Friday, January 11, 2008

Can Polls Be Trusted?

If there is one thing the New Hampshire primary should have taught us all is that polls are unreliable, especially this year. There are too many dynamics at play that cannot be gleaned from simple raw data. I have said from the outset that polls will be ineffective because by their nature they are ineffectual for determining what a person is really thinking. The trouble with America today is that we are having a crisis of honesty. Many of us want to pretend we are somebody we are not. How many of us are willing to admit what is going on in the deep recesses of our minds and hearts? Too many of us want to be judged on what we say and not on what we do. The bottom line will be which group polled will be true to their numbers. Will all the women who say they will vote for Hillary come through or will all the whites who say they can vote for a black man come through for Obama. It will be really interesting to watch the pollsters squirm from here on out, because how can they have faith in any of their numbers?

If the poll numbers continue to not be supported by the election results, what shall we do then? Will the truth about America be exposed once again? There will be those who will find excuses for the disparity or the lack of honesty, but to those who are able to see; the truth will be “self-evident”. Anyone relying on the polls to bolster their candidate’s position in this race is just spitting in the wind. Until this thing is over all bets are off. I have read that many bloggers have questioned the methodology of the pollsters in New Hampshire. I don’t think it’s the pollsters fault or the Republican results would also have shown an anomaly. You can’t blame the pollsters if they are right on the one side and wrong on the other. Some have blamed the news media for mischaracterizing the race out of some desire to see Obama win. While there may be those who would relish writing the story of our first black nominee, this does not explain the drastic difference in opinion and reality.

There are other forces at work and we would be foolish and naïve to ignore them. If this were not so how could the pollsters have predicted McCain as the Republican winner, but were so wrong picking the Democratic winner using the same polling methods? As much as I want to believe that Hillary’s sudden surge was based on her emotional outburst that turned the tide, I think that for many New Hampshire voters when finally alone in that booth they faced a moment of truth about who they were and what they truly believed about Obama and America. I believe that this phenomenon will be repeated throughout this election process and it bodes badly for Obama and his message of hope. Sure, there will be those who will say that Hillary’s experience argument is finally getting traction with voters, but I don’t believe it.

John Zogby, who does the Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll, said the 18 percent of New Hampshire voters who reported making up their minds on Tuesday "is just an unprecedented number."

Like most polls, the last Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby survey ahead of the primary was quite near the mark for the Republican race, predicting McCain would get 36 percent to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 27. The final result was 37 to 31. But on the Democratic side, the survey predicted Obama would have 42 percent of the vote to Clinton's 29, when in fact she won narrowly.[1]

The thing that I find interesting is how everyone in the media including the pollsters is running away from the race issue. This could be a defining moment in American history and I believe it will go unreported and the reason is because America will not want to face itself in the mirror with the truth. The truth is that despite all the hype of the media, the blogosphere, and the progressives America will not vote for a black man for President. It will be reported that it was everything but that simple truth. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. It is easier to blame the pollsters than to look at what really happened. There will be those who say that was New Hampshire a rural white state, but so was Iowa. They will say that as we get to more populous states this will be a non-issue, but when it continues to happen what will you say then?

There will be those who point to Iowa as proof that I am wrong, but Iowa merely reinforces the rule by being the exception. Iowa was a caucus in which the dynamics are different than a primary. In a caucus you have a group of people in a room together, not the solitude of a voting booth which makes it a bit more difficult not to be swept up in the emotion. Iowa raised expectations to unrealistic levels and created hysteria heading into New Hampshire. The first thing I learned growing up as an athlete is never believe “the hype”. You are never as good or as bad as people say you are.

Poorer, less well-educated white people refuse surveys more often than affluent, better-educated whites. Polls generally adjust their samples for this tendency. But here’s the problem: these whites who do not respond to surveys tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews.

I’ve experienced this myself. In 1989, as a Gallup pollster, I overestimated the support for David Dinkins in his first race for New York City mayor against Rudolph Giuliani; Mr. Dinkins was elected, but with a two percentage point margin of victory, not the 15 I had predicted. I concluded, eventually, that I got it wrong not so much because respondents were lying to our interviewers but because poorer, less well-educated voters were less likely to agree to answer our questions. That was a decisive factor in my miscall.[2]

So let me get this straight, the reason for the poll error is that poor whites are not polled and so there is no way to gauge their effect on the election? This is incredible, when all else fails blame it on the poor, white folks. Everybody knows that most of them are racists anyway. By placing the blame on their doorstep, the more affluent and cosmopolitan liberals can deny their own biases. I love it. This is almost as good as the alien hacking the election essay. One of these days we will have to gain the courage to confront our fears, because until we do they will always be our nightmares.

The reason I think this is a watershed moment is because we have the opportunity for once in over 300 years to be honest with each other about race and America. We can once and for all remove the façade that has allowed so many to sleep at night content that progress is being made and that Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell prove it. Rather than run from this “inconvenient truth” we can learn from it and use it to open honest and frank discussions about those dark secrets that we hold cloaked in our liberalism. The time has come for us to recognize the truth that is America, we love our blacks so long as they are not running the free world. This isn’t about experience, it is about can we trust a black man to be the most powerful man in the world? Let’s see we can trust someone with Alzheimer’s, we can trust a “compassionate conservative”, and we can trust a crook. We can trust a womanizer, we can trust an alcoholic, and we can trust a sexual predator. But God forbid that we can trust a black man.

I know there will be those who will make the same argument for Hillary, but this isn’t that essay. This essay is about confronting the demon that so many have chosen to ignore or only comes out around like minded folks or in the solitude of a voting booth. Of course we will never know exactly who these people are and this anonymity will provide cover for all. New Hampshire is a wakeup call, I hope the rest of America is listening.


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