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Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:20 PM

Slate "The problem isn't that the polls were wrong. It's that they were useless"

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/11/fivethirtyeight-upshot-polls-useless.html

Gosh I love election nights,” tweeted CNN’s Harry Enten late last night. The Upshot’s Nate Cohn made a cheeky Twin Peaks reference at the moment his site’s infamous needle abruptly swung from predicting a Donald Trump win in Georgia to a Joe Biden win. At least someone was having fun. Never has this form of journalism’s close relationship to the analytics movement in sports media seemed more obvious, or more irritating. And never has the type of analysis they peddle felt more useless.


The narrative here fairly dumb overall,” FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver tweeted at 10:15 p.m. on election night, defending against accusations of a 2016-style polling miss as it became clear that Joe Biden was not racking up the early wins that Democrats had been hoping for. Silver’s tweet could serve as something of a mission statement for him and the other members of his coterie of data-driven political analysts: Pundits and traditional campaign journalists are in thrall to soft “narratives” about momentum and rely on anecdotes and conversations with voters. On the other hand, they believe, if you bloodlessly process a significant enough quantity of polling data, you can see the truth of what’s happening in the race. However the 2020 presidential election turns out in the end, it’s become clear that the polling analyses are themselves a “narrative,” one that can also obscure as much as it reveals.

Data journalism is only as good as the data that goes into it, and it’s already clear that the polls had some big misses this year. The New York Times and the Washington Post ran polls in the past week showing Biden with 17- and 11-point leads in Wisconsin, respectively. Biden led by 10 points in the Upshot’s final polling average for the state. (This was after steps were reportedly taken to avoid the polling misses that the state saw in 2016.) As of Wednesday morning, it’s still very possible Biden will win the state, but it will clearly be much closer than that. Just before the election, the New York Times’ Upshot projected that even with a 2016-level polling error, Biden would win or essentially be tied in Florida. Trump won the state with—as of this morning—a lead of about 3½ points. The Senate picture looks a lot grimmer for Democrats than polls anticipated, and races predicted to be tight, like South Carolina’s closely watched contest between Lindsey Graham and Jaime Harrison, were handily won by Republicans. Cook Political Report editor and widely cited polling guru Dave Wasserman tweeted on Wednesday morning, “Polls (esp. at district-level) have rarely led us more astray & it’s going to take a long time to unpack.”

If Biden ultimately wins, pollsters and the data journalists who rely on them will claim some vindication. To be fair, FiveThirtyEight’s final projections gave Biden less than a 1-in-3 chance of a landslide. The popular vote projections are likely to be pretty accurate. Yet, frustratingly, pollsters can also marshal a defense of their methods if Trump manages a surprise win. After the polling misfires of 2016, Silver and other data journalists went to great lengths to remind readers that no matter how promising the polls looked, a Trump victory could not be ruled out. “A 10 percent chance of winning is not a zero percent chance. In fact, that is roughly the same odds that it’s raining in downtown Los Angeles. And it does rain there,” noted FiveThirtyEight’s final projection.


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Arrow 8 replies Author Time Post
Reply Slate "The problem isn't that the polls were wrong. It's that they were useless" (Original post)
NRaleighLiberal Nov 4 OP
empedocles Nov 4 #1
C_U_L8R Nov 4 #2
Silent3 Nov 4 #7
LuvNewcastle Nov 4 #3
Bev54 Nov 4 #4
jayfish Nov 4 #5
samnsara Nov 4 #6
Doremus Nov 4 #8

Response to NRaleighLiberal (Original post)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:31 PM

1. There are a number of factors beyond the polling equations [USPS is just one].

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Original post)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:33 PM

2. Polling doesn't reach all groups and people lie to pollsters.

Lots of other flaws, including voter obstruction, make predicting the future an imperfect art. Data is not the all-powerful tool so many think.

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Response to C_U_L8R (Reply #2)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:50 PM

7. Those problems can be accounted for, however, with good models

You can model how much people lie, or how much effect voter obstruction has, if those factors remain relatively stable from one election to the next.

When real elections are carried out, you find out how much your predications were off by, then tinker with the factors in your model until the data you collected for each election produces results in line with the real election results when using your new adjusted model.

Do that for many elections, and your model should become more robust and more accurate over time.

Degrees of voter obstruction are probably unstable, however, therefore harder to compensate for, than something like lying. Unless, of course, Trumpism turns more people into liars -- and maybe that's not so far-fetched.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Original post)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:34 PM

3. I think the most likely reason for the discrepancy between

the poll numbers and the election numbers is that Trumpers lied to pollsters. They probably have some fucked up reason for it, and they probably enjoy owning the libs, so they tell pollsters that they're voting for Biden.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Original post)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:34 PM

4. So is it the polls or was there something nefarious

in the voting tallies. Maybe they didn't count on the amount of dems to counter it.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Original post)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:36 PM

5. After 16' I Automatically...

gave Shrump the margin of error. ...no matter the pollster. That seemed to come out, kind'a, correctly.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Original post)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:40 PM

6. they kinda warned us it may be close and may go into days and then into the courts

...we had hoped for an easy win but i think most of us were prepared for this. Doesnt make it any easier..


at least thats how i read it.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Original post)

Wed Nov 4, 2020, 03:57 PM

8. Did EVERY poll fail?

Sorry, my natural skepticism forces me to reject the idea that every major polling company got it wrong by anything other than nefarious reasons.

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