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Midterm Polls May Be Accurate Or They May Not, Please Drink Accordingly
Nobody knows a goddamn thing.
As we count down the final hours to Election Day, as the early and mail-in ballots pile up and await counting, as Republicans make plans to impeach Joe Biden several million times and put blighted potato Marjorie Taylor Greene onto the all-important House Oversight Committee , America’s pollsters have an important message for everyone to keep in mind.
The polls might be right, with one caveat: they might also be wrong.
No, really, that’s what some of the more visible polling people admitted to The Daily Beast. For example, Dave Wasserman, who political nerds know for his catchphrase when calling a race, "I’ve seen enough":
Wasserman, perhaps the top handicapper of U.S. House races, said everyone was trying different ways to solve for “partisan non-response bias”--essentially a measure of how a poll isn’t representative of the actual population--but that means every pollster was making “a different assumption about who’s going to show up on Nov. 8 that may or may not be accurate.”
There there is Nate Silver of 538, who may or may not get invited back on “The Daily Show” after this election:
"[P]olling is getting harder because fewer and fewer people answer phone calls from unknown numbers, and among those who do, it’s still a fairly big ask to have them complete a long survey at a time of declining civic trust,” Silver told The Daily Beast. “So those people who do respond are unusual in some respects, in ways that you may or may not be able to correct for--and there may also be the risk of overcorrecting.”
We might have optimally corrected for bias. Or we might not! Who can say shrug emoji.
This is why yr Wonkette, despite the fact that we write about this stuff professionally (well, “professionally”), has eschewed the cable news networks the last couple of weeks in favor of binge-watching “Community.” Why make our blood pressure any worse?
This is also an important point:
One of the reasons for that skepticism is partisan polling. A flood of new firms this cycle has raised questions about how handicappers should treat these polls that are conducted by partisan operatives—and what these polls (most of them GOP-affiliated) are doing to polling averages.
In other words, the GOP has been flooding the public space with bullshit polls that skew Republican, which then get incorporated into the averages that shops like Silver’s 538 put together, which then artificially biases those averages to make it look as if Republicans are really kicking ass this cycle. Which then might discourage Democratic voters from getting out and voting because they think it’s a lost cause.
On the other hand, these skewed numbers could also make GOP voters overconfident so that they don’t bother to vote, which might help Democrats win more seats.
Or possibly, Democrats are running these GOP-leaning polls while pretending to be partisan Republicans, thereby skewing the averages and making Republican voters overconfident, thereby depressing their turnout and helping Democrats win more seats.
Or maybe Republicans are pretending to be Democrats running these GOP-leaning polls while pretending to be partisan Republicans and oh look our eyes just rolled back into our heads.
One problem with keeping the data relatively uncorrupted is that while the entry barriers to polling are pretty low now, many pollsters are not transparent about their methods. Aggregators like Silver will try to weight for partisan bias and lack of transparency, but there is no concrete formula for how to do so.
One data point in favor of the polls maybe being way off this year comes from Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting:
“Plenty of the more recent Senate polls have unrealistic crosstabs that show Republicans having record Black support but cratering preference among white voters—which is not something real-life reporting has borne out in either case[.]”
So all those stories about Hispanic and Black voters moving to the GOP? They might be wrong! Or they might be right!
And then there is one final point to consider:
The thing no one can really predict in any poll, Perry said, is turnout. [That would be "Jacob Perry, the co-founder of Center Street PAC and a former Republican campaign manager for six U.S. House races before he turned against former President Donald Trump," per the Daily Beast's verbatim description.]
It actually comes down to turnout? Why didn’t you say so, we could have skipped all this yammering about polls.
Personally, we decided a long time ago to stick with the fundamentals, and the fundamentals say that a midterm election when inflation is high and the incumbent president is underwater in his approval ratings almost always has a very good result for the opposition party. But then, on the other hand:
He noted that, in 2016, pollsters had real difficulty forecasting how Trump’s voters would show up.
“Here’s a guy who breaks all the rules, does everything wrong, tells you to fuck off, does what he wants to do, and it worked for him,” Perry said of Trump.
As William Goldman once said of Hollywood, nobody knows a goddamn thing. Luckily we have alcohol in the house and all six seasons of "Community" are on Netflix.
[ The Daily Beast ]
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