Among the Substack newsletters I regularly receive are those from Heather Cox Richardson–whom I often quote– and Robert Hubbell. One of Hubbell’s recent missives contained some very welcome information and analysis.
Hubbell began with his frequent admonition that Democrats should be confident, but definitely not complacent–that we will need to work hard to turn out every anti-MAGA voter in November. But that said, he made two very important–and comforting–points:
Trump is running his campaign as an incumbent president. He has accomplished a hostile takeover of the Republican Party apparatus. He has threatened to banish any Republican who supports or donates to his opponents. Under those circumstances, anything less than a Soviet-style win of 100% is a failure.
So, against that backdrop, Trump’s loss of 40% of the vote in the South Carolina primary is devastating. It is particularly bad because he lost 40% in a state that is more favorable to him than almost any state in the union—because of its strong presence of white, older, evangelical voters (60% of voters are white evangelical or born-again Christians). Losing 40% of the vote under those circumstances should send shockwaves through the Republican establishment.
As Hubbell quoted Axios:
If America were dominated by old, white, election-denying Christians who didn’t go to college, former President Trump would win the general election in as big of a landslide as his sweep of the first four GOP contests.
It’s not. That’s why some top Republicans are worried about the general election in November, despite Trump’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Or, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it, Face It: This is a Weak Showing for Trump in South Carolina.
It is not merely that Trump lost 40% of the vote. It is also that 50% of those voters said they would not vote for Trump if he became the nominee—which translates into 25% of Republicans who will not vote for Trump!
One quibble: it translates into 25% of the Republicans who went to the polls in the primary who will not vote for Trump in the General. Some of those voters will stay home in November, but that percentage probably is also predictive of the percentage who didn’t vote in the primary but who will vote in the General.
Hubbell’s most reassuring–and eye-opening– analysis, however, was his discussion of contemporary polling, and its demonstrable bias.
Polls do not “predict” outcomes of races; rather, they predict ranges of outcomes at different levels of confidence. But on average and over time, polls should cluster around the actual outcomes. That is not happening with polling regarding Trump.
Instead, the polling averages have consistently overstated Trump’s support—something the media and pollsters have ignored or excused. At some point, they should simply admit that their polling models are broken and overstate support for Trump.
Adam Carlson posted the following on Twitter, comparing Trump’s average margin of victory predicted by 538.com versus the actual margin of victory by which Trump won the first three GOP primaries:
- Final 538.com Average: Trump +37
- Final Result: Trump +30
In New Hampshire:
- Final 538.com Average: Trump +18
- Final Result: Trump +11
In South Carolina:
- Final 538.com Average: Trump +28
- Final Result: Trump +20
Notice a pattern? The average of 538.com’s polls overstated Trump’s support by at least 7 percentage points in three primaries.
I will add that 538.com is probably the most credible of all the polling sites.
Since Hubbell’s post, Michigan held its primary, and the trend held. Trump won by roughly 42 points; the final 538 polling average had him winning by 57 points, an underperformance of some 15 points.
Hubbell is undoubtedly correct when he says that when polls show a consistent bias, there is likely to be a flaw in the methodology that warrants skepticism. Here, that flaw consistently overstates Trump’s support. As he concludes,
My point is that we should ignore the polls. We should not delude ourselves, but neither should we trust polls that consistently overstate Trump’s support. Just keep working hard and ignore the uncritical, breathless reporting about polls that have shown consistent bias in favor of Trump.
I share these little rays of sunshine to remind you–and remind myself–that the future will be what we make it. Nothing is certain–certainly not the polls.
As unsettling as it is, we live in a time where there simply are no comforting political verities, no outcomes we can confidently predict. Polls are inaccurate, artificial intelligence is creating misleading messages, media fragmentation and online propaganda encourage confirmation bias…The list goes on.
We need to “power through” this very confusing environment, separating wheat from chaff to the extent possible. We also need to reassure ourselves that, since most Americans are sane, we need to GET OUT THE VOTE.Comments