This is one of those things you just take for granted until after the election when you awaken in the middle of the night and, with a start, realize most of what you heard about was just not right. That’s how I felt in 2016 when President Trump was elected. It was a big embarrassment for me. I had taken a whole class of students I really liked to the first floor gallery in the old Roosevelt University Gage Building. I bought pizza and drinks and cookies and we all settled in for what we assumed would be Hillary Clinton’s big success.
I could not have been more wrong. I saw my heroic status as a vastly experienced political reporter and, if not beloved, then beliked, college professor crumble right in front of me. It was no consolation that just about everything in journalism was crumbling at the same time. We simply could not believe that Donald Trump was going to be president.
Of course, I blamed myself. I felt I had not paid close enough attention to the polling, had not understood that an electoral college victory could settle on such a vacant, vapid man. I determined at that point to pay much closer attention to the polls, as close as I had paid when I was an actual writer covering the campaigns.
And Now I’m going to tell YOU how to do that, too. It will give you immense powers as the election approaches, polling smarts you can use to snoot it over your friends and enemies alike. It’s all about numbers, after all. And polling is, by definition, ALWAYS RIGHT because it presents the results of questions asked a particular point in a campaign. The problem is that things change every minute, so what was right 45 minutes ago might not be right tomorrow. It’s part of the problem
Once at the Chicago Tribune, an editor who had spent a fortune on polling that turned out to be flat out wrong asked me to find out what happened. I think he was looking for someone to blame but I wasn’t bright enough to suss that out at that stage in my career. I called the polling people. It turned out they all had vast collections of polling results from people who would not mind being contacted about the campaign.
Would they mind being contacted about the bad quality of the polling?
Turns out that wasn’t a problem.
Here’s what I found out. Most people just wanted to get the polling guys off the phone and clearly regretted they answered at all. “I was breast feeding my baby,” was the best answer I collected talking to the polling victims. “I would have said anything to get him off the phone.”
On and on it went. Everyone had an explanation for why it was just not the right time for the polling company to be calling them. End of a long day. Having dinner. Smooching on the sofa. You know, life went on and being part of this political effort wasn’t playing a big role in it.
It think it’s still that way. I get calls on my home line all the time, people who want to warn me my auto warranty is about out, or who have an exciting new offer on a credit card, or simply want to help me with security on my internet (all the way from what sounds like India!) I dump them all, just as I say “No” to anyone who wants to ask me polling questions. I’m not playing along anymore. I wrote a story. It was not published. One of those “too true” things that undermined the paper’s sense of its own importance.
You don’t have to take the media’s word for it anymore. There is well enough acess to polling results to become your own expert. Where you need to go for it is polling report.com, a website that turned this passion for collecting data into a business. You can buy an extra little part that gives you access to state polls, too! I have already done that.
Because knowing how things are flowing is pretty important. If you don’t know, then every time the Democrats put up one of those ridiculous scare headlines that says President Trump could win in Pennsylvania you could go to the polls to check for yourself. It is quite the best collection of stuff you can ever have if you are a political junkie like I am. And I admit it.
I just signed up for this other compendium of polling, too, and if you really want to get your feet wet about all of this, you might, too.
That being said, here’s some advice. There’s such a thing as knowing too much, too know? You don’t use this stuff the way you use cinderblocks in building foundations. You use it the way you use something you heard just yesterday on the wind, some mysterious whisper of something. Not conclusive, but sometimes quite revealing.
Enjoy yourself. But not too much.