I would rather some bad news for all those who hoped the polling industry would ground after the disastrous results of the 2016 presidential election.
That bad expos comes from Alabama.
It would be a gross understatement to say that the wins were “all over the place” leading up to Tuesday’s special U.S. Senate electing in Alabama. The last three published polls before the December 12 object to between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones were outrageously inconsistent.
Here they are:
Monmouth University count: Moore 46 percent, Jones 46 percent (tie)
Emerson College returns: Moore 53 percent, Jones 44 percent (Moore +9)
FOX Story poll: Jones 50 percent, Moore 40 percent (Jones +10)
Moral think about the disparity of these polls. If either the FOX or the Emerson register is accurate, then the other one will be 19 points off the mark! If the Monmouth tally is correct then both the FOX and the Emerson polls are ridiculously out of bounds.
There are a myriad of complicated differences in the polls that may explain these discrepancies. Nate White at FiveThirtyEight has a more mathematical and data-oriented analysis of all that.
But the truth is polling is get on with harder. The days when everyone was likely to answer their go ashore line and/or spend a half hour with a live pollster hit to their doors are long gone. Cellphone users and their existing residencies are harder to nail down as more people move circa and take their phone numbers with them. Voter gross national product is harder to predict because it’s much easier for a respondent to say they’ll suffrage for a candidate than to actually turn out and do it.
All of the above challenges played grave roles in the fatally flawed polling of the 2016 presidential election. The country-wide popular vote polls weren’t too far off, but we don’t elect presidents based on the public vote. The crucial statewide polls of states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were the matter and their 46 collective electoral votes made the difference in the designation.
A year later, even Silver is baffled by the discrepancies in this Alabama hurry. For the record, he thinks Moore is still most likely to win but he’s urging everybody to view every poll with extreme caution.
I’ve got a better phantasy. Let’s start to ignore them as much as possible.
The reason isn’t because the counting companies are necessarily politically biased. Some polling companies do handle for specific political parties that pay for their services. But even they own the same important goal that transcends partisanship: They need to be avenge.
Remember, these polling companies are businesses that need reward clients or colleges and media companies that need the prestige that discovers with being accurate. If they choose partisanship over exactness they’ll be out of business fast.
But the fact is less focus on the polls in every poll would be a good thing for our democracy. Too much of what passes for administrative reporting is just the parroting of poll data. It’s derisively called “horse race meeting journalism” and it deserves the criticism. This is an especially big problem in the early devises of a campaign when a candidate’s poll numbers get more coverage than his or her current positions.
Focusing on polls also leads to an unfair incumbency advancement that comes from name recognition. A 2011 Princeton University look showed that simply knowing a candidate’s name gives those runners a boost in the polls that’s hard to overcome.
As more and more of these tallies come up short, everyone from journalists to voters may learn to suppress relying on them so much. It’s not a stretch to conclude that the results wish be at least a little more voter engagement and turnout. When interviews aren’t available, voters are logically less likely to assume any voting is a foregone conclusion. That assumption plays a massive role voter equipment.
A more honest and issue-based American electoral process would be a win for the whole world. The only polls that should matter are the ones taken on Choosing Day at the actual ballot box.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Echo him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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