One of the fascinating aspects of the 2016 presidential election cycle is to watch how polls are becoming a story unto themselves. It used to be that public polls were relatively few in number and focused on the horse races among candidates. Now polls seem to grow on trees, and colleges that you never heard of are suddenly in the news for their polls, no matter how well or poorly done they are. Polls are used for bragging rights, as criteria for deciding who gets into debates, and to determine who is politically dead or who is trending upward.
All this comes in a climate where the accuracy of the polls has come under intense review. There have always been people who refuse to talk with someone conducting a poll, but technology has taken that refusal to a higher level. Caller ID can keep the caller from even getting someone on the line to decline the interview.
The problem is that land lines in homes are becoming scarcer and cell phone numbers are more elusive to polling firms. All of this leads to polling firms needing to rely more heavily on weighting the demographics of those people who they do get through to, trying to make sure that they are fairly representative of the general population that is being polled, be it a city, state or the entire country. They strive to have the right balance of Democrats and Republicans; men and women; various age groups; ethnic groups, etc. so that the poll cannot be accused of giving more weight in the poll to one group or another.
When a pollster weights the groups to balance things out, however, it means that some respondents get more value than others. If the sample of people responding to a poll, for example, has fewer Republican than the target city/district/state/nation, then in trying to get the sample balanced those Republicans who did participate in the poll in effect count for more than 1.0 interviews.
Another problem facing polling firms, particularly in more lightly attended primaries and caucuses, is the difficulty in determining who is likely to actually come out to vote.
Polls, as is sometimes said, are just snapshots in time of a particular group of people. I hardly rate as a photographer, so a lot of my snapshots are not clear or focused and wind up getting discarded. Thank goodness for digital. There is usually nothing magical about any given snapshot.
But polls are not discarded. They cost too much to do that. They are released with all sorts of analysis and spin, but not a lot of attention to what they really mean. Often the margin of error (most often in the 4-5 percent range) is ignored, even though it might mean that the candidate standing third or fourth in a poll might really, given the margin of error, actually be in sixth or seventh place, or vice versa. Rand Paul complained about his absence from the first tier of candidates in a previous Republican debate, based on his standing in polls that were selected to determine debate participants. Paul had a point.
In this year’s presidential contests we now have two candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are spending a lot of time discussing their standing in various polls as if those polls are some sort of validation of their candidacies and their credentials to become president. But snapshots are snapshots. Some are fuzzy and some are clear. When polls in the same race vary by nearly 15 points in determining the weight of support for a front runner, it is likely that at least one of the polls in question is an “outlier.” But which one?
There have been a whole lot of polls in the last few years that have been very, very wrong, but such results do not seem to diminish the attention paid to polling.
Which gets me to a final point about polls: it seems clear that a large portion of the participants in political polls (I am sure I could find a poll to back this up), are just answering the way they do to send a message to the politicians – you are screwed up, and the only way we can get your attention is to respond in a contrarian or nonsensical way. Or maybe the participants are just having a little fun by out-and-out lying about their preferences.
So like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, do not pay too much attention to the man behind the poll. He does not really know much more than anyone else who takes the time to read and size up the situation – like the readers of Politics and Other Stuff.
It has been amazing to watch how the $100 million plus campaign effort of Jeb! Bush has fizzled. For those with some memory of other presidential campaigns gone by, you might recall the 1980 campaign for Democrat-turned-Republican John Connally of Texas. Connally raised, for that time, an extraordinary amount of money for his presidential campaign, $11 million. Connolly won one delegate in the Republican primaries. That one delegate became known as the “$11 million man.”
It is pretty clear by now that Jeb! Is going nowhere. He is probably a very nice guy, good up-bringing and all, knows and understands the issues, and can vocalize a rational approach to the campaign issues. The problem is, he is a dud of a candidate. He probably did not just become a dud. So why in the world is he running?
