Word of advice to Republicans “and” Democrats – follow the polls, but trust your gut. Because for the second national election in a row, a lot of those polls were off.
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Actually, they were significantly off. Democrats are now finding out the hard way, that a lot of their hard data just wasn’t accurately breaking their way. They missed huge voter swings to the right in virtually all battleground states, and even Virginia, where the Senate contest wasn’t even considered close and that Democrat Mark Warner all but had it in the bag. As of this writing, it is still officially too close to call.
From Arkansas to Georgia and Kansas to Florida, major pollsters now have major egg on their face. It’s not so much they missed the call; they missed the wave.
Sound familiar? It was the same thing two years ago, when Mitt Romney’s supposedly brilliant ground troop readers totally misread basic math. They were so convinced major polling organizations were under-counting Republican voters that they ended up ironically under-counting Democrats.
National pollsters weren’t a whole lot different. While they didn’t provide nearly the comfort Republicans’ early polling data was giving the Romney camp, they did show a contest that was too close to call.
It was close, but not THAT close. Beyond the measure for the President two years ago. And beyond any doubt for Republicans today. What’s most striking in each case is how the media, Fox included two years ago, comfortably reported what they saw as accepted wisdom.
It’s difficult to accurately poll close contests. But increasingly it’s become a disturbing pattern in what we seem to think are close elections. Such elections often pivot, and even now, pollsters fail to catch the last-minute movement.
None of this is meant to disparage pollsters, whose work is pretty tough, and whose methodology is pretty involved. But both this election year and the last election year prove we’re missing something – what Ronald Reagan famously called the wave no one sees. In his case, it was a wave that happened little more than 48 hours prior to the 1980 presidential election. Remember polls were virtually dead even going into that final weekend. But something broke nationwide, and a contest was suddenly turning into a rout.
Most pollsters redesigned their samplings to reflect late-voting shifts. But not all. And clearly, not at all well.
All of this means politicians shouldn’t ignore polls, but they shouldn’t entirely count on them either. If history proves anything, it’s that election day is everything. And the only thing. Just ask Republicans today who are celebrating that fact.
And Democrats and a certain President, who are damning it.