Polling abuse in the fake news age - Important headlines

posted by Brian Mudd - 

Important headlines for July 27th - Polling abuse in the fake news age 

Bottom Line: These are stories you shouldn't miss and my takes on them...  

Excerpt: The biggest “fake news” story of the last few years was that Donald Trump had almost no chance of being elected president. The entire pundit-polling-news establishment (including myself) was wrong, and the expectation was that these institutions would recalibrate their coverage to reflect a true picture of the country. They made an enormous miscalculation and they would, of course, make changes. 

Almost two years later, very little has changed in polling and analysis at major institutions and news media. If anything, the polling has drifted even further from reality when you look at the questions being asked and, more importantly, the questions not being asked. You don’t need polls to see the America you live in. You need polls to understand the part of America you don’t know, don’t see, and don’t understand. 

I believe that, in 2016, many of the national election polls were basically accurate, depicting a fairly close race, but the analysis of them was sophomoric, failing to understand the electoral college power of the unique coalition Trump amassed.  

This disconnect could be happening all over again. Take a look, for example, at the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll for July. It’s very professional and a generally accurate poll. Look at what it found this month: Trump’s approval rating edged up 1 point and his “strong approval” went up 3 points. His personal image improved several points. The congressional horserace closed 4 points in the direction of Republicans. 

Yet, the rest of the poll documents how people want more immigration, want to continue the Robert Mueller investigation, see tariffs as increasing prices for consumers and, of course, that Trump was too friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The headlines on NBC screamed negative clickbait, while the poll shows Trump and the Republicans advancing. The more intense support for Trump was attributed by one of the pollsters to Trump’s attacks on the press. 

Hot Take: Right. So, here's the thing. The actual work to get it right is complicated but the actual way of going about it really isn't. First to address the 2016 stuff again. The polls were right. But you've got to know how to use them. Listeners in 2016 know that I was able to accurately project Clinton's win with the popular vote but Trump's win in the Electoral College and the basis for getting it right were the same polls that the rest of the media choked on. Here's what it takes to get it right: 

  • You've got to figure out what type of cycle an election resembles (voter trends are extremely predictable over time) IE: Midterm Election with a Republican President equals a 92% chance of Democrats gaining seats  

  • You've got to figure out how undecided voters break traditionally in a similar cycle  

  • You've got to account for how many people are saying they're voting for third party candidates in a given election and account for how they really break in a similar election – because more people always say they'll vote for a third-party candidate than actually do 

But then to the point of the story. The writer is right. If you look at contextual questions for the info that you want to find and use to fit an agenda you're screwed. It doesn't really mean anything in elections. Part of the reason pundits and media outlets blew it so badly was that kind of stuff. Remember when Trump was the most disliked Presidential candidate ever on Election Day? How much did that matter in the polls? Millions of Americans who said they didn't like him voted for him. That's all that mattered. Same deal here. In fact, anyone who's talking about Trump's approval rating and talking about midterm election outcomes is already screwed. There's no connection between the two.  

Unless it's the Great Depression, A botched impeachment effort or 9/11 the other party wins and it didn't matter how popular Reagan was for example. The GOP still got waxed in those midterms. So, you can start there when trying to figure out if the folks you're hearing from have a clue to begin with... 

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