Good Friday Morning! About four years ago, I wrote a social media post on how worldwide elections leading up to the 2016 election suggested that polls underestimated conservative strength in elections. As we’re marching towards 2020, other global elections are happening, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re being set up for a similar result again. I’ll get into that more below, links to follow.
One quick note before jumping in:
Ed Whelan posted a story on National Review that deserves highlighting: Liberal About-Face on Overruling Precedent. I wrote a column, linked below, on how the left had a full-blown meltdown over abortion in a 5-4 case on stare decisis concerning qualified immunity for states — nothing to do with abortion. Ed notes that one week later, the liberal bloc voted to overturn a more than 100-year-old precedent with no melodramatic hyperventilating over what overruling stare decisis meant for the court as an institution. Breyer’s dissent was just flat dishonest and purposely designed to kick up a media storm.
Where you can find me this week
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There was a full meltdown among the legal left when the liberal bloc of the Supreme Court penned a dissent saying the conservative wing of the court was disregarding precedent. Everyone took that dissent to mean the abortion cases were next in line. The complete meltdown was absurd.
Harvard decided to fire one of its deans for providing legal representation of Harvey Weinstein after student protest. The lawyer they fired has helped more than 6,000 falsely accused people to get free. It’s another wrong move by the Ivy elites.
Are we witnessing another 2016-like electoral setup?
To start this section, I need you to turn back the clock and go back in time with me to May of 2015, before Trump, before Brexit, and before I was even writing here. That’s approximately 1,000 years in news-cycle-years.
Walking into 2016, no one knew what would take place in 2016, but there was a reason to be reasonably confident in conservatives winning the White House and other races. And that conventional wisdom was based on growing trendlines across the world. In May of 2015, conservatives in the UK won landslide elections. I wrote the following on Facebook:
Nate Silver had an interesting observation while watching the landslide election for the conservative Tory party in the UK last night: this is the 4th large election recently where pollsters have seriously missed the mark on election results. Polls seriously overstated the independence movement in UK, they underestimated the GOP’s strength in the 2014 midterms, they underestimated Bibi’s strength in Israel, and polls missed Tories wiping the floor with the Labor party and liberal democrats (to quote a reporter on the ground last night: labor wasn’t getting killed in some districts, it was actually far worse than that).
Theoretically this could be a statistical fluke, though 4 large data points with a wealth of data, from a variety of sources, and a very wide miss in each case suggests this is unlikely. These 4 data points suggest a few things to me:
- We are currently at a point where polls are not reflecting an accurate picture of what is driving voters to the polls. Particularly races which are supposed to be close.
- The cause of this is currently unknown. Landline phone polling is still considered more accurate, but it’s also the hardest to get a sample for since fewer people answer a polling firm’s questions. The internet has not provided an accurate solution to this yet.
- The 4 data point misses have occurred when more conservative than not parties/issues have made large gains. The polls have tended to skew, at the end of an election cycle, towards the middle (50/50 split) instead of reflecting gains by these groups (Silver says it has to be more than poll herding, and I’d agree). This tends to suggest to me that conservative voters are becoming more difficult to accurately reflect in a polling sample. I wouldn’t go so far to suggest bias at this point since nearly all polling firms, bias or no, have reflected this same issue (in other words, conservative polling firms are reflecting the same types of misses as neutral/liberal polling firms).
- Election misses suggest there could also be problems in issue polling, on both domestic and international issues. Basically, the same problems pollsters are having reflect public opinion on politicians should be affecting public sentiment on policies set by politicians. Although I haven’t seen it suggested yet, that could mean the margin of error is larger in issue polls due to bad/unreliable methodology being used by polling firms. Hard to imagine them getting it wrong on politicians but right on issues (especially since issue wording is much more important).
2016 will be the next large test for the accuracy of polling. Should be interesting to see if polling firms start adjusting their methodology.
I can’t say that polling firms adjusted their methodology, but I can say two monster elections happened that confirmed that general trend line: Brexit in June of 2016 and Donald Trump winning in November of 2016.
So far, we have three major data points since then: the 2017 snap elections held by Theresa May (Labour [liberals]) won), the 2018 US midterm elections (Democrats won), 2019 Israeli Elections (Netayanhu and right won), and Australian elections (conservatives with surprise win). If you’re counting, that means both sides have won two elections apiece, with the two biggest surprises being the right winning in Israel and Australia.
Nate Silver had helpful observations on the Australian elections:
Stop me if this one sounds familiar.
Polls showed the conservative-led coalition trailing the Australian Labor Party approximately 51-49 in the two-party preferred vote. Instead, the conservatives won 51-49. That’s a relatively small miss: The conservatives trailed by 2 points in the polls, and instead they won by 2, making for a 4-point error. The miss was right in line with the average error from past Australian elections, which has averaged about 5 points. Given that track record, the conservatives had somewhere around a 1 in 3 chance of winning.
So the Australian media took this in stride, right? Of course not. Instead, the election was characterized as a “massive polling failure” and a “shock result”.
When journalists say stuff like that in an election after polls were so close, they’re telling on themselves. They’re revealing, like their American counterparts after 2016, that they aren’t particularly numerate and didn’t really understand what the polls said in the first place. They may also be signaling, as in the case of Brexit in 2016, their cosmopolitan bias; the Australian election, which emphasized climate change, had a strong urban-rural split.
