by Barry A. Liebling
In the 2016 presidential election nearly all of the large political polls predicted an easy win for Hillary Clinton. When Donald Trump won the presidency many people were surprised. Of course, Clinton advocates were shocked, enraged, and committed to doing everything they could (by any means necessary) to destroying his presidency and getting rid of him as soon as possible. Note also, that a sizable number of Trump supporters were also astonished by the outcome. How could the professional surveys have been so far off?
After the election I argued that conducting an accurate presidential survey – where the candidates are evenly matched – is at best tremendously difficult. There are problems that ruin accuracy including identifying a representative sample, persuading target voters to participate, and accounting for “shy voters” who believe they will be punished if they indicate they do not support the Democratic Party. I concluded that the validity of polls is not likely to improve. http://www.alertmindpublishing.com/data/2016-columns/election-polls-wont-improve-2016-dec/
In 2020, four years later, the large political polls again forecasted the presidential election results. Most asserted that Biden would beat Trump by an extremely large margin. In fact, the vote counts were very close, and the professional survey organizations again failed to do their job.
What has changed from one election to the next? The short answer is the disposition of potential survey participants has dramatically shifted. Furthermore, partisans (both Democratic party boosters and their opponents) are more polarized than ever before – which means they are not inclined to cooperate with survey researchers they suspect are their enemies.
For a long time the dominant culture in the United States has pushed hard for progressive leftism. The educational establishment from primary school through graduate school is mostly committed to bringing about the “social justice” agenda. The largest, most influential corporations are usually run and staffed by professionals with “woke” sensibilities. Entertainment and media personalities (with a few notable exceptions) are enthusiastic supporters of leftist causes.
And significantly, in the last four years the dominant cultural players have ramped up their attacks on everyone who is not part of their gang. A person who fails to embrace the left party line is smeared relentlessly – typically called a racist, a fascist, a sexist, a xenophobe, and certainly not worthy of participating in society or holding a job.
Many people who are not “social justice” enthusiasts are intimidated and have learned to be quiet about their beliefs. These are the “shy voters” who are reluctant to be in surveys. But some – who dare to defy the ruling class – are angry and are looking for ways to express their frustration. Either way, this is a sizable segment of voters who are not inclined to play nice with mainstream pollsters.
A lot has been written about “shy voters” and how their lack of participation distorts the validity of surveys. But not much has been said about “bold voters.” The dominant culture has demonized those not on board with the neo-Marxist agenda. At the same time, enthusiastic leftist boosters have been treated to an orgy of congratulations. Voters who are “woke” are recognized by the ruling class as displaying “politically correct attitudes” and being “on the right side of history.”
You can be sure that “bold voters” who support the Democrats are not reluctant to be in surveys. Being interviewed gives them an opportunity to signal their loyalty to the cause that is endorsed by the cultural elite. They are proud to show their commitment to the woke agenda. So pollsters not only have a shortage of “shy voters,” they have an over representation of citizens who are enthusiastic leftists.
Step back and consider what the purpose of a political poll is. Originally, the idea was to have a way of learning how voters would act on election day. But for many political activists, polls are a tool for nudging people to do “the right thing.” Reporting survey findings can be a vehicle for encouraging people on your side to participate in the election and discouraging your opponents from bothering to vote.
In 2020 did some pollsters deliberately report inflated numbers for Biden in an effort to help him win? I have no evidence one way or the other. However, many people are aware of the possibility and that has to influence their propensity to participate in polls and provide candid responses.
So unless there are huge changes in how Americans are thinking and acting in the world of politics, polls will primarily be vehicles for energizing voters. As measures of what will actually occur, polls are finished.
*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***