Ah, the crisp days of fall when many a journalist’s imagination turns to … political polling.
Americans love political polls. For some reason, we just can’t wait until they count the votes to find out who wins. We want to know in advance. Americans are impatient by nature.
Hence, political polls. The trouble is, they often miss the mark.
One of the most famous examples was back in 1936 when the Literary Digest, a popular magazine, conducted an ambitious political poll. It actually got a whopping 2.4 million responses and confidently predicted that Alf Landon would get 57 percent of the vote and Franklin Roosevelt would get 43 percent. As things turned out, Landon won only Maine and Vermont in one of the most crushing defeats in presidential history. Oops. The Literary Digest went out of business in 1938.
In the famous 1948 election, the pollsters predicted Tom Dewey would win the election by anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent. We all know what happened: Harry Truman gave ’em hell and won the election, resulting in one of the most famous newspaper headlines of all time in the Chicago Tribune: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” The newspaper was just as wrong as the pollsters.
In 2016, most pollsters and experts predicted Hillary Clinton would win. Right up until the very end, experts claimed Hillary just had to win. In all fairness, she did get more votes, but she still lost.
Pollsters in recent years have started acting like weather forecasters: they like to say things like, “There’s a 63 percent chance that Candidate X will defeat Candidate Y.” This way, if Candidate Y wins, they can say, “well, we did say she had a 37 percent chance.”
Try this out on your boss and see how he takes it: “Hey boss, there’s a 71 percent chance that I’ll show up for work tomorrow.” He’ll probably be happy until you start using up that other 29 percent.
There are a lot of reasons polls have problems — difficulty getting the right samples and being able to contact the right people, errors in their methodology, even people downright lying, which happens more often than you think. Still, I think most of us could do just about well without going through all those phone calls, especially if we rely on the “weatherman’s method.” I’ll show you what I mean. Here are my unscientific poll results, which I just made up, for next week’s election:
• There’s an 85 percent chance Sherrod Brown will be re-elected U.S. senator. In fact, I think there’s about a 55 percent chance you can’t even remember the name of the guy running against him. (It’s Jim Renacci.)
• There’s about a 79 percent chance that all the Republican candidates running in countywide races in Miami County will win. This is based on the fact they almost always do.
• There’s a 50-50 chance that Mike DeWine or Richard Cordray will be elected governor. Ha! You see how this works? I’m right either way.
• There’s a 90 percent chance the Troy City Schools, Tipp City Schools and Tipp City library tax renewals will pass. You have to be a real Scrooge to vote against a renewal.
• There’s a 95 percent chance you are somewhat confused about State Issue 1. It either will solve our drug and prison problems or result in a lawless society populated by unpunished drug users. There’s a 100 percent chance the truth is somewhere in the middle and most of us will never notice the difference. As for the issue itself: well, I’d say there’s about a 53 percent chance that it passes … or not.
You see? Why should the pollsters have all the fun? You, too, can predict the political future with about the same amount of accuracy from your own living room. And once you’ve mastered politics, you can move on to predicting the weather.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.