Wednesday, November 04, 2020


I keep thinking about how much time I wasted over the past several months refreshing poll sites, and reading analyses by poll nerds, all because the story being told by by pollsters was a story I wanted to believe: that we have a very bad president, but the election would, in all likelihood, make him go away. I didn't trust the story completely, but I believed its bare outlines: that the public wanted Donald Trump gone and that this was true by a considerable margin, a margin much larger than the one that gave Hillary Clinton her popular vote victory in 2016.

The pollsters were wrong -- nearly all of them. Biden still seems as if he'll (probably!) eke out an Electoral College win, and his popular vote margin will be (somewhat) greater than Hillary's. But the pollsters failed. They knew they missed the mark in a number of key states in 2016, and they assured us that they'd corrected their errors. They had four years to get it right and still they blew it. They did worse than they did four years ago. Four years ago, they predicted a Hillary Clinton popular vote win by 3.2 points, according to Real Clear Politics; she won by 2.1. Right now, Biden's popular vote lead is 1.9. It will rise as California and other states continue to count mail ballots. But the RCP average told us Biden would win the popular vote by 7.2.

There really were shy Trump voters. Of course there were.

I know why so many of us didn't believe it: because of the word "shy." Trump voters aren't shy -- they're obnoxious. They put huge flags on their pickup trucks and cause traffic jams just to show we can't stop them. They wear T-shirts that say FUCK YOUR FEELINGS.

There really were large numbers of Trump voters who didn't show up in the polls, but shyness wasn't the reason. The reason is that contemporary conservatism makes its supporters paranoid and intolerant of difference.

What do you see when you watch Fox News? What have you seen for years -- long before Trump decided to run for president? You see reasons to be fearful. You see undocumented immigrants who are violent criminals. You see a couple of New Black Panthers standing in front of a polling place appearing, as a Fox viewer sees it, extremely intimidating. You see "elitists" engaging in "cancel culture" and a "war on Christmas." And this summer you saw Antifa and Black Lives Matter mobs burning down entire cities. (Only tiny portions of a few cities were vandalized by only a small fraction of demonstrators, but you didn't know that if you watched Fox.)

If this is how America appears to you, then naturally you believe that a pollster calling to ask you about your electoral preference, or even reaching you by robocall or giving you the opportunity to complete an online survey, might use the information you provide to do you tremendous harm. You might be canceled! You might lose your job if an anti-Trump boss finds out what you told the pollster! You couls be threatened by rampaging Antifa/BLM mobs!

This fear is accompanied by an anger-fueled desire to live in a world where political enemies simply don't exist.

Right-wingers have felt this way for a long time. Now they have a president who also feels this way, and who validates their feelings. So of course they reject the poor SOBs who are struggling just to get a poll completed as if they're The Man.

I use 1960s terminology deliberately. I keep having the thought that conservatism is a counterculture, like the counterculture of the '60s and early '70s. Its adherents reject (or at least question) everything about mainstream culture. They want to surround themselves exclusively with like-minded people. And many of them want to act out in the presence of people from the mainstream. There's something about the car caravans that seems Yippie-ish to me. It's a prank intended to send the message We're the cool people, we're on the verge of seizing control from you, and even now we can disrupt your world any time we feel like it.

So it appears that the guy who polls for Trafalgar Group was right.
If President Trump pieces together an Electoral College win on Tuesday, at least one pollster — and perhaps only one — will be able to say, “I told you so.”

That person is Robert Cahaly, whose Trafalgar Group this year has released a consistent stream of battleground-state polls showing the president highly competitive against Joseph R. Biden Jr., and often out ahead, in states where most other pollsters have shown a steady Biden lead....

Above all, Mr. Cahaly’s approach centers on the belief that everyone lies, but especially conservatives.... To hear him explain it, traditional pollsters (he calls them “dinosaurs”) are crippled by “social desirability bias”: the tendency for respondents to say what they think an interviewer wants to hear, not what they actually believe. In Mr. Trump’s America, he says, that problem has grown worse....

During the 2016 Republican primaries, he was early to spot a surge of enthusiasm from many working-class voters who had long felt alienated from politics and helped power Mr. Trump’s ascent.

... [He] used data available online to create a list of roughly 50 lifestyle characteristics — including, for instance, whether they owned a fishing license — to identify the sorts of low-engagement voters who were turning out in droves. He used that data to make sure he was reaching the right kinds of respondents as he polled off the voter file in advance of the general election....

Among Mr. Cahaly’s theories is that it takes five times as many calls to get a conservative voter to complete a poll than to get a liberal one. Others in the field say they find no evidence to support this in their own work.
Well, we have the evidence now.

I was hoping for the strong Democratic results polls led me to expect, and I was thinking, It's just like the '60s and '70s -- the angry counterculturalists dominated the zeitgeist, but in '68 and '72 they couldn't win elections. But this counterculture is bigger, and, in much of the country, it's the culture. Now we need to grasp just how large it is, and we need to hope it will lose some of its grip on the culture once Trump leaves the scene -- whenever that will be.

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