May 26, 2019 | 69° F

PIQUERO: Polls are not long-term truths, just snapshots

Opinions Column: The Principled Millennial


Now that the presidential election is over and some time has passed, I think it is time to dive into the numbers to see exactly what took place on Nov. 8. How did the overwhelming favorite to win the election, former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, lose in a historic upset to billionaire real-estate mogul, now President-elect, Donald Trump? What did the pundits and pollsters miss? A cursory analysis of Election Day can provide solutions to some of those questions. Surely it is impossible to analyze such a vast undertaking in one column, so I will split my analysis into two parts: One centering on the media and polls, and the other on economics and demographics.

Conventional wisdom, propagated by the establishment media, pointed toward a moderate to large Clinton victory based on a multitude of factors including historical indicators, economic indexes, polling numbers and preconceived biases. Media coverage of the election featured an almost daily barrage of negative story-telling, conflicting analysis and tabloid-worthy headlines. The first step in understanding how Donald Trump could win the election is understanding the very real problems with the current state of the American mainstream media.

A Gallup poll conducted in September found that an astonishing 68 percent of respondents had little to no trust in news media. Gallup researchers, commenting on the results of the poll, wrote, “The divisive presidential election this year may be corroding Americans' trust and confidence in the media, particularly among Republicans who may believe the 'mainstream media' are too hyper-focused on every controversial statement or policy proposal from Trump while devoting far less attention to controversies surrounding the Clinton campaign.” Any individual who spent even a few hours watching broadcast news can attest to this, and it provided the fuel to the argument promulgated by the Trump campaign that the election was somehow rigged against him. This toxic blend of dishonest reporting and outlandish rhetoric about a rigged system created a setting by which a huge proportion of voters completely tuned out of most major news networks, or otherwise chose not to believe what they were hearing. This greatly benefited Trump who, despite his many improprieties, continued to rally his army of loyal supporters even when damning revelations about his philanthropic foundation, past lewd remarks and dubious business dealings came to light. Trump voters felt personally vindicated and chastised by a media that they viewed as elitist, opinionated and ultimately hostile to their own identities.

The mere societal notion that a connection can be drawn about a typical “Trump supporter” and a racist bigot is enough to justify these claims about an unfair media. Are there racist Trump voters? Unquestionably. Are the majority of Trump supporters racist? Anywhere in between highly improbable and impossible. The media’s characterization of a typical Trump supporter as a low-educated, white racist with no care for living in an increasingly multi-cultural world is negligent and degrading. This label, applied brashly onto the foreheads of each Trump supporter, created what many pundits called “silent Trump supporters,” or in other words, Trump supporters who refused to publicly express support for their candidate under fear they would be labeled racist, xenophobic, sexist, or something else. It was precisely these voters who were growing increasingly angry and frustrated with a media conglomerate that virtually declared war on their candidate. In a final act of protest against a political and media establishment they grew to despise, millions of these silent supporters showed up on Election Day to hand Trump the Presidency. In the end, the media had proven to isolate and denigrate 46.2 percent of the entire electorate.

What about the polls, one may ask. Didn’t they point to a Clinton victory all along?

Polling is complicated and oftentimes the media flaunts individual polls as long-term truths as opposed to the more correct interpretation of brief snapshots. One poll could show Clinton up by 6 percent and another conducted during the same period, could should Clinton up by 1 percent. The best way to analyze polling data is by taking an aggregate of reputable polls and using that as your baseline for how to make sense of the election. The aggregate polling data for national polls on Nov. 8, according to Real Clear Politics, showed Clinton up by around 3.3 percent. Taken in terms of her actual popular vote percentage of 1.8 percent, it was strikingly accurate. However, battleground state polls, crucial to a candidate's chances of winning the electoral college, were off by a margin of about 3 percent, which is large considering some of those states were polling well for Clinton for months. In the midwestern states that handed Trump the election (Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan), the polls were off by an average of 5.4 percent, which is unprecedented.

Michael Piquero is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and history. His column, “The Principled Millennial,” runs on alternate Fridays.

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Michael Piquero

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