Dig in deeper, and you can find things to criticize in the polls. In particular, they showed signs of herding: all the polls showed almost exactly the same result in a way that’s statistically implausible. If Labor was ahead by only 2 points, a few polls should have shown conservatives winning just by chance alone because of sampling error.
What happened in Australia is the same thing that happened in 2016 in America. In Israel, as in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won re-election in pretty convincing fashion, surprising the leftist commentators across the seas.
If you take a look at the latest generic ballot polls at FiveThirtyEight, which pits a generic Republican candidate versus a Democratic one, Democrats hold between a 5-7 point edge. That’s lower than what they had going into the midterms, and well within striking distance for polling error (Democrats always have an advantage on the generic ballot).
The polls are never “right” when it comes to elections. They forever tilt one direction or the other, even within the averages. And the problem Silver describes of herding still happens with pollsters nudging their results at the end to fall in line with the conventional polling wisdom. Everyone would rather be wrong in the right direction than an outlier.
Where does that take us?
My general belief is that these results are telling us that countries split along a left-right axis are far closer right now to 50-50 than conventional wisdom suggests. And that it’s likely when it gets close to election time that the polls will start getting closer as people start “going home” to their party.
I pointed out a few weeks ago that while Democrats won the midterms, the far-left progressives they ran in purple or red states all lost (think Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Beto in Texas). Joe Biden is the clear front runner right now, with Bernie Sanders taking up second place.
In a close election, you generally want a more electable candidate. Of the two of them, Biden is the more electable candidate. Bernie is so thoroughly crazy/socialist that he’d drive people away or to Trump. And the clear lesson from 2018 is that a radical progressive like Bernie, when forced to run anywhere but deep blue areas, will underperform/lose.
2018 had a similar lesson for Elizabeth Warren, while she easily won re-election, she underperformed Hilary Clinton in the process in Massachusetts. Repeat after me: outside of Barack Obama, far-left progressives do not win general elections.
In Australia, the left made the election about climate change. No one — and I do mean no one — has won a vote on climate change. No one cares about it in an election — not even liberals. Liberals in Israel couldn’t counter Netanyahu’s defense and security platform when Hamas was trying to kill Israelis.
If Trump is going to win, he needs Democrats to nominate a radical — OR — Trump needs a more moderate candidate to appear radical by spinning them up in news cycles that pander to progressives. The way to get establishment Democrats to seem more extreme right now is to get them out in the open on two items: 1) Abortion, and 2) Impeachment. Right now, Trump is focused on the second option.
Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Joe Biden wants impeachment to swamp the 2020 election. But I do believe the Democratic base wants impeachment proceedings, and they’ll push for it until they get it, which will be a wedge between the base and the establishment. If Biden gets caught up in having to talk about impeaching Trump and supporting the radical left, it’ll damage his credibility as the “return to normalcy” candidate.
Biden’s path to winning is simple: make it a general election, with a generic news cycle, and beat Trump running a smooth campaign with as few bumps as possible. Trump’s philosophy is the polar opposite. Trump needs a radical or perceived radical. Impeachment and abortion shift the playing field to Trump.
Things to watch: Any UK elections after Theresa May’s departure, the French EU elections (which show Macron losing to the far-right Le Pen), and finally, watch and see how Brexit shakes out in Europe towards the end of the year. If more data points show a split field or another tilt towards one party, then adjust accordingly for 2020.
Links of the week
Why I am not Pro-Life – Professor X, Symposia Magazine
America’s Cities Are Unlivable. Blame Wealthy Liberals. – Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times
Back Row America – Chris Arnade, First Things Magazine
Bernie Sanders Wants to Destroy the Best Schools Poor Urban Kids Have – Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine
Bernie Sanders flips off urban minority kids – Rich Lowry, The New York Post
Socialism Is Not Democratic: Nor is it compatible with the Constitution – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
This Environmentalist Says Only Nuclear Power Can Save Us Now: Michael Shellenberger believes the Green New Deal’s focus on wind and solar is a waste of time and money. – Zach Weissmueller, Reason Magazine
A Lesson for Democrats in Australia’s ‘Climate Change Election’: Social desirability bias. – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
NPR’s Abortion Rules – Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review
The Supreme Court Should Take Up NR v. Mann, and Vindicate Free Speech – The Editors, National Review
How ‘Endgame’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ bring us together – John Podhoretz, The New York Post
Herman Wouk: the novelist who spoke for post-war America – Jonathan S. Tobin, The New York Post
Was It an Invisible Attack on U.S. Diplomats, or Something Stranger?: An “unknown energy source” has been blamed for debilitating symptoms suffered by Americans posted in Cuba. The real cause may be more surprising. – Dan Hurley, New York Times Magazine
Twitter Thread of the week
Satire piece of the week
People will go to extreme lengths to avoid spoilers. They’ll avoid friends. They’ll completely avoid social media. And one man neglected to do his one and only job for eight years.
Writer George R. R. Martin is a huge fan of the show Game of Thrones. He had just one problem: The show was based on the A Song of Ice and Fire book series that he was writing. “I really enjoyed the show,” Martin explained. “The cast. The acting. The cinematography. And let me tell you, there’s a huge difference between writing the sentence ‘There were lots of naked ladies’ and seeing it on screen. The only problem was that nothing ever surprised me.”
Martin just couldn’t enjoy the series as much as everyone else because he already knew every twist and turn from having read and reread every chapter of the existing books over and over in his lengthy, lengthy, lengthy, lengthy writing process. But then Martin had a brilliant idea: Don’t finish writing the book series so the last few seasons of the show would be a surprise.
Thanks for reading!