The election will be a referendum on the economy. Why pretend otherwise?
Polls have let Americans down during the past few election cycles.
From the collective shock induced by the surprise election of Donald Trump, to the 27 out of 27 toss-up races in 2020 which Republicans won, pollsters missing the mark has become part of the political landscape.
These missed polling predictions run in one direction: Many times, a Democrat is predicted to win and loses, or wins on a far narrower margin; almost never is a Republican predicted to win who then loses.
Republicans are consistently outperforming polling numbers; Democrats are consistently underperforming against polling numbers.
Theories for this phenomenon differ from intentional voter suppression (“See, your candidate has no chance of winning, so why bother voting/donating/volunteering?”) to good faith errors.
“Polls may underestimate Republican support,” warned Tim Swarens in USA TODAY this morning.
“The pollsters I’ve worked with over the years are smart professionals who take their craft seriously,” Swarens wrote. “They want to get the numbers right — and have strong financial incentives to do so. Even so, pollsters badly undercounted Republican voters ahead of the 2016 and 2020 elections, and there’s reason to think it could happen again this year.”
Most experts in the industry- of the less cynical variety, anyway- chalk bad polling up to systemic, seismic problems with modern polling methods.
Namely, once land lines were replaced by social media and cell phones, pollsters lost their last, best chance at a genuine random sampling of respondents. Since not everyone is active on the internet, and only 1 in 5 Americans use Twitter, online polling misses whole swaths of the population.
The people pollsters most want to talk to- the elusive types- take 10, 20, or even 50 calls to reach. That takes a tremendous investment of money and human resources; whereas, social media users willing to sound-off in a poll are a dime a dozen.
The whole problem with failed modern polling methods and inaccurate polls is compounded by the fact that even in its heyday, polling had a major inherent, inescapable limitation at its very heart:
Polls can only sample people willing to be polled.
That isn’t everyone.
Some people don’t really care to give their opinion to a total stranger, thank you very much, and perhaps find the asker impertinent. Unlike some professional journalists, they do not consider this a failure in civic duty.
Some of the poll-avoidant don’t trust the person on the other end of the line, and therefore, might not care to give their honest opinion.
With trust in media outlets holding steady at historic lows, it’s no wonder pollsters- who are often affiliated with media companies- would encounter a certain level of rising resistance.
Still other people just don’t care enough about the subject being polled to bother; which brings up another major problem with polling.
Those who have strong opinions on the subject being polled, positive or negative, are more likely to answer in polls. This, naturally, skews the results of polls and creates a blind spot for moderate voters.
Understanding these inherent problems with polling, new and foundational, it gets a bit easier to read between the polls.
It isn’t as if polls aren’t useful: They can be very useful.
For instance, Democrats should be using the polls right now to internalize one central message: Voters are desperately, madly, deeply, concerned about inflation and the economy this election cycle. No more focus groups are needed, no more political analysts need weigh-in: Voters care about the economy.
The country is fairly evenly polarized at the moment, a fact which even ordinarily should scare liberal-leaning media outlets out of their wits. Republicans managed to garner their current level of support in the polls in spite of a heavy barrage of negative and unfavorable news coverage.
The fact that so many respondents in polls- far and away, in some cases upward of 80%- are listing economic concerns as their biggest issue this election cycle should give progressive media personalities and elected Democrats a long pause.
80% of people in America don’t agree about anything. Even 80% of people willing to be polled don’t agree about anything.
The fact that they do is a flashing neon sign not even pollsters can miss: Whatever their political persuasion, whether they watch FOX News or MSNBC, concern about the economy and inflation is the tie that binds.
“Democrats’ midterm hopes fade: ‘We peaked a little early,’” wrote David Siders for POLITICO on October 17. “Fresh polling suggests Republicans are gaining with voters, particularly women, in the final weeks of the midterm election.”
Republicans are gaining with women voters for the same reason they are suddenly able to connect with other working-class demographics: Democrats won’t talk about the economy; Republicans won’t shut up about it.
Nor are Republicans likely to change the subject between now and election day, or allow vulnerable Democrats running in swing districts to do so.
Democrats must demonstrate an urgent commitment to saving the economy- not in five years or ten when the transition to clean energy is complete- now.
Now- while the majority of electricity in the U.S. is still being generated by burning fossil fuels and we are cozier with foreign oil dictatorships than we’d like to be, and not quite as cozy as we’d rather be.
Unless and until the Democratic Party tackles this issue- without resorting to questionable lines of reasoning like Stacey Abrams’ recent attempt to spin abortion as a tool to fight inflation- the downward slide will continue all the way to Election Day.