in the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and Senate and House contests around the nation, that these past masters of the affairs of state should seriously consider throwing in the towel.
The pseudo-science of political polling doesn’t seem to work. An ABC News/Washington Post poll on Oct. 28 had Biden up 17 percentage points in Wisconsin. In the real world, just five days later, with 98 percent of votes counted, Biden was winning the state by 0.6 percentage points. The commentators’ intuition that a vast majority of Americans were convinced President Trump has done a lousy job in a time of racial discord and the viral pandemic was simply wrong. And almost everyone was hoodwinked.
The three commentators from across the spectrum on KCRW’s “Left, Right and Center” last week all were sure that not only would Biden take the presidency in a landslide — the only question about Democratic control of the Senate was how big their margin would be, and how many seats Republicans would lose in the House.
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Didn’t happen. The US presidential race is a squeaker. The GOP has a good chance of controlling the Senate. The Democrats lost seats in the House.
We recognize America is a large and complicated place. We know the pollsters, the same ones who got the presidential race so wrong in 2016, would remind us that a political poll is not a prediction, but rather “a snapshot in time.” But the number-crunching can’t compensate for people not telling pollsters the truth. And for proof of that, we can turn, yes, to a survey, by the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times: 19 percent of Trump voters said they had kept their support for him from most of their friends. Why tell a stranger?
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In this huge-turnout election, with more than 160 million votes cast, with the largest percentage of eligible voters actually doing so — 66.9 percent — in 120 years, there was a giant misunderstanding about the widespread level of support for President Trump— by those most versed in the dark arts of political science.
This isn’t necessarily because of bias — it’s subtler. As NPR media analyst David Folkenflik had said of this election’s “aggregate” polling, “These aggregators were meant to provide great clarity — and maybe there wasn’t that much clarity to be had.” The hard-working pollsters weren’t looking for another blemish on their reputation. It’s more like time for all analysts to eat some humble pie. The nation’s complexity can defy scrutiny. Whatever your preconception, it’s probably not accurate. Blue wave?
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Double-digits for the Dems? The degree to which the predictions were wrong went well beyond the weasel words “margin of error.”
There are true, as Folkenflik notes, “flaws in the design” of political polls. But there was plenty of time to work on that since 2016. It’s folly to think that some technical fix is what we need here. The media needs to stop treating a poll as “an Ouija board, and confer magical powers on it,” Folkenflik adds.
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Fundamentally, great numbers of Americans have lost their faith in the media. They may well see polls as mere extensions of the press. And so we have an obligation to ask better questions, to give fewer answers, to develop trust. And we need to listen — really listen.
Not long ago, DJT he had gone to extreme lengths to describe himself to his friends in Mar el Lago, Florida: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves. but they can get very excited by those who do. That is why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest, the greatest, and the most spectacular.
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Compiled & Curated by Humra Kidwai & Maham Abbasi