As the excitement increases in this “balance for power” cycle, nerves and hope are equally mixed as the outcome appears to close to call with confidence. Voters on both sides of the political aisle are energized, and early voting turnout could be the highest ever since 1966. Early voting has also seen historic numbers, with Republicans outpacing Democrats in seven critical swing states.
But several media outlets and pollsters are falling in the same trap in 2018 as they did in 2016. The self-described experts continue to miss the “crosstab” trends signifying true voter sentiment because many are focusing only on the “top line” of polling and using skewed voter polling methods.
New Election, Same Bias
During the 2016 presidential election, just about every pollster, expert, media analyst, and forecaster projected Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump in a landslide. Clinton was handily defeated, and the election results sparked a new conversation about analyzing data and how to better forecast election outcomes.
As evidenced in a tweet from world-renowned probability expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb in November 2016, several major media outlets and academics gave Clinton more than a 90% chance to win the election. For example, CNN gave Clinton a 91% chance, The New York Times gave her 85%, HuffPost had it at 98%, ABC News gave Clinton 90%, and Princeton University gave the former secretary of state a whopping 99% chance of winning.
...most liberals don’t even want to talk about the election, much less admit the true problems with their biased and skewed polling methods.
However, the bigger issue at hand is that not many in the media are analyzing the data from 2016 to help them make a determination about how the 2018 midterms will shape up. Given that many are still upset over Clinton’s catastrophic defeat, most liberals don’t even want to talk about the election, much less admit the true problems with their biased and skewed polling methods.
Crosstabs Verse Top-Line Polling
To understand current polling and the underlying trend, one must look beyond the top line and analyze the crosstabs. Top-line polling refers to the final poll result, such as the aforementioned predictions about Clinton. The crosstabs refer to analyzing the data between the lines, such as voter sentiment, hot topics driving enthusiasm, and the political breakdown of the participants in the study.
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In 2016, topics such as immigration, securing the border, eliminating ISIS, and abandoning political correctness were lightning rods for Trump and kryptonite for Clinton. Just as they did then and are doing now, the media aren’t discussing how important these issues still are to regular American families.
Polling outlets and political data scientists have largely been playing the same game for many years. They include more Democrats and Independent voters in their study than Republicans, which skews the data to look as if Republicans aren’t favored on issues and/or election outcomes.
Oversampling one side over another is an invitation to false conclusions, and one might argue it’s a tactic to shame one political group into not voting because they believe they have already lost.
For example, ABC News featured a poll on Oct. 23, 2016, which oversampled Democrats by 9%. Likewise, in the poll HuffPost used to project Clinton had a 98.2% chance of winning, they oversampled Democrats by 7 percentage points.
This trick was not limited to just the aforementioned outlets. Many pollsters and outlets were doing this in 2016, which is why they were just as stunned as Clinton was on election night when she couldn’t drop her victory balloons.
2018 Looks Like 2016
Unsurprising to many, the same pollsters who gave Trump practically no chance of winning the presidency have been in full force projecting Democrats will win back the U.S. House of Representatives in a landslide.
Pollster Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight has given Democrats an 86% chance of winning the House of Representatives.
Those top-line polls spell doom for Republicans, but the crosstabs may be flashing warning signs to Democrats.
In the NBC poll that revealed Republicans are outpacing Democrats in early voting in seven critical states, it was also revealed that Trump’s approval rating is currently at 47%, his all-time high according to this poll.
Noticeable trends from 2016 are visible in the new NBC poll, including a surge in voters who support Trump’s tough immigration policies. In fact, a majority of Americans support Trump’s policies and handling of the migrant caravan trekking north to the United States.
Polling shows that Republicans are equally as fired up as Democrats and that the midterms could come down to a few congressional races. Time will tell what color the wave is, but if it is red and Republicans keep their majorities, the pollsters have no one to blame but themselves for getting it so wrong – again.