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Trump, Blue Mirages and False Polls

The great bard remarks in Henry VI: Part II that all the lawyers ought to be killed. In entertaining this homicidal formula, William Shakespeare had yet to encounter that barnacle breed known as the pollster. There is much to suggest that those practising this dark and futile art ought to be done away with, with their special ability to suggest realities buried in the entrails of malleable opinions. Their failings have been regular and profound: the Brexit referendum in 2016; the US presidential victory that same year for Donald J. Trump.

Cue to 2020. The scene set before the November 3 vote: the wooden, barely breathing Joe Biden, whose only claim to fame in this presidential race has been not being Trump. A vote for Biden; a vote for a return to amnesia, self-denial and the fiction of “decency”. Trump, campaigning manically across several swing states in the last days; Biden, doing his little bit in Pennsylvania, strumming his Scranton, working class tune to voters.

Democrats were again counting on the weakness of their opponent, misreading him. Strategists could only see a monster, an apparition that would pass. Left unseen was a campaigner who never left the rally; a person whose four years in office has been one long pitch to retain power. In the meantime, despite the president’s predations and the personalisation of high office, Trump’s supporters have noted the hum of the economy (prior to the coronavirus), delighted in his hard stance on treaties, his pugilism towards Washington’s allies and foes.

The death rate of COVID-19 might have seen him off; indeed, Trump might himself have become a viral casualty were it not for the highly priced medical treatment he received. But even here, this mendacious wonder managed to suggest that he contracted it for the American people, did it for them; the foolish minimiser of disease turned brave warrior, albeit it one with a large medical bill attached.

In this mess were the pollsters – again. Data from Real Clear Politics suggested that Biden would sail into the White House on a sea of blue, ahead with 51 per cent compared to Trump’s 44 per cent in the seven-day rolling average. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported a 10 point lead favouring Biden (52 per cent to 42 per cent).

Emblematic in all of this was the result in Florida. Victory was secured by Trump by a margin three times that of 2016. The polling suggested that Biden would be breathing easy with a margin of 2.5 points. Another glaring error for the books.

Looking at Florida, John Podhoretz raged, wondering why “we fell for their crap again.” Such polling could only be seen as “a fraud. It claims to measure something that, it is now unmistakably clear, cannot be accurately measured. Polling’s seductive promise is that it will take the guesswork out of understanding a complex and changing set of circumstances and replace that uncertainty with something that looks like science.”

Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson was similarly livid. Suggesting that the polling industry was “dead”, he advocated mass firings. “I could name some of the people who should be fired immediately.”

One figure in the firing line of vituperation was Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism blog described by Aaron Timms in The New Republic as having “no politics – or rather, no politics beyond a mute approval of the status quo.” Silver has turned into a shape changer over the years, moving beyond the astrology of polling into strident pontifications, some of which are suitably dotty. But elections are meant to be his ham and eggs, and in November 2020, he was nodding the way of a convincing Biden victory.

This prompted Erik Engquist, senior managing editor of The Real Deal, to release a volley of indignation. “How many elections can Nate Silver’s model do this before people stop taking him seriously? It gave Biden a 95% chance to win MI, 94% chance to WI, 69% to win FL etc.” Reuters investigative reporter Joel Schectman suggested that Silver had “a lot of mansplaining to do” though took the barb off his remarks by claiming irony; Ashlee Vance of Businessweek wondered how many poles it would take “for Nate Silver to get a forecast right.”

Away from the convenient, readymade fictions of the polling industry, the US political ground is looking ugly, fractured and desperate. This has not stopped Democrats remaining wrapped up in an entitlement narrative that continues to repel voters with its own form of snobbery. Biden’s promise on Election Day that “there will be no red states or blue states just the United States of America” is supremely fanciful when looking at a country distinctly divided between them. What is abysmal for the Donkey Party this time around is not that Trump just might win (again), but that his record on pandemic mismanagement, politicisation of US institutions and science, to name but a few, did not guarantee a blue stampede. Across the country, the revolted remain in revolt.

