With all the high drama swirling around the results of the presidential election, not much attention is being given to the biggest losers who were not on the ballot: Pollsters and the pundits who parrot them.
Throughout the last weeks of the election campaign, in poll after poll of voters, Joe Biden was shown to have a healthy lead over President Donald Trump, and Democrats were favored to win a majority in the U.S. Senate and expand their majority in the House of Representatives. Instead, Republicans gained House seats, likely held on to power in the Senate (depending on the outcome of runoffs for Georgia’s two Senate seats) and Biden’s fate turned on very narrow margins in a handful of swing states.
Just as they did in 2016, the pollsters missed something big – a whole lot of GOP voters who showed up on Election Day. Those who run the polls will point out that they always make their predictions with caveats and footnotes about the margin of error, but they get paid a ton of money based on the expectation that they will get things right.
Pundits – especially those who pontificate hour after hour on cable-news programs — justify much of their conventional wisdom on polling data. For instance, James Carville – the guy who masterminded Bill Clinton’s election victories and now has a nice gig as a pundit-at-large – predicted a Biden landslide with absolute confidence, based largely on what he saw in the polls. Funny thing, Carville was on TV again Thursday night, still being treated like a genius, even though he got it so wrong.
It would be nice to think that, four years from now, the media will spend a lot less time reading the polls like they are scripture and giving endless airtime to political know-it-alls who may know a lot less than they claim. But real reporting is hard; talk is so much easier.
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