Don’t you just love headlines like that, the ones that bash the bejesus out of uncertainty and substitute what seems at the moment to be the definitive word about what’s going to happen in the mid-term elections in November and the presidential contest well beyond, in November, 2024?
A confession. I used to write presidential polls for the Chicago Tribune and had a role in deciding what questions might be asked. I knew all about reading the vast streams of numbers used to suggest outcomes. I knew exactly where to look to find out what suburban moms thought of immigration reform and city dads (all parts of the city dads description for that matter) felt when they were asked about urban crime.
I still keep up with it.
Fox has the Dems at 39 and the GOP at 46 with 12 percent undecided and a margin of error of +/-3 points. (Basically, that means those numbers could be off by up to six points in any direction. The Post has the Dems at 46 and the Reps at 45 with like 4 percent undecided. PBS says Dems are at 44 and Reps are at 47 with maybe 7 percent undecided. Quinnipiac University (Which I always thought ran polls just to see if papers could spell the name right in headlines) says Dems 42 and Reps 45 also with a whopping 12 percent not knowing what the hell they will do. (It’s not put that way in the poll.)
Writing polls was the most inadvertently dishonest thing I did in about 40 years of journalism, but that wasn’t intentional. I never would have written something I couldn’t support with a batch of numbers, so of course, it had to be right. Except a lot of the times it wasn’t. The best you could ever say was, “At the instant these questions were asked, these were the responses,” and then maybe stick in a snappy graphic to make it all look so real.
I used to pretend people were asked whether they would set their feet on fire or vote Republican in places like South Carolina. There would be no burning feet and Republicans still do great there! That’s the kind of fantasy you slipped into late in the election season.
I am reluctant to reveal how many flaws were involved in political polling because you would all think, “Oh that silly old man! He’s just making that up.” Or at least 40 percent of you might. (With a margin of error of +/-4 points.)
The phrase “If the election were held today…” should be viewed as the biggest red flag of them all because none of the kinds of polls you read about in the paper or hear on the radio or see on TV are taken on Election Day morning. The election, in other words, is most certainly NOT HAPPENING TODAY! There are, of course, exit polls AFTER people have voted, but they are only of great interest to graphic designers who have to make red and blue state decisions very quickly on election night.
People have been shy about that ever since this!
I sure wasn’t there and by the time I showed up at The Tribune after a couple of years in Moscow for UPI the people who were had all passed on, either to other places or to that happy newspaper in the sky where there were no deadlines, copy editors solid as gold to save you from stupid mistakes and eternally young men and women who were encouraged to flirt all they wanted to because sex was for earth animals, not the saintly souls of reporters and desk people. (Much to their regret, I suspect.)
Anyhow, you are most likely to see gobs of polling over the next few months, and I recommend you read every word of it, or maybe even make a refrigerator door chart held up by heart shaped magnets. You could track all those polls and see which one comes out right.
The polling process usually begins at media institutions when publishers, editors, whatever they are called these days, discover there’s enough bucks in the budget to spill, say, $100,000 on one of these big quizzes. When it’s published, other people will quote it and then also feel the need to spend a lot of money on polling, because that other guy did it. This kind of ego stroking is beloved by polling institutions, which go into heat, passionate heat, as Election Day approaches.
You may not even notice it but you read about it all the time, even now, when Fox News or someone else pumps up some blather aimed a predicting what is going to happen so far in the future that we might all be dead, for chrissakes. (After all, nuclear war has been hinted at by Vladimir Putin, and it’s pretty clear there is nothing in his soul to dismiss that thought.)
So take this cheap advice from me.
Ignore this crap.
Your job as an American and Democrat or Republican is to get up early, vote your heart out, then proclaim at the end of the day the world is going to hell based on the results.
No, wait, 34 percent of the world is going to hell with a +/-4 percent margin of error!