As we face the long-awaited election, I have two ways of looking at the various races: with my gut instinct, and with my brain. Both are giving me contradictory input.
My brain tells me to try to honestly consider poll numbers, because the human tendency toward confirmation bias – I’ll seek out and cling to info that I want to be true, and overlook/dismiss info that I don’t want to believe – leads to self-deception and heartbreak.
But my trusty martino oblongata also tells me to take all polls with an entire shaker of salt. The national polls over the last three cycles (2016, 2018 and 2020) have been more inaccurate than I remember them ever being before, so it’s hard to put a lot of faith in them.
Many of them are obviously biased, partisan push-polls, meant to shape the election rather than accurately report on it. Others that might not be consciously partisan are either sloppy or lazy, or both, as when they report on the opinions of three different groups – all adults, registered voters, and likely voters – as if they were interchangeable.
As I understand it, those groups consistently behave differently. “All adults” are always farther to the left than “registered voters,” who are farther to the left than “likely voters.” In the last three cycles, the “likely voters” have been much closer to the final outcome than any other groups, which makes perfect sense.
Given that, I can’t think of a legitimate reason why any pollster would even survey the first groups or cite their opinions within the last week or two before the elections. And yet many of them do.
For example, on Friday I was watching Bret Baier reporting on a Fox News poll, and the storyline was that Oz and Walker have almost caught up to Fetterman and Warnock. Which struck me as strange, since I’ve been reading that both GOP hopefuls have had slight leads for over a week.
Then I looked at the bottom of the screen, and saw it: “poll of registered voters, taken between 10/26 and 10/30.”
So the poll was between 5 – 9 days old – in a fast-moving environment in which both states have been trending toward the GOP – and surveyed registered voters, whom Fox knows to be skewed to the left by at least a couple of points.
Polls like that – the old saying goes – should not just be put aside lightly. They should be thrown with great force.
As an outsider and an amateur, my impression is that the Real Clear Politics method – they aggregate a bunch of polls and report on the average of them – is probably more accurate than most individual polls. At least they give a clearer sense of the trends in public opinion.
But as soon as I’ve said that, it sticks in my craw. Why should we toss a bunch of polls that we know are outliers and very likely skewed into the entire data base? Wouldn’t doing so necessarily erode the accuracy of the aggregate?
So I looked at an intriguing page on the Real Clear Politics site, which showed a ranking of the track records of the biggest multi-state polling outfits, in two separate listings. One displayed the accuracy of pollsters in just the 2020 presidential and senate races, and the other displayed the average accuracy of the pollsters in the presidential, senate and governors’ races, in the 2016, 2018 and 2020 races.
Both seem valuable to me. The 2020 ranking shows the accuracy of pollsters last time around, and the other one shows who was best over the last three cycles.
The accuracy rates varied a little, but there is also a lot of consistency in both lists. Of the 18 pollsters ranked on the 2020 list, Monmouth was 18th, Quinnipiac was 17th, and CNN was 16th. Of the 23 on the three-election averages, Quinnipiac was last, Monmouth was 18th, and CNN was 15th.
So why are those pollsters even in business anymore? Why would anyone take them seriously when they screwed the pooch consistently, over three cycles?
There are a lot of familiar names in the bottom half of both lists: NY Times, Marist, ABC, Fox and PPP.
Four pollsters were in the top 5 of both lists: Trafalgar (tied for #1 in 2020, #5 on average), Susquehanna (tied for #1 in 2020, 4th on average), Insider Advantage (#3 in 2020, # 2 on average) and UMass Lowell (#5 in 2020, #3 on average).
So my brain says to pay attention to the best of the polls, and the RCP averages.
But my gut says to tweak that data , to take into account what I feel confident about, even though I can’t put any numbers to it.
For example, I know that the Dems have been metaphysically horrible over the last two years. They’ve screwed up foreign policy, domestic policy, the border, the economy, and covid response. Biden is dead, Que Mala is brain dead, Mayor Pete likes dudes but is lousy at his job, Kewpie Doll KJP likes chicks but is lousy at her job.
