Monday, May 22, 2017

Interview: Considering 2016, will polls in 2020 be taken seriously? Charlie Cook explains.

This is the fourth of five articles spanning my discussion with Charlie Cook. The firstsecond, and third parts are available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
"Like I've said before .... polls are only good for strippers and cross-country skiers," Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told ex-Fox News host Bill O'Reilly two days before last year’s presidential election.
While I have criticized her more than a fair bit during years gone by, it is undeniable that she turned out to be a sage among pundits. (Read more here)
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Joseph Ford Cotto: Considering what happened last year, is it likely that, during 2020, polls will find less credibility among the media and general public?

Charlie Cook: First, the definition of media has changed.  When I was growing up, “the media” meant ABC, CBS, NBC and their local affiliates, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report and various national, regional and local newspapers.  Today it includes a myriad of websites and news organizations, some news oriented, some opinion oriented, cable television networks, radio talk shows, social media and fake news.  

The advent of cable TV and radio talk shows have introduced far more opinion rather than straight news to the point that now, many people, particularly young people, do not appreciate that there is a difference between news and opinion.  I might add that some journalists may have lost that distinction as well.  But this was going on long before November 2016.  In terms of the election, most people see it as nearly everyone “missed” this outcome.  Indeed key figures in Trump’s campaign were insisting that he still “could” win, but privately didn’t expect that that would happen, all the way to the end.

Cotto: While it is obviously too early to say precisely what will become of polling in 2020, no shortage of pundits and politicians have resumed fawning over new numbers. What should they take away from last year's lesson in reliable election forecasting?

Cook: That elections are about human behavior and that humans by their very nature, tend to be unpredictable.  Second, that polls are snapshots in time and if events occur after polls are conducted, the election outcome can be different than how the polls suggested.  But also, as previously discussed, telemarketers and technology have simply made polls less reliable than they were a generation ago.

Cotto: Perhaps the most-castigated of all polls from the 2016 election was the one USC Dornsife conducted for the LA Times. It turned out to be one of the only surveys which forecast Trump's victory. How did this poll differ from nearly all others?
Cook: Ha!  Since national polls are designed to replicate what the national popular vote, a poll like the USC/LA Times Poll showing Donald Trump winning the popular vote would pretty much be the poll that missed things by more than anyone else.  Going into Election Day that poll had Trump ahead by 3.2 percentage points, thus 5.3 points off the final result, would likely be among the most inaccurate polls of 2016. I am unaware of any respected pollster or political analyst that respects the USC Dornlife/LA Times poll and doubt if there will be many replicating their model in 2020.


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