August 18, 2020
For as long as I have been paying attention to politics, namely, my whole life, all I have ever heard from the Political Intelligentsia, is that politicians who want to get elected must lean to their party’s extreme to win in the primary and then move to the center to win the general election. If this is news to you, you definitely are new to American politics. This is because it is typically the party die-hards who show up for the primaries, who want to see a candidate get nominated that best reflects their party’s values, but a lot more people show up for general elections and those people are less idealistic than the party die-hards. To win these less idealistic voters over, it is said that politicians must soften their views so as not to sound so extreme and thus convince these so-called “Independents” that they are the best choice for the job. Hence all the negative advertisements during the general election painting opponents as extremists, with lots of pull quotes from their primary campaigning to prove it.
When the pollsters conduct a pre-election poll, they prefer to poll “likely voters.” After all, what point would it be to poll people who aren’t planning to vote? But to do so, they have to select a representative sample of voters from the population. Typically the pollsters will try to estimate the percentage of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents that are going to vote and then make sure the polling reflects those proportions (or not, if they have a different objective). The farther off these estimates are from reality, the lower the accuracy of the poll will be, so they say. Exactly how they come up with these estimates is not a topic I have spent any time trying to figure out, but what I do know is that undersampling or oversampling a particular group will definitely throw off the results. That is how they got the 2016 Presidential Election so stunningly wrong.
One of the explanations for inaccurate polls that I have heard many times over the years is that the people who are polled cannot be relied upon to tell the truth. The theory goes that they may not want anyone, even a pollster who doesn’t know them, to know who they are really planning to vote for. Then, of course, there are those who just want to mess with the pollsters by giving them false answers. But I have a new theory as to why the polls, as this article is titled, are simply useless. Their premise about Independents, is false.
It occurred to me recently that anyone who pays any attention to politics, enough to participate in elections by voting, in 2020, and even in 2016, cannot possibly, by now, not know who they are planning to vote for in the Presidential Election. In fact, the USA is so incredibly polarized now, and has been since at least 2015, that it is impossible for me to imagine anyone who pays sufficient attention to want to vote, to be sitting on the fence between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Am I right?
But if this is true, then who really are all these so-called “Independents?” I have an idea.
For many years I called myself an Independent, but then I realized at some point that even though I called myself that, I always wound up voting Republican. (In middle school, I stood on the corner of a bypass holding up a Dick Riley sign in Greenville, SC, because he went to high school with my father. That’s my only brush with support for a Democrat.) So why did I call myself an Independent? Because I wanted to signal that I was open to voting either way, depending upon which candidate seemed to be the best choice for the job. Of course, that was mostly back in the days when there were still a few centrist Democrat politicians around. My wife, Amanda, also called herself an Independent for many years, even though she almost always voted Democrat (she calls herself a Libertarian these days). So it occurred to me that maybe people who bother to take the time to go to the polls and vote really don’t include a set of people who might vote either way. At least, not in significant numbers.
But if that’s true, assuming that party die-hards always get out and vote and do so for their party’s candidates, how to explain the shifts back and forth in various elections from one major party to the other? And the occasional landslide?Here is what I think. I think that there really aren’t any voters that are truly Independents. Okay, maybe a handful. A statistically insignificant few. But in fact, everyone, for all intents and purposes, knows what party they most closely identify with. Sure, this year it appears that there may be a fairly significant number of people who are changing their party loyalty, but these aren’t Independents. These are people who are fed up with the direction their party has taken.
So what does this mean? First, it means that the current polling methodology is USELESS. Second, it means something else is driving the outcomes of general elections. Something other than politicians moving to the center to capture the “all important” Independent vote. So what is driving the outcomes of general elections?
I wrote a couple of blogs back in 2016 that touched on this that are still up on The Gatherer. I went back and re-read them the other day and everything in them still holds true. I wouldn’t change a word. Enthusiasm completely controls the outcomes of general elections. It may also be true in the primaries, but each party has so much power to control the outcomes of their primaries, that it probably isn’t as big of a factor. Think about it. If your party’s candidate isn’t firing up the base, how on earth do you expect the less idealistic voters in your party to get motivated to vote? And isn’t that exactly what we see going on right now in the Presidential campaigns?
In my city, Santa Fe, New Mexico, you could potentially drive around all day and not see a single solitary campaign sign or sticker for Joe Biden, and this town is super left-wing. Of course, you don’t see that many Trump signs or stickers either, but then again, Trump’s voters don’t want to get beat up or have their car or truck get keyed. And they generally like their liberal friends and don’t want to be ostracized by them. Which is a very real possibility.
But I can assure you, there are plenty of Trump fans in Santa Fe and they will be coming out of the woodwork to vote for him on November 3rd. There may not be enough of them to overcome the Democrat die-hards, but their numbers won’t be insignificant. One thing is certain, there will be many, many more voters for Trump in New Mexico this time around than there were in 2016. When I speak privately with my conservative and centrist friends who plan to vote, they say they cannot wait for November 3rd to get here. Enthusiasm for Trump is sky high. Enthusiasm for Joe Biden is practically non-existent. It wasn’t that long ago that New Mexico was considered a “purple” state. If my theory is correct, it likely still is. And if that’s true, then Trump and the Republicans may very well just flip this state red this fall.
So what are the main takeaways from this idea that there really aren’t any Independents to speak of? First, to get accurate polling, pollsters should be polling enthusiasm. Period. Anything else is going to give a poor result. Second, politicians who want to win, need to stop swinging back to the middle to try to capture the so-called, but really non-existent, Independents. Does Trump ever walk anything back and apologize for anything he says? No. He doubles down. If there were any truly independent voters out there, doubling down would be the kiss of death for a candidate. Instead, what we see is his supporters getting even more fired up when he does that. That should be all the proof we need.
Author’s note: My apologies to Libertarians out there, whom I have left out of this analysis, but they so rarely have an impact on elections, that I couldn’t see how to fit them in.