I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, but “biased for the Democrats” has generally not been one of them.
But that’s what I and other pollsters were labeled following Tuesday’s elections by statistical gurus such as Nate Silver of ESPN.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of Nate Silver? Well, don’t worry; neither has 99 percent of America. The other 1 percent probably relied on his lousy statistical forecast and bet that Brazil would win the World Cup earlier this year. (They got routed.)
But Nate is right. Pollsters, in general, got 2014 wrong. My firm, InsiderAdvantage, polled only Georgia. Our final poll had the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, David Perdue, leading the race 48 percent to 45 percent over the Democrat, with the rest either undecided or going to the Libertarian candidate. But darn it, we just couldn’t force the undecided voters to tell us how they would vote!
Of course, we nailed it on who was in the lead. And our polls showed the Democrat fading fast. But if we had just put the screws to the undecideds we polled, we might have been able to extract enough data to realize the magnitude of what was about to happen.
That meant on Election Day, when Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, lost to Perdue by a 53-percent-to-45-percent margin, our firm, along with all other pollsters, were forced to walk the political plank and atone for our sin of not nailing the race down to the very percentage point.
Silver is indeed right. Most pollsters polled with a Democratic “bias” this year. But his argument is slightly less sinister than one might imagine. He doesn’t accuse us of being partisan or “cooking” our numbers. What he is really saying is that, for whatever reason, the voter turnout models that we used to weight our polls were too favorable to groups that would tend to support Democrats. Not to mention his belief that some of us are incompetent.
But I sort of want to thank Nate. He and the gaggle of liberal journalists who are sniping at pollsters have helped take away the final vestige of suspicion with regard to our firm’s and other pollsters’ ability to be objective. With me having been a Republican elected official who chaired state and national campaigns for the likes of Newt Gingrich, it seemed like it would take a lifetime for some in the media to stop treating me as an escaped GOP convict turned pollster/analyst.
So in answer to those who wonder why companies like mine were only close to being right, instead of being dead on, here is my answer.
The American people cannot stand Barack Obama. They dislike his policies. They dislike his “above it all” demeanor. And they rose out of their chairs and off their couches and came out in droves to defeat anyone who they thought was even remotely supportive of him or his administration.
Yep, I was one of those dumb pollster/analysts who thought that no president in a midterm election could possibly be as big of a drag on candidates as was Obama. But I was wrong. He wasn’t just a drag; he was his own voter turnout machine for Republicans.
The fact is that too many Americans wanted to vote to make it clear that the emperor has no clothes. And they did so. After all, the polls had shown that they are unhappy about Obamacare, Ebola, the IRS, ISIS — you name it. And it wasn’t a matter of frustration with “all politicians,” as some in the media tried to spin it. It was the president and his policies. Period.
And so they raced to the polls in mass numbers and decided that they would do whatever they could to rescue their nation before it was regulated and red-taped to death.
As for the technicalities of polling and all of its problems, that’s for the next generation to figure out. As I wing my way back to my home in Florida, polling is hardly a concern of mine. Like my friend and colleague Brad Coker of the polling firm Mason-Dixon put it, we have other lives, and besides, we care more about college football right now.
I’ll even take Mr. Silver’s predictions into account when it comes to the NCAA football championship playoffs.
See, Nate? I’m not as biased or as stupid as you think!
Matt Towery is author of the book “Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency.” He has served as an elected official, has advised major national campaigns and heads a non-partisan polling and media company. He is also publisher of the Washington-based Southern Political Report, the nation’s oldest active political newsletter. Follow him on Twitter: @matttowery. To find out more about Matt Towery and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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