It seems to me that there are some similarities between Jeb Bush and the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy ran a long and hard campaign for president against incumbent Jimmy Carter. (I served as coordinator of Kennedy’s 1980’s campaign in Michigan.)
Even before the 1980 campaign really began, in November 1979, Kennedy dug himself a deep hole. In an interview with Roger Mudd on CBS’s 60 Minutes Kennedy basically admitted that he did not really have a good reason to be running for president.
It seems that where Ted Kennedy and Jeb! Bush are concerned, there was and is some reason to speculate that their presidential candidacies had more than a little bit to do with family obligations. Ted Kennedy’s brother Jack was president and his brother Bobby died while trying to become the party’s candidate. Jeb Bush’s father was Vice President and President and his brother George served two terms in that office. It is no secret that Ted Kennedy loved the Senate. Jeb Bush enjoyed serving as Governor of Florida for two terms. Maybe their presidential runs did not work/are not working because their hearts were not in it, and it was just something they thought they had to do.
Emails from Iowa
Most of us receive large numbers of emails – work related; selling us something; or some other purpose that somehow made it through our spam filter.
In years gone by I made a handful of small contributions to President Obama or the Democratic National Committee. So I am not surprised that I get several emails per week from Obama, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michele Obama or some obscure staffer at the DNC asking for money. The ones from the President address me as “Kenneth”, which only my mother on serious occasions would use to get my attention. I respectfully delete the Obama, Biden and DNC emails with hardly a couple seconds of viewing.
Lately, however, I have been receiving some emails that I was not expecting. In the past two weeks I have received missives from Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina and Jeb! Bush.
I can recall only making one donation to a Republican, a small amount to a local state legislator when I was serving as a lobbyist ten or twelve years ago. So I am rather mystified as to how, all of a sudden, I have found myself on the email list serves for Rubio, Kasich, Fiorina and Bush.
All of the emails, except the one from Carly, address me in the more personal “Ken.” Carly’s salutation is “fellow conservative.” All are asking for money.
Team Jeb! told me on Tuesday that they are “on alert here at HQ! We are reviewing our numbers for January, and right now we are close to falling behind. [Really!] According to our math, we must raise $100,000 immediately to bridge this gap. We need your help, and we need it quick.” They are willing to accept as little as $5. Missing their deadline “is unacceptable.” Oh my, the campaign has raised more than $130 million so far, and now they need money from me – “quick” – to hit their January fundraising goal?
Rubio on Tuesday gave me a “deadline alert.” He needed “to know right now if (he) can count on” me. My buddy Marco (we’re on a first name basis) asked for $25. He told me that his campaign has “momentum” in Iowa and that “great things are coming.” Turning up the pressure, Marco told me that those great things will only happen if he has my “financial support today.” (Emphasis, Rubio)
John Kasich has told me about how well he is doing in the New Hampshire polls. He asked me to “invest in our campaign RIGHT NOW with a quick $25, $50 or more contribution.” (Emphasis, Kasich)
I know Trump does not need my money, but where are the requests from Christie, Cruz, Carson, Paul and Huckabee? Are they too good for my money?
Not to be left out, my friend, House Speaker Paul Ryan emailed yesterday. I write “my friend” because he closed his mail with “your friend, Paul Ryan.” That sort of reminds me of a pen pal I had when I was about 12. Paul’s approach, not surprisingly, was not as tense or anxious as the presidential candidates. He merely told me that “there’s a lot at stake in 2016” and hoped that I would renew my NRCC membership. It comes with an impressive membership card, but I will be passing on that.
Joe Lorigo’s jobs
County Legislature Majority Leader Joe Lorigo is apparently unsatisfied with his income from the Legislature (leaders get an extra $5,000 on top of a legislator’s base pay of $42,588) plus his private law practice and is evidently considering a second public position as town attorney for the Town of West Seneca. It seems that if you represent the Town of West Seneca on the County Legislature and also represent the Town of West Seneca directly, there is at least the perception of a conflict of interest. And in politics it is often said that perception is reality.