Instead, Trump has managed to turn the political fabric of the US inside out, sowing seeds of chaos and now, with a promise of litigation, to reap them in the various courts of the country. His overt turn to hucksterism – the claim that an electoral fraud has been committed – is very fitting. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.” The pollsters have now been replaced by the vote counters. The lawyers, far from being done away with, are being hired by the platoon.

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20 comments

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  1. RomeoCharlie29

    Amen to all that Binoy. This is twice the Dems have selected dud candidates and despite the stupidity of those who voted Trump, there would have been many who gritted their teeth to give their vote to Biden for all the reasons you listed. The contrast between the candidates in the final weeks was stark. Here was COVID superman ( bullshit to my mind) doing multiple huge rallies daily while Biden notched up a few desultory rallies. Ma me no mistake I despise Trump and want to see the back of him, but Joe and the Dems don’t inspire me. Even Kamala, for all she is chocolate coloured and young, doesn’t inspire me with confidence of reform. Desperate te times still ahead I fear. BTW, wait for the pollsters to say they a ctua lily didn’t do too bad, it was those dishonest pollees (?).p.s. would Sanders or Warren have been unelectable?

  2. Michael Taylor

    Trump speaking now.

    In a nutshell, the illegal votes are stealing the election off him. He’s being cheated out of victory.

    Now garbling on about how great he is.

    It’s a classic vomit-inducing load of bullshit.

  3. Michael Taylor

    I’ve now resorted to screaming.

  4. King1394

    Polls are only as good as the group of people polled, and how the question is framed can make a huge difference to individual responses as well.

  5. New England Cocky

    There has been a Russian in the White House for the past four (4) years and Putin must be very pleased with her contribution to the demise to American democracy.

    To an Australian political tragic the Australian compulsory preferential voting system is far superior to either the English first past the post system, or the system used in the USA (United States of Apartheid).

    It appears that ”the only Rupert” may have advised Trumpery of the Toxic RAbbott strategy; ”When you have no policies to benefit the voters, then energetically and loudly show the people that you can do numerous irrelevant open air meetings”. Remember, Goebels (?) believed that telling a lie often enough and the people would believe that it was the truth.

  6. New England Cocky

    Now Michael, you know that the only problem is counting the Democrat votes. If they only count votes from Republicans, then Trumpery will be re-elected as he sees that it is his destiny to destroy the USA (United States of Apartheid) in his second of too many terms as POTUS.

  7. Michael Taylor

    NEC, Trump’s news conference in a nutshell: “People are stealing the presidency from me by voting.”

  8. Henry Rodrigues

    What is amazing is despite all Trump’s visible and proven failings and his character flaws, there are many americans prepared to listen to his bullshit and fall for his ugly persona. Are americans really that dumb ? Whatever the failures of the pollsters and indeed the failures of the democratic party to recognize who or what they were facing, the fact remains that many americans like this guy because, they are like Trump in their innermost feelings. That’s something no pollster will ever discover or decypher.

    One possible clue was something a Trump voter said to a BBC reporter, people were wary of Kamal Harris, because there was a fair chance that Biden might not complete his 4 years and she takes over. Horror, a black woman President ?? Displays a deep seated racist fear, if ever there was one. Not a word of this was ever uttered publicly, and no pollster even probed that thought.

  9. Alc

    Shame Pete Buttigieg is gay.

  10. Kronomex

    AlcNovember 6, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Shame Pete Buttigieg is gay.

    Care to expand on your comment and explain why it should make a difference as to his being gay?