The entire Dem leadership is a drunken Halloween party gone terribly wrong: a Mummy (Pelosi), an Indian (#wemustneverstopmockingher), a guy in drag (“Admiral” Rachel/Richard Levine) a Valley Girl cheerleader (AOC), the Creature from the African-American Lagoon (Maxine Waters), Lurch (Kerry), drunk uncle (Schumer), Sea Biscuit (Hillary), the Thing (Jerry Nadler), a human whoopie cushion (Eric Swallwell), the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse (the Squad), and Michael Strahan in drag (Stacy Abrams).
So these people cannot (please God!) hold on to either house of Congress.
Also, I’m not convinced that all of the GOP momentum in the last several weeks is what the pundits say it is: a significant shift in public opinion, right at the end. Their candidates have been bad all along, and the state of the nation now is only slightly worse than it was in the spring and summer.
So my gut tells me that the latest polls are finally beginning to show a more accurate version of reality, mostly because a poll’s reliability is judged by its final numbers, rather than its numbers from earlier in the year.
In addition, late deciders generally break against the incumbent. Especially in this cycle, when virtually nothing has been an October-surprise-style news story that worked in Dems’ favor, I would expect a significant GOP advantage in late-breakers.
Finally, while the accuracy of polls has been questionable at best, they’ve been consistent in one way: they’ve always erred in favor of Dems. I recently read that on average, polls have given Dems 3-4 points more than they actually got in recent elections.
So my hunch is that I should add 3-4 points in most races to the GOP contender. If that hunch is accurate, then the neck-and-neck races are actually GOP wins, and the slightly trailing GOP contenders might actually be neck-and-neck.
While I don’t have a crystal ball, I do have my crystal brain (hat tip to Adam Carolla) and my purple-felt-embossed-with-gold-stars wizard hat, which I’ve retrieved from its bullet-proof Lucite case just for this occasion.
As soon as I lowered the wizard hat onto my head, the mists parted, and I realized that my gut is more optimistic than my brain. So here are my slightly bi-polar predictions:
Brain – GOP ends up with 53 seats; Gut – GOP gets 55 or even 56.
GA and PA – Walker and Oz are mediocre candidates, but Warnock and Fetterman are worse
OH, NC and FL – once GOP leaners are now comfortably Red
NV and WI – once tight races are now R + 2-3
NH, AZ and WA – formerly long-shots, Bolduc and McMasters are only down 1, and Smiley is only down 3. If the polls are off by 2-3, two of these three races – possibly all 3! — could all break our way.
RCP gives a range of between 14 – 48 GOP pick-ups, which is a comically large spread. It’s like saying, “Next year we’ll earn between $100 and $1 million.”
Considering that the Dems are throwing money into what should be deep blue districts, and the GOP is too, it doesn’t make sense that the wave won’t at least double the low-end estimate.
Brain – we pick up 34 seats; Gut – we pick up 40
Brain – GOP picks up 3 seats; Gut – we pick up 5, and possibly even 6 or 7
Kemp stomps Abrams in GA, DeSantis drives all before him in FL, Abbott savors the lamentations of the Beta male in TX.
Lake (AZ), Michels (WI) and Lombardo (NV) win by more than the narrow margins that RCP has for them.
RCP has Whitmer winning by 4 in MI and Hochul winning by 6 in NY, but the former is the Wicked Witch of the Mid-West, and the latter is the Wicked Witch of the Northeast, and my gut tells me that we may just drop a house on both of them.
RCP has Grisham (D) in NM and Walz (D) in MN both up by 4. But if my adjustment of adding 3-4 to most GOP candidates’ totals is accurate, my gut says we’ve got a puncher’s chance.
Okay folks, it’s time to cowboy up, and prove my gut right.
Get out there and vote!
It’s been a long, dark night of the soul, but tomorrow the dawn can begin to break.