Nobody Knows Nothing

If you go here, here, here, here, here, and here, you can pretty much cover the landscape of arguments for why the polls simply can’t be trusted this year.
I’m not in the group that says McCain is secretly winning and the polls are a gigantic false-flag psy-ops program designed to discourage GOP turnout. We know, after all, that whatever the biases of various people and institutions involved, the final polls in 2004, properly understood, were highly accurate, and the 2006 polls were mostly so as well (2002, less so). Neither am I in the group that attributes potential poll inaccuracy entirely to Obama’s race – while that may well be a factor, I think there are fair arguments that run deeper to polling methodology, and I also think Obama’s inexperience, the absence of a candidate from the incumbent administration, the massive new-voter operation by the Obama camp, the Palin wildcard (this has to be the first time ever that a VP pick drew nearly the same convention speech audience as the POTUS nominees and the VP debate outdrew the POTUS debates, and now she’s delivered the biggest ratings for SNL in 14 years) and the sudden, late external shock of the credit crisis are all reasons why public sentiment may be more volatile and harder to get a fix on than usual.
Polls are not votes. They are evidence. The likely answer from the evidence we have remains that McCain is losing and likely to lose; I’m not going to cocoon myself or anyone else from that (there’s a reason why candidates who say “the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day” usually end Election Day with a concession speech). But there is more than enough uncertainty out there that I endorse wholeheartedly the view that the last thing Republicans and other McCain supporters should do is get discouraged and throw in the towel before every stop is pulled out to win this thing. You gotta be in it to win it.
UPDATE: Geraghty notes here and here the panicked frenzy of attacks he gets from the Left whenever he suggests that some polls are showing a closer race than the conventional wisdom (or the bulk of polls, for that matter). I chalk this up partly to the Online Left’s longstanding view that the winner of any argument is the person who can demonstrate the greatest degree of anger, but it’s certainly a curious phenomenon coming from people who would seem to have every reason to be confident and no particular reason to take time from their day getting angry at a conservative pundit for showing a glimmer of optimism. Unless you do buy into the view that such people really are banking very heavily on a demoralized opposition.
SECOND UPDATE: It appears that the AP poll showing Obama up only by one has a 4-point advantage for the Democrats in the party-ID breakdown. For anybody who has followed the polls this year, that’s the single biggest question: when you factor in GOTV and whether the likely-voter screens and all have or have not accurately predicted who will vote, will the party ID numbers look like 2006, when a terrible climate for Republicans still produced just a 3-point advantage in party ID for Democrats in the exit polls? Or will it be more like a double-digit advantage in party ID, figures we have not seen since the 1970s? Note that the Geraghty posts I linked to up top show very few examples of dramatic changes in party ID year to year. Even in Jay Cost’s chart of registered voter ID, the biggest swings are about 7 or 8 points in some years, 1984 and 1994 for the GOP and 1996 for the Democrats. It may well be that 2008 really will show a historic realignment away from the position the GOP held in 2006 (which was already awful, the worst Republican year in a decade), but just bear in mind that it has to be for the bulk of this year’s polls to be accurate.

14 thoughts on “Nobody Knows Nothing”

  1. Today’s AP poll shows them at 44-43. Again, like you, I’m not saying McCain is going to win, but right now, he still has a chance.
    The problem, of course, for McCain is that he needs to win states. And right now, he’s slightly behind or barely ahead in about five states and he needs to win all five of them.

  2. Please, more posts like this and lots of comments about how McCain can win this election. High comedy.
    Not only do the polls that matter show a blowout, those polls don’t have a lot of the new voters or the people without home phones, both of whom you can be sure will, as a group, favor Obama.
    Obama’s got the most impressive GOTV system ever assembled and the money to make it work. He’s got tens of thousands of volunteer attorneys getting trained to work the polls on Election Day to protect voters’ rights.
    Cultural conservatives have no enthusiasm about McCain and economic conservatives recognize that Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to manage this economy.
    Bottom line: This race is over.

  3. Of course.
    That’s why ACORN is registering Mickey Mouse 72 times in Ohio, because it’s already over. That’s why Rendell is begging Obama to return to PA, because it’s over. That’s why McCain is now back up 2 in FLA, because it’s over. That’s why Palin outdraws the Stones to a stadium, because it’s over.
    You know the last time I heard that it’s over? 2004.
    Relax, your boy is ahead & should win. Even among the polls that don’t matter (ahem).

    economic conservatives recognize that Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to manage this economy.

