This is the final article in a six-part series featuring the views of Walter Block. The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth pieces are available on-line.
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
How can we tell what is going to be the next big thing in politics? For that matter, how are we able to determine what slips out of public favor?
The almighty opinion poll, of course.
When it comes to determining the outcome of elections, though, opinion polls have been walloped in recent years. Gallup notoriously flubbed the 2012 presidential election, leaving such egg on its face that it declined to partake in 2016’s festivities.
This was not enough a warning sign for the smart set, however. Like altar boys in a basilica, they placed their faith in what had been spoken. Rather than the New Testament, their gospel was printed on a sheet with decimals and percentages.
After this, brighter bulbs should have knocked off the idea that polling averages are just as good as election returns. Most surveys purported the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union by a comfortable margin. The campaign to leave ultimately triumphed by almost four points.
Nonetheless, unshakeable faith was still had in polls. Just because they were off on Brexit did not mean they would fail to call that autumn’s U.S. presidential race.
Two of the most accurate surveys from the Obama-Romney match showed Trump winning free and clear. Investor's Business Daily pegged his lead at two points while the University of Southern California gave him an estimated three-point advantage. These surveys were widely derided and laughed off as crude outliers.
Who is laughing now?
Finally, Dr. Helmut Norpoth of SUNY Stonybrook said that Trump would win. Norpoth's unique primary-based prediction system has been correct in every presidential election going back to the early 1900s. This includes 1960, for which his model forecasted Nixon emerging victorious. As any student of history knows, Chicagoland voter fraud delivered the 'victory' to JFK. Despite Norpoth's record, the chattering class largely ignored his analysis.
Today we chatter about how they did so at their own expense.
Despite having front-row seats to this election's morality play – whose ultimate message was that hubris makes for unexpected winners and sore losers – some folks still refuse to see the light.
After Clinton's loss, many disaffected Democrats alleged that had only Bernie Sanders been nominated, Trump would never find himself president-elect. Naturally, they used polls to support their perspective.
Since polls were so wrong about so many things in recent memory, who is to say that they are right when today’s issues enter consideration? What is politically possible in the public’s eye stands more uncertain than at any other time in modern history.
A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, protectionism has surged in both major parties. Now, in the age of Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory. Do libertarian Republican politics have any serious potential under Trump?
“Yes,” Dr. Walter Block tells me. He does not use numbers from Gallup or YouGov to deliver his opinion, but rather personal insight – and the man has loads of it. Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics – how is that for an accomplished title? – at Loyola University New Orleans’s J.A. Butt School of Business.
Block is also the author of Defending the Undefendable, a bestseller from 1976 which conservative journo Marcus Epstein said portrays “pimps, drug dealers, blackmailers, corrupt policemen, and loan sharks as 'economic heroes'.” In more flattering terms, John Stossel claimed it introduced him “to the beauties of libertarianism. It explains that so much of what is assumed to be evil – is not.”
As Block is an Austrian School economist with solid anarcho-capitalist cred, not to mention a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and an uncompromising individualist, it is unlikely that he cares about what the peanut gallery has to say concerning his philosophy.
“I supported Trump’s election, at least vis a vis Hillary (I favored Gary Johnson over Trump, but that is another story),” Block continues. “Why? Because I regarded Donald as the peace candidate, vis a vis Mrs. Clinton. It is difficult to do contrary to fact history. But, if it turns out that Donald is really Ron Paulian in terms of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations, then, at least to that extent, the future of our country will indeed belong to libertarians, because that is a quintessential aspect of our philosophy: the [Non-Aggression Principle] applied abroad.
“Also, the cultural Marxism of political correctness is anathema to libertarians. I think there is a good chance The Donald will keep undermining this pernicious doctrine. That, too, will incline the country in the direction of libertarianism.”
One question opinion surveys can measure, yet never provide a definitive answer to – even insofar as where the meter of public sentiment really rests – is this: During the years ahead, will America play a larger or smaller role in the global economy?
“It all depends upon which side of the bed Mr. Trump gets out of,” Block says. “A lot of this is up to him, and, given that he has been all over the map on many issues, it is difficult to prognosticate. If he raises tariffs, erects quotas and in other ways interferes with world trade, then we will, unfortunately, play a smaller role in the global economy.”
That leaves us with much to think about. Above all else, keep this old saying in mind: “Polls don’t vote, people do.” A worthwhile addendum to it goes as follows: “Polls cannot think for themselves, but people can.”