Guest Post from Jon Sinton:
The “Red Wave” turned out to be a puddle as normal overcame wretched, and Americans voted against the politics of grievance, lies, and conspiracy theories.
1. The Senate remains in Democratic hands while the House is still too close to call [since publication, the Republicans won the House]
2. The “Red Wave” that was supposed to sweep election deniers and fascist-adjacent anti-majority candidates into office were themselves swept into history’s dustbin;
3. “Predictive” polling is wrong again.
Exit polls, which are definitively the only polls that matter, showed that while 20% of midterm voters supported ridiculous and repeatedly disproven election-denying lies and conspiracy theories, 80% of Americans aren’t conspiracy theorists, voted for normal candidates, are normal themselves, and demand normalcy from those we entrust to govern us.
Polls preceding the election said the economy was all that mattered; exit polls said different. Abortion and democracy, which seemed like such moving issues in the summer, had supposedly flamed out and taken a back seat to inflation. But the polls tuned out not to be predictive. As Karl Rove said on Fox News on Election Night, “Polling is broken. Let’s not kid ourselves. We had a golden era of polling when we all had landlines and we answered them. Now, anybody here got a landline?”
Predictive Polling is a gigantic waste of time and money. I spent a long time in the consumer research business performing studies for radio and television. It started out easy: you call people at random, seeking the right age/gender/socioeconomic combination. You pay them a small sum to participate in a “qualitative” focus group. (Qualitative research is where the opinions of a few respondents are extrapolated to reflect the opinions of society at large. To backstop focus groups, you also mount large, statistically valid, “quantitative” studies.)
By the early Nineties, as wireless phones became ubiquitous, finding qualified respondents for both types of research got harder. We upped the incentives, and that worked for a few years. But once the smartphone came along, people cut their landline service and became really hard to find. The real killer, though, was the fact we were running into a ton of “qualified refusals”—people who were the right demographic mix but hung up as soon as they knew they were being polled. As David Letterman used to joke, “If you’ve ever been poled, you know how painful that can be.”
Dwight Douglas, a retired political advertising analyst for Media Monitors, told me: “Most pundits overstate polls and underestimate the electorate.” Douglas also has thoughts on why polling has gone off the rails, “Viciousness and vitriol have ruined political research. [Plus,] the theory that a person says one thing on the phone—sometimes just to get off the phone—might be opposite from their purchasing or voting decision, is a valid supposition…Post-election research carries much more value than pollster predictions. After an election…you can ask, who did you vote for and why.” That’s where sentiment toward policy direction is best found.
The smartphone phenomenon meant that pollsters totally missed the youngest voters, who showed up for democracy and choice. John Dick, the CEO of CivicScience, today’s Bible of consumer research, said: “Gen Z made its presence known in a big way. I’ve told you repeatedly they’re going to save the world and now they’re strapping on their capes. If you aren’t laser-focused on understanding what makes today’s teens and young adults tick, let me know so I can short your stock.”
People love to talk; they love to make predictions based on their own desires, a phenomenon known as “confirmation bias.” Subject matter expertise is of course optional. Cal and UCLA Professor Scott Galloway put it this way, “Our brains make it easy for our ambition to exceed our ability: The Dunning-Kruger effect [section4.lt.acemlna.com] describes a demonstrated cognitive weakness, that the less we know about something, the more we overestimate our knowledge. That’s why stupid people, and people who make great cars and then buy media companies, are so dangerous.” (Apparently no one can resist deriding Elon Musk, who, in fairness, does make a pretty easy target.)
Right or mostly wrong, they never stop. Today, Morning Consult is revealing a poll that says Donald Trump would garner less than half of Republican primary votes if a vote was held today. That’s down from 57% in August. I’m not sure it’s believable or even relevant.
Reality TV got the Former Guy elected. “Apprentice” fans thought him to be a master of the business universe. He isn’t, and never was. What he was, was a TV star in a scripted drama that paraded as an unscripted drama. That’s the dirty little secret of Reality TV.
Meanwhile, he fights on, blaming pollsters and everyone but himself for his dangerous and silly slate of now-repudiated candidates. He hasn’t quite realized his need to call the Leg Warehouse, since he doesn’t have one to stand on.
©2022 Jon Sinton
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