If the Trump years have demonstrated anything, it’s the utter vacuity of our news media. When all this madness finally slows to a modified crawl (if it ever does) – after we’ve delivered justice to all those deserving it – we’ll turn our attention to the press. While a few intrepid news people have met their Constitutional obligation to be our last bulwark against power, most have failed. They’ve accepted the cynical proposition that “both sides do it” in America. Whatever “it” is… . Once you’ve stopped seeing people for who they are rather than who you think they are, it gets easy to accept other generalizations about them. Like the kind that opinion polls create.
Our news media is as addicted to opinion polls as they are to the belief that “both sides do it”. It’s not shocking. Corporate media is, by its nature, conservative. It wants to make money, not waves. Basing their reporting on the idea that “both sides do it” allows corporate media to claim neutrality. The problem, of course, is that whatever “it” is? Both sides don’t do it and never have.
When our founders separated into two distinct camps – federal v states – they set us on a course for binary-ness. Most questions got black or white answers. One way or the other. Alas, the world we all live in is mostly grey.
That’s the thing pollsters and their questions struggle with. They’re in the specificity business. But it takes time to discern specificity. It also takes asking certain questions in certain ways. Even so, most people have a hard time articulating their deepest feelings – the “why” motivating them. And, really, is anyone going to spend the time to dig into those feelings with any precision while a pollster awaits on the other end of the phone, their next question already poised?
Polling’s goal, per Pew, is to get “a meaningful read of the public’s mood on key issues”. They hope that their “read” of the “public’s mood” will translate into predictive polling. But, also per Pew, “the presence of large errors on some variables is a reminder that polling is imperfect, and it is pollsters’ responsibility to investigate such errors when they arise and make efforts to correct them.”
Do pollsters correct those errors? And what is a “meaningful read”? The American public – the voting public, too – keeps evolving in real time. And a pollster’s question demands an immediate, emotional response while an actual election poll demands a more pragmatic, real world response. Do pollsters’ questions measure that, too?
The Pew Research Center itself has asked “Does public opinion polling about issues still work?” While they give most polling plenty of credit for accuracy overall (within a few percentage points of benchmarks), also they point out that “polls over-represent people who are active in their communities or are active politically”. Polls respond more to squeaky wheels than to strong, silent types.
One of the big criticisms leveled at the pollsters after the 2016 election was their “failure” to capture all those silent Trump voters voting in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. That assumes that Trump won those three states simply because more Trump voters turned out – on a level playing field in a legitimately waged election. Trump won those three states by a slim 70,000 votes combined!
Ah, but Russia! Take Russia out of the Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan races and Trump likely does NOT win any of those states. For starters, if Russia had ANYTHING to do with Trump winning, it demands investigation, not acceptance! That’s just the law talking! Foreign countries (especially hostile ones) can have ZERO to do with American elections.
Yet, Trump’s campaign manager handed Russian Military intelligence proprietary voting data for those very states that Trump won by that very thin margin. Trump and Russia didn’t win PA, MI and WI by adding Trump votes, they “won” by subtracting Black Democratic voters from the mix. Paul Manafort went to prison for doing what he did! Trump pardoned him for doing it!
Did the opinion polls get those three states wrong? Or did the polls fail to account for the criminal activity that caused the result?
It’s not the same thing!
And – once again per Pew – pollsters suck at predicting who will actually turn out to vote. Meanwhile, the news media continue to use polling data as if were actually predictive of anything real. It ain’t!
So, this morning’s opinion polls that predict that Trump will trounce Joe Biden a year from now mean less than nothing! Any honest journalist should have ignored them or pointed them out for the deeply flawed nonsense they are.
Instead, our news media trumpeted the results – and continued to tell us and sell us a horse shit story about ourselves and how we’ll vote.
But, if we don’t know exactly what a pollster’s question is asking, we really don’t know what they’re measuring. And, the larger problem is, they rarely know themselves what they’re measuring.