Polls? For now, ignore them

If you begin to read an article that’s based primarily on poll results, my advice is to stop reading and go on to something else.

My reasoning is based on the now irrefutable evidence that political public opinion polls in competitive or controversial contests in virtually all major Western nations, particularly in the U.S. and Great Britain, have been chronically wrong for some time.

Dramatic poll numbers in the U.S. presidential primaries, and now in the match-up between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, flip-flop in a matter of days or a few weeks, and that’s assuming the dubious premise that these results are in any way accurate at the time they are taken.  Even exit polls have been wrong.

Public polling has been an honorable profession when the pollsters have maintained high standards, as many have.  But the rise of the use of the cell phone, internet, and social media has introduced a new level, if you will, of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (the measuring device alters the measure), and the disinclination of the millions of angry voters to disclose their true feelings to pollsters has reached epidemic levels.

In normal times, when political rules and traditions dominate the political environment, polling errors exist but are relatively infrequent.  Usually, those errors are caused by the pollsters themselves – i.e., by some bias, by flawed questions, by flawed samples.  In a time such as we are now in, specifically the 2016 presidential campaign season, the flaws in public opinion polling might be well beyond the pollsters' best efforts and intentions.

A portent of this phenomenon came in the 2014 U.S. national elections and the two most recent British parliamentary elections. 

There is now a full-blown mutiny taking place among the mass of voters in virtually all Western nations, with election after election in the U.S., Spain, France, Italy, Iceland, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and elsewhere seeing anti-establishment candidates either upsetting major party candidates or almost doing so.  These voters seem to be wary of candidly responding to traditional poll-takers or participating in most public polls.

This voter reluctance exists among voters of the left, right, and center.  Not only are they angry and frustrated, as most analysts now concede, but they seem determined to upset the political apple cart of candidates and policies put forward by the major political parties.

With the discarded litter of the polls for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination contests still visible, and the erratic behavior of recent polls of the November contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump recently published, and so much turbulence ahead at both national conventions, why should anyone pay any attention to polls about this race?

The Colorado Republican Party has just nominated an unknown black military veteran, Darryl Glenn, to be its candidate against incumbent Democratic senator Michael Bennett.  The initial media comments have been that Democrats should breathe a sigh of relief for this race, which was previously considered potentially competitive.  The black veteran is also an outspoken conservative and was not favored by most in the state party establishment.  Mr. Glenn might indeed lose, but it is early to make pronouncements about this race, especially in the year of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Brexit.  Polls will now no doubt come out heavily favoring Mr. Bennett.  They might, however, bear no resemblance to the final poll in early November.

This will also be a political season in which the two largest third-party candidates for president might well receive very large numbers of votes.  The Green Party on the left and the Libertarians on the “sort of” right could complicate both polling and elections.  Both these parties tickets will be on almost all state presidential ballots.

No doubt, by mid-October and later, the polls will become more and more accurate – not only in the presidential race, but also in many down-ballot races.  Even so, in 2016 they might not predict outcomes.

Don’t count on opinion polls and analyses based primarily on them to tell you much about what is going to happen on election day, 2016.

If you begin to read an article that’s based primarily on poll results, my advice is to stop reading and go on to something else.

My reasoning is based on the now irrefutable evidence that political public opinion polls in competitive or controversial contests in virtually all major Western nations, particularly in the U.S. and Great Britain, have been chronically wrong for some time.

Dramatic poll numbers in the U.S. presidential primaries, and now in the match-up between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, flip-flop in a matter of days or a few weeks, and that’s assuming the dubious premise that these results are in any way accurate at the time they are taken.  Even exit polls have been wrong.

Public polling has been an honorable profession when the pollsters have maintained high standards, as many have.  But the rise of the use of the cell phone, internet, and social media has introduced a new level, if you will, of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (the measuring device alters the measure), and the disinclination of the millions of angry voters to disclose their true feelings to pollsters has reached epidemic levels.

In normal times, when political rules and traditions dominate the political environment, polling errors exist but are relatively infrequent.  Usually, those errors are caused by the pollsters themselves – i.e., by some bias, by flawed questions, by flawed samples.  In a time such as we are now in, specifically the 2016 presidential campaign season, the flaws in public opinion polling might be well beyond the pollsters' best efforts and intentions.

A portent of this phenomenon came in the 2014 U.S. national elections and the two most recent British parliamentary elections. 

There is now a full-blown mutiny taking place among the mass of voters in virtually all Western nations, with election after election in the U.S., Spain, France, Italy, Iceland, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and elsewhere seeing anti-establishment candidates either upsetting major party candidates or almost doing so.  These voters seem to be wary of candidly responding to traditional poll-takers or participating in most public polls.

This voter reluctance exists among voters of the left, right, and center.  Not only are they angry and frustrated, as most analysts now concede, but they seem determined to upset the political apple cart of candidates and policies put forward by the major political parties.

With the discarded litter of the polls for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination contests still visible, and the erratic behavior of recent polls of the November contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump recently published, and so much turbulence ahead at both national conventions, why should anyone pay any attention to polls about this race?

The Colorado Republican Party has just nominated an unknown black military veteran, Darryl Glenn, to be its candidate against incumbent Democratic senator Michael Bennett.  The initial media comments have been that Democrats should breathe a sigh of relief for this race, which was previously considered potentially competitive.  The black veteran is also an outspoken conservative and was not favored by most in the state party establishment.  Mr. Glenn might indeed lose, but it is early to make pronouncements about this race, especially in the year of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Brexit.  Polls will now no doubt come out heavily favoring Mr. Bennett.  They might, however, bear no resemblance to the final poll in early November.

This will also be a political season in which the two largest third-party candidates for president might well receive very large numbers of votes.  The Green Party on the left and the Libertarians on the “sort of” right could complicate both polling and elections.  Both these parties tickets will be on almost all state presidential ballots.

No doubt, by mid-October and later, the polls will become more and more accurate – not only in the presidential race, but also in many down-ballot races.  Even so, in 2016 they might not predict outcomes.

Don’t count on opinion polls and analyses based primarily on them to tell you much about what is going to happen on election day, 2016.