Labor Day has come and gone which means Americans and Idahoans are about to be assaulted with a barrage of polls all breathlessly reported by a media fixated on the “horse race” viewpoint. Unfortunately, polls in recent years have become less reliable because turnout of eligible voters is becoming tougher to project.
Two recent examples should serve as cautionary flags. Most major polls in the U.S. and Canada predicted Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper would keep his ten-year hold on the office. Wrong. He was clobbered by young Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau.
In Great Britain most pollsters predicted the British people would vote to remain in the European Union----the so-called Brixit vote. Wrong again.
In each case there was a significant increase in voter turnout which pollsters failed to capture.
The media makes much about head to head races because they are easy to gauge. Inevitably they fail to report that it could be totally irrelevant if there is a surge of new voters previously eligible but who have not voted before.
For example, we’ve all seen poll reporting hat shows Donald Trump with as little as 1% of the African/American vote, or only 20% of the important Hispanic vote. Then a reporter will pontificate, stating that Mitt Romney received 40% of the Hispanic vote and Trump will have to do as well as Romney. Wrong.
A surge in turnout could overwhelm either of those minority numbers.
This is why a well-organized campaign is built around identifying your voters and getting them to the polls on election day, or verifying that they have mailed in their ballot. Professionals will tell one it truly is all about turnout.
The perspective one must keep in mind is this: there are approximately 250 million eligible voters but only a little more than half actually are registered and vote. Of late, even in presidential years, the turnout has been around 50%. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, during the primary season drew a number of new voters from that eligible to vote but never voted pool.
If he continues to draw more of the disgruntled but never voted crowd he wins going away. So keep an eye on turnout predictions, not horse races.
Some other items to watch include the difficulty of matching the polling pool with the actual voting pool. The advent and explosive increase in cell phone usage has made it difficult for pollsters to get a handle on the under 50 years of age voter.
Historically, pollsters could call folks on land-line phones and could purchase lists of perfect voters, usually referred to as “four for fours” (meaning they voted in the last four elections in a row including school levies).
As most know, young people purchase a cell phone or pad, select a number with the area code of the point of sale and the number stays with them even as they move from one telephone area code to another.
Additionally, pollsters are admitting it is taking more time to obtain the response mix that reflects the area they are polling because more people are refusing to participate. Even more worrisome is the number of respondents who outright lie about their party, or age, or income or whether they are registered.
Polls one should always dismiss are the Interactive Voice Response (IVR’s) ones, often utilized by television news departments and some newspapers. An IVR also means one is talking to a computer.
Recently, the Idaho Democratic Party underwrote a poll for one of the north Idaho legislative districts. Its conclusions were totally off-base because of the skewed demographics.
For example, the usual gender split is 51% women, 49% men. This one was 58% women. Of the 403 respondents, the 50 plus age group represented 93% of the respondents, which tells one they could not come up with a proportional breakdown of the under 50 voters. Thus, it came as no surprise that they had only called folks with landline phones.
Older voters of course tend to be more conservative, more regular church attendees, and more Republican. This particular district has a 10 to 1 Republican registration lead. The IVR computer pretty much just called Republican voters.
The poll was a total waste of money. It should serve as an object lesson for all voters.