Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Ethos of Populism

       One of the most boring aspects of political science is polling. This coma inducing aspect of electoral politics is why I much preferred political philosophy and international relations back in my college days. The Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump campaign is my fourth presidential campaign to cover as a blogger, and in all that time, I have typically avoided talking about polls in any way other than a quick post at some point to explain why I do not write about polls. I absolutely, positively, beyond any question, despise poll watching. So you can imagine the pain involved in composing the following paragraphs.
       For full disclosure, I believe Clinton will win. I do not believe she will defeat trump by a double digit margin as some predict. I expect a difference of five or five percentage points between the two candidate. My prediction of the narrower margin involve the race tightening in the sixteen days remaining until the election. In fact, I think the media's talk of Clinton inevitability now is a way of making the home stretch poll numbers tightening more dramatic. An exciting race, with a possible come from behind win, is a good way to get eyeballs glued to your newscasts. But I will be enormously surprised if Trump wins.
       But what if he can? It would mean virtually every reliable polling service in the country got it wrong. There would have to be some underlying factor everyone missed. If such a factor exists, it is most likely an unforeseen surge of people who do not usually vote going to the polls. Such voters would likely be motivated by a populist wave of anger against the establishment. If this indeed happens, Trump would certainly be the benefactor.
       There is precedent, albeit from the United Kingdom. The public bodies of the United Kingdom and the United States ay not be particularly comparable, but there is a common thread of working class voters motivated by anger in this summer’s brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the presidential vote in the United States. What may be another parallel is polls did not predict the working class uprising that caused Brexit o unexpectedly pass pass. In fact, only two out of nine national polls predicted the United Kingdom would exit the European Union.
       British pollsters blew it because they relied on the usual models of polling likely voters without realizing there would be large numbers of people who do not normally vote headed for the polls. These voters felt a thought they received no benefit from membership in the European Union. These voters were enough t pass the Brexit by a comfortable 52%-48%. Even the exit polls got it wrong. Brexit champion Nigel Farage even acknowledged at midday on the day of the referendum Brexit appeared headed for defeat. It was difficult to know until all the votes were counted.
       So is the presidential race headed for a similar unexpected result on November 8th? Maybe. Mentioned above the possibility of unlikely voters opting to join in this election out of populist anger against the powers that be. It would have to be a significant number, but not necessarily the fabled “Silent Majority” speculated upon every election. There is also an unusually high number of undecided voters who could break either way or,--more likely—stay home. This is a big point. Both Clinton and Trump are extremely disliked and scandal-plagued. The lack of voter enthusiasm for either might lower turnout to the point all bets are off.
    On the more conspiratorial side, the Libertarian and Green candidate, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, are polling between 7%-12% nationally. The Libertarian and green party have never earned more than 2% combined in any presidential election. Johnson and Stein's numbers are inflated. Where will the vast majority of their alleged support ultimately go?
     I have a difficult time believing we are about to have a Dewey Defeats Truman result. The media would not risk its credibility simply because those who work in the profession favor Clinton personally. But they have done such on a smaller scale. Clinton was projected by every news outlet to blow Bernie Sanders out the water by 20 points or more in the Michigan primary. Sanders won 50%-48%. so this incredibly surprising election may still have another shocker to present on election day.

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