  11. Gangey1959

    See “Yes Prime Minister” episode where Sir Humphrey asks him what do es he want the results of the survey to show.
    It’s all in the question “Take Conscription, for example. “Do you want a well trainedgroup of young people armed and ready to defend the country in times of trouble?”, or “Do you want a gang of trained thugs running around with guns?”
    A. Not enough people were asked
    B. Polling is like two psychiatrists drawing in charcoal in the dark on black paper, and then trying to decipher oneanothers’ scribbles. It’s a futile art, but like religion people pay a shitload for nothing concrete maybes.
    C. The democrats just sat on the resultant score writing their victory speeches, while trump had boots on the ground. You can’t win an election without rattling the cages of the people you want to vote for you, by phone, mail, voice, face to face, whatever. Biden and the dems did nada. Not a sausage. Now look at the shit hanging from the fan. Bloody americans. Can’t even get a Yes/No vote correct.

    @Kronomex. Same as in 2016 the us wasn’t going to accept a female president. It’s not personal, it’s reality.

    @MT. What else did you expect? He would have called off the election due to something if he had any way of doing so. Democracy is his greatest weakness. It gives We the Voter a real voice.

  12. Alc

    Kronomex, I was merely alluding to the fact that because of his sexual orientation, he would most likely be unelectable for the great majority of the American people because of this. In particular the close minded evangelicals. I have no problem with him being gay, being of the opinion, because of his patriotism and mental acuity he would have been my pick by far as Democratic candidate.

  13. Jon Chesterson

    MAY YOUR GOD GO WITH YOU – Despite what you might think, much of this was predictable although be very wary of both the POLLS and claims of probability – Both are gambling machines or platforms for gambling, and instruments of gain, perhaps that should pain! Why is it this point is never made when we criticise polls after the horse has bolted? I suggest partly because we live in the age of populism, impetuosity and immediate gratification – must have, must know and have my cake right now. But of course the more venal agenda is that it is a win for those who control or gain from the gamble and those who seek fame, fortune or power to seek profit from it, directly or as a middle-man. In this vein big casinos are no different from big business and of course they are going to encourage the discourse of odds, at odds and distract the majority from learning the truth with hindsight, otherwise its game over and they will have to seek an honest living with far less gain like the rest of us.

    Predictable, because the Trump empire was bound to crumble sooner or later because of the degree of lies, misinformation and delusion that was precipitated among the masses, the straw campaign and rally, and when it did, it would fall apart precipitously like a tower built on quicksand, as we are now witnessing once the game is over. Predictable in the sense that Republicans particularly remained quiet because of Trump’s abuse of power, they were afraid of him, they had no courage, no moral compass, no conviction, they were scared of repercussions, like him is some smaller way they were protecting their own interests – He is a dreadful bully. But now the walls are tumbling down just watch them bounce and climb out of the woodwork to fill the vacuum. Having said that, Trump and his family will throw bombs at the establishment for years to come and so will all his misguided fans, if only because he has incited riots and let them down, but I doubt they will have much insight into their behaviour and anger, just as they had little insight into blindly following such a gormless, narcissistic moron. Who are ‘they’, the masses who followed, the funded crowd, the swarm, the disillusioned, the political, the disadvantaged the advantaged and the mob.

    SUFFER NOT OLD AGE – But Binoy, I do take issue with your narrative, argument and mockery of Biden on the theme of old age. The sentiment and the narrative here is ageist and you will not hear this counterpoint commonly spoken in the political arena here, because we live in a counter culture, where at best we are very patriarchal and patronising of old age and older people. It is so easy to jump on the bandwagon and poke fun at the expense of old age instead of the real argument, to examine why the equally institutionalised social democrats have been so weak and unable to mount a more comprehensive defence of society, democracy and the people; rather like Labor here is Australia.

    Instead we’ve had to suffer the excesses and corruption of the Liberals and Nationals, in fact this is part of the reason and the answer to that question. But to muscle in and mock on the account of ageing is a miserable endeavour. With age comes reason, experience, tolerance, patience, truth, compassion and wisdom – attributes that make for mighty fine but ever absent leadership in our present day democracies. Do not dismiss old age, that is weak and ugly. It buys into the dismissive modern alienating, disenfranchising culture of throwing older people on the waste heap, assuming they have nothing meaningful, significant or masterful to offer in society; and I don’t know which is more frightening, ageing itself becoming more fearful and vulnerable of and closer to death or to be dismissed by society as redundant, forced to become dependent and powerless by such arguments, caricature, stereotypes and misguided reason and society around you.