    I bet you actually believe that one and your wife, Morgan Fairchild, agrees. [eyeroll]
    I do love it when lefties – who cannot be counted on to take care of themselves – tell us what we’re thinking.

  4. If you think Palin/Fey are delivering the biggest SNL ratings in years because people LIKE her you are wildly, wildly off-base.

  5. Crank-
    Love your site. But I think the expression from William Goldman is “Nobody Knows Anything.”

  6. As in the last two presidential elections, the winner will be the one who wins two out of the Big Three (PA, OH, FL). The rest of the states are just a distraction. Obama should stay focused on those states.

  7. Leftists always trot out this line about cellphone-only voters not being contacted by polls…
    1) Some polls do call cellphones, some don’t.
    2) Pollsters have conducted studies and have found that there is no statistically significant difference between polls that include cellphone users and those that don’t.
    The fact is that the polls all control for age groups, demographics and party ID. To make up a super-simplified example, if 50% of people under 30 were cellphone-only, and nobody else had a cellphone, the pollsters would simply double the results they got from those under-30 (assuming they weren’t already calling cellphone users).
    Of course, in reality, it’s much more complicated. Each poll weights differently. Personally, I think that the biggest problem is that a lot of state polls are trying to match party ID with REGISTERED party ID. The problem is that some states that had primaries late in the cycle were in full Obama-Clinton smackdown mode, and the Republican primaries were over. Tons of independents and Republicans switched to Democratic registration so they could have a say. Almost none have switched back. These voters, when called by a pollster, will still consider themselves independents & republicans. Remember, pollsters generally don’t ask “Which party are you registered with”, they ask “which party do you identify yourself with.” I think this has a huge effect of inflating Obama’s numbers in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. This would not have an effect in states where the Republican primaries were in full swing (such as Florida). I think this explains the odd results we are seeing now where McCain is doing better in Florida than North Carolina. That makes no sense to me. And I think the explanation are the primary voter registration flips.

  8. Patrick, you trying to cheer me up? Because my current assumption is that McCain can very easily win OH & FL and lose the election in CO & VA.

  9. Yeah, the “win 2 of 3 and you win” thing only works for Obama. But if McCain can win all three of OH, PA and FL, then he’s probably got the election won. He can then drop Colorado AND Virginia and stlil be okay.

  10. If you think Palin/Fey are delivering the biggest SNL ratings in years because people LIKE her you are wildly, wildly off-base.

    Right. I know I go out of my way to stay up later & watch someone I can’t stand. All the womanizers out there make sure to cancel their dates so that they can tune into Queer Eye because they’re awaiting the trainwreck (you were going with THAT talking point, weren’t you?) that’s sure to occur. Every good ol’ boy’s CD collection: Dixie Chicks. Why? Because they dislike them.

    If McCain wins PA (doubtful, but doable) everyone can go to bed early.

  11. True, Obama can win without winning the 2 out of 3 — (just add NH or any other state to Al Gore’s results), but he can also lose (see Al Gore’s results). Don’t get me wrong — he’s looking good. But I would recommend staying focused on those big three.

  12. RW, as usual you are in the minority. If you think the audience of SNL is more heavily weighted toward Palin supporters than Palin-I want to see her embarrass herself-ers then you are deluded.

  13. If you think the audience of SNL is more heavily weighted toward Palin supporters

    Why, exactly, did you decide to change the context? Was it because I made a good point, because you misread, because you just felt like it, because you didn’t disagree or because dishonesty is the order of the day.
    No one said that the majority of the SNL audience was weighted toward Palin supporters. ‘cept you, of course.
    Look at it this way: if the Milwaukee Bucks average 15,000 fans for their home games, but the stands swell to 18,500 when the Cavs & Lakers visit, it doesn’t mean that the majority are rooting against the home team.
    However, it could plausibly be stated that Lebron & Kobe brought in more fans than usual.

    RW, as usual you are in the minority.

    Only if the audience is prominently comprised of those who failed basic mathematics (and reading comprehension). You can disagree with my opinion, but it would be more honorable if you didn’t distort it.
    After all, it causes me to ask why you felt the need to do so.

  14. I can’t wait to see these illuminati Obama supporters come back to your website after he is elected and everything comes tumbling down. Obama is a puppet. He is a puppet the democrats are using to lure the public into voting for him and turning America democratic for years to come, in Congress and the Supreme Court…meanwhile, Obama has NO idea what he’s doing….and if Obama is a puppet…what does that make his supporters?? Dumber than a puppet I think!

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