Polling lessons from Rush
One of the core strengths of the late, great, sorely missed, Rush Limbaugh was his ability and willingness to constantly reground his listeners concerning basic truths. We tend to forget basics in the heat of political battle, usually to the detriment of conservative causes and candidates.
An excellent current example of this has to do with polling. I cannot believe how many conservative pundits, radio/podcast hosts and writers react to polls early in the season with dismay or even panic. “Beto is within three points of Abbot!” “Fetterman up seven over Oz? How can that be?” The answer is: you’re right, it can't be. It isn't true. Please stop getting suckered in.
Every election cycle Rush would re-educate us on how to correctly look at polling. Up until the final four weeks before election day, the goal of mass-market pollsters is not to provide an accurate reflection of public opinion, it is to shape public opinion. They will tweak their selection criteria and questions to produce a result that maximizes liberal engagement and depresses conservatives. Most well-known national polling companies are joined at the hip with the leftist establishment and behave accordingly. Nobody should believe any poll conducted more than a month out. (The only possible exception to this are internal polls paid for by the campaigns themselves.)
But when we get close to election day, that behavior changes. Now the polls produced by the big polling outfits will help define their reputation for accuracy moving forward. No pollster wants to be known as “the one who got it wrong” and so they actually begin to reflect the public's actual position. Every cycle the result is the same: the polls swing toward Republicans as we get closer.
In recent weeks we have seen that realignment happening, right on schedule. We like to think that this represents that the public is moving in the “right” direction. It really means that the pollsters are moving in the direction of basic honesty, because their careers depend on it. The voters have been in the right place all along.
(This is not to ignore the deeper structural weaknesses of polling methodology in a woke digital age. The things we have heard recently from smarter pollsters about these challenges and how hard it is to find “shy” -- now “submerged” -- Trump voters are very real, and create an additional reason why conservative support is often underestimated. But that is a different dynamic at work.)
Rush's lesson holds as true today as it did eight or twenty years ago: do not pay attention to polls prior to the immediate run-up to election. But if you choose to, certainly don't play into the left's hands and use it as a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's what they want.
Image: Gage Skidmore