    And despite what we think, neither this alone nor coupled with other fairer arguments gives us a right to dismiss the good that Biden (all but president elect) with the support of Harris (ditto vice-president elect) and those he may gather around him may do, when America so needs good guidance, a little humanity and unity right now. What makes you think a young person right now would have greater measure in attributes and vision to do this, passion and energy aside, which can be recruited to the team? Some of the world’s great leaders of the past have been well into the their seventies; and while Trump was not one of them (infamous and foolish not great, a tyrant not a leader), he is only 3 years younger than Biden. Yet I have never heard the argument of old age thrown against him, nor some of the milder limitations and frailties that may come with it, and it is certainly not the wisdom of old age that Trump’s behaviour quickens, but that he has always been like what we have all seen, since he was very young – So go figure less we follow Trump’s mockery of Biden too.

    Returning to predictable – It was clearly predicted that Biden would win. Further as the votes still are not substantially counted he is already 2.6% (more than 3.5 million votes) ahead in the popular vote right now 2pm Friday AEST; and when the voting is done, it will likely be at least double that figure when you tally how many votes across the States have still yet to be counted We were told that much of Biden’s votes would follow later because of postal voting – More than 100 million votes cast as such and largely due to Covid-19. In the end the polls may not be so far off this time, but here we are being impetuous with our criticism, our subjective evaluations, our commentary and the race is still not done. Do you hand out the money and commiserations when there is still 400 metres to run in the Melbourne Cup or wait till after you see the winner cross the finishing line? And any short measure or change we were given in the polls can be explained by methodology, that they were mostly measuring popular vote, and not factoring for electoral college allocation, regional differences and sociocultural heterogeneity; and then we have our gambling machines and the agendas of those who make a living out of it, the media. And don’t forget the role of social media, we played a role here too – who can possibly take responsibility for that?

    Beware of anything that talks about the laws of probability as a means to understanding predictability, especially when it comes to either individual human behaviour (Trump aside) or complex, multifactorial phenomena; where cause and effect cannot be easily demonstrated or measured. Probability is only really predictable in large numbers, statistical, it is a mathematical law, not a behavioural one. If there is 30% probability of rain tomorrow, that does not mean it will not rain, nor even that it is unlikely. If it rains, it rains and probability is just fanciful, or at least putting your faith in it and its calculation, unless you are willing to gamble easy money. Political science is an oxymoron and far less scientific than maths, climate or the weather, much less said yet equally as devastating.

    I make no prediction, but with Trump’s second term ‘stolen’ from him – good riddance, way over due; all I am willing to say – is now we have a chance to get back to some sense of reason, truth and justice. The world will be a better place without his breed and brand of megalomania (and there are many others out there). Now we have a choice, we can focus on hope, we can look forwards even if it will take years to repair the damage. It won’t be easy and there will be some dark elements left behind to navigate within the vast populist inertia and vacuum we are now accustomed to; and yes we still have other limitations and evils to endure, but let’s try not to gamble and make the same mistakes again – And give thanks to the gods for our deliverance.

    But as Dave Allen would say, ‘May your god go with you’ and if he were alive today I’d here him say as he shifts cunningly on his stool, glass of irish whisky in one hand and fatal puff of cigarette and smoke from the other, ‘and may Trump go with his (himself) and leave the rest of us alone’.

  14. Roswell

    After trailing Trump by over a half a million votes in both Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden is close to taking the lead in both of them.

    Trump’s screwed.

  15. John Iser (the NSW one)

    One of the suggested reasons for why the polls were off (again) is the “shy conservative” theory. That is, people are ashamed to admit to a stranger on the other end of a ‘phone line that they will vote for e.g. Trump. But in the relative privacy of a polling booth they will do exactly that.

