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Predictive Polls: A Way to Create a Future?

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By Wayne McLaughlin :

“Predicting is very difficult, especially with regard to the future.”  This is an old bromide attributed to various luminaries from Confucius to Yogi Berra. Some predictions have consequences like point spreads on sports betting and others, like the weather, couldn’t wring a single raindrop out of a cloudy sky. So what kind of predicting is pre-election polling?  What possible effect can it have on the election day outcome? – Lots!

In a Washington Examiner interview with Sean Trende, a senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics.com, in answer to a question about skewed polls, “There’s a bunch we could talk about there. Part of the reason we don’t include campaign polls or campaign committee polls is because I do think people kind of mess with the game a bit. People are acutely aware of the effects that polls have on elections and campaigns and fundraising, and they actually take steps to try to massage the poll averages as a result.”

Consequences

Election polls for 2016 have consistently predicted a Hillary Clinton November win by margins that can be characterized comfortable to large with the effect:

  • Abundant campaign contributions to HRC
  • Republican down ballot candidates have moved away from Trump
  • Emphasis by a large segment of Republican party members to allocate resources to house and senate contests and away from a top of the ticket effort.
  • A decision by the top elected Republican, Paul Ryan, to have nothing to do with Trump.

With regard to the last point concerning Speaker Ryan, the reason he gave was some off-putting remarks by Trump made eleven years ago on a “hot mike” but does anyone think he would have ditched Trump if polls showed Trump in the lead?

A proliferation of polling methods has added further uncertainty to the predicting practice.  In the same interview with the Examiner, Trende was asked about auto-dial vs live calls. He pointed out how the growth in cell phone only households have called into question the accuracy of auto-dial polls because they only call land-lines.  Whereas they produced good results in the 2002 and 2004 elections, he’s not so sure now.

Discrepancies

Not all the discrepancies between polls can be attributed to different methods. A recent Investor Business Daily poll (IBD/TIPP) showed Trump up two points while a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll indicated a six point advantage for Clinton.  An analysis of sampling in the latter poll disclosed a responder make up of 45% voted for Obama in 2012, 32% for Romney and 15% did not vote, indicating a clear intent to build in a Clinton bias.

Recent disclosures of hacked emails tell us of a chummy relationship between Clinton Campaign chairman, John Podesta and the media as he prescribes sampling methods to skew polling results in favor of his candidate. While people in the business of polling are eager to produce the results which they know their client wants, in this case the media, they can only go so far before it affects their professional reputation, and that time may have come.

It is interesting to note that Trump is “surging in the polls” by most accounts.  It begs the question of how much is due to Trump’s campaigning and how much is due to pollsters pulling their hands out of the cookie jar. A liberal biased media will only go so far in backing a candidate but when it appears that their guy (or gal) is headed for defeat, their main goal becomes salvaging their reputation.

Reputation

The liberal Washington Post political cartoonist, Herblock, produced a sketch in 1980 of a tiny Jimmy Carter sitting in a very large chair labeled President with his legs barely hanging over the edge as it was becoming apparent that his re-election chances were slim. Yesterday, the New York Times carried a front page Wiki-Leaks story about internal dissension in the Clinton club regarding Clinton Foundation activities.

Publishing any acknowledgement of Wiki-Leaks material has been a non-starter for liberal rags up until now.  Is this a “come to Jesus” moment for “liberality” and what does that portend?  Hmmm, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Wayne McLaughlin is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army veteran.

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