Polling: The industry that fails (again and again)

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

What do political junkies talk about when the election is (basically) over? The election just ended, the elections in two and four years, Nixon/McGovern in 1972.


So, I phoned Gary Drinnen to ask what happened to the polling in this year’s elections. As president/founder of Targeted Strategy, Gary manages and raises funds for local campaigns which includes polling.

“Incumbents don’t lose general elections; incumbents lose primaries,” he said, as if that’s all we need to know about Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins. The tepid Republican Collins beat Democrat Sara Gideon by almost 10 points in an election where all polls showed Collins trailing, some by as much as 13.

Drinnen said politicians are becoming polar opposites, even as most citizens are someplace in the middle. That means a moderate Republican incumbent, say Susan Collins, would more likely be defeated by a more conservative primary challenger than by a Democrat.

Good polling requires a solid sample, he said. “It’s easier to poll a Republican Primary in Knox County than a Knoxville city election.” The GOP primary voter will have an average age of 67, a mid- to upper-income and a landline, probably with the same phone number through adulthood. The city voter would be younger and more diverse, using a cell phone and much less likely to talk to a pollster.

Pollsters missed the 2016 Trump-Clinton election because Trump turned out middle- and lower-income white people who do not normally vote Republican, Drinnen said. “That’s a harder audience to poll.”

Good polling must be nimble to reflect rapidly changing campaigns. And as older people decline as a percentage of the electorate, polling becomes harder.

Polling is not predictive. It’s a snapshot in time. (Sort of like a Covid test, I guess.)

Polls in 2020 consistently showed Joe Biden leading Donald Trump. But the polls showing a “blue wave” or a “blue tsunami” missed the mark in Congressional races.

And now we’ve got the incongruity of Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler saying the Nov. 3 election that they won was OK but the (same) election that picked Biden over Trump was a fraud. And pretty soon we’ll see the polls showing Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock beating Perdue and Loeffler in the Jan. 5 runoff – polls likely to be wrong.

Jacobs, Lions honor Beth Schneider

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs hosted a press conference in the grassy space in front of the City County Building to honor Beth Schneider, who was named the 2020 Adoptive Parent of the Year by the national non-profit organization Transfiguring Adoption.

Schneider, a single woman, adopted five daughters, ages 2 to 9. Now she’s making plans for a free family vacation to Disney World. The Knox North Lions Club and Jennifer Nichols, Tennessee commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services, were on hand.

“There are always a million reasons not to adopt, but I have five incredible reasons it’s worth it,” Schneider said.

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

President Trump’s legal strategist, Rudy Giuliani , had a literal meltdown. Under TV lights at a press conference this week, Giuliani  had black sweat running down both sides of his face. Could it be that Giuliani , 76, is dying his hair?

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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