    In other words: they’re lying, two-faced scum. Having come across a few people like this in real life – the ones who thought they were telling me what I wanted to hear, whereas what I wanted to hear was what they really thought – I can believe it.

    As for Tucker Carlson: Fox News won a court case by ‘persuasively’ arguing that no ‘reasonable viewer’ takes Tucker Carlson seriously.

    The implication being that there are a lot of ‘unreasonable viewers’ out there…

  16. Socrates.

    It has me wondering, with all the lies and the nonsenses from the Right, that Biden has not been sitting in the White House rof-laughing his head off- how on earth could red states re-elect carpetbaggers like Graham and McConnell, for a start let alone something as blatant as the Donald?

    Ok, so there still a Civil War to be grudgingly lost, lots of religious hocus pocus and many black people left to shoot in the back, this IS 1864, but wouldn’t people in the heartland really just check their calendars even the once…or are calendars just a socialist plot, too?

    But of course, there are complicating factors. Apart from the near- brainwashing role of most media as to consent manufacture to the Right, there is actually a problem the Democrats have faced, a bit similar to the ALP in Australia of having, with de industrialisation and subsequent “reform” biased to big business, slipped too far to the right at the expense of jobs, and also alienating enviro, social infrastructure and education and broadsheet media, as to the educated left.

    So the USA remains split and faced with an obstructionist Senate and reactionary Supreme Court.. The wounds are deep and any healing process remains compromised.

  17. jon chesterson

    Some of the polls won’t be far out and the landslide is still forming – The case against Trump is unfolding.

    I figure Biden will end up with at least 306 electoral colege votes (way more than 270) and if North Carolina folds it will be 321 and Trump will only make 217. House is already secured and there is still a chance of a slight majority in the senate, although this is the slimmer of the three wins. The popular vote will be between 4-5 million over Trump, probably more (which will be around 10% as predicted). He will be thoroughly defeated, once all votes are counted – Yes that is as good as a landslide. The problem is people and media are too quick to judge to understand the potential of the final outcome… Patience folks.

  18. Matters Not

    While the behaviour of laboratory rats is somewhat predictable, that’s not true of humans under the metaphorical microscope, particularly if they are conscious of it. It’s this uncertainity that renders the social sciences a much more difficult enterprise than what might be called the hard sciences such as physics, chemistry and the like. But make no mistake, political science is a legitimate scientific undertaking

    All scientific theories, if they are to be considered scientific, must be falsifiable. Yes – not all theories are capable of being falsified. A theory that states there are little green men living on the moon but disappear if anyone attempts to look at them is not falsifiable. It may be true but because it’s not falsifiable, it’s not a scientific theory. Generally, much religious belief fits into the category of unfalsifiable theory and hence not scientific theory.

    As recent events demonstrate, political science and political scientists postulate scientific theories that have been falsified. The implications are pretty clear – there is a pressing need to develop new and better theories which are also falsifiable. That’s how science proceeds. It’s essentially an exercise in developing new and better theories.

  19. wam

    A great read Dr Kampmark, regardless of academic grappling with ‘truth’, the what you believe to be true is true. Trump believes his tweets, believes that to cheat first is the best policy and judges people by his standards. Trump would cheat to win, ergo biden cheated.
    He must be so frustrated that the courts removed the right of electoral college delegates to have a free vote and I am sure the proportional representation rules for maine and nebraska are a mystery to him and unknown to most septic voters and, probably unimportant to the count but interesting to this irascible senile idiot.
    Polls for elections, arguably, are no longer worth the money because the speed of social media is such that the few voters that provide the winner can be frightened almost right up to marking the ballot but certainly days after being polled, with the other 90%, committed.

  20. Socrates.

    It seems passing strange that Trump is ousted, but the Senate remains to block any clearer pathway to regeneration.

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