The Most Serious Aspect of the Poll Denialist Position

Getting to the heart of the problem from my POV (plus historical numbers).

I know that I have written a lot about the polls of late and the phenomenon I refer to as “poll denialism” but I think that it is indicative of an ongoing problem for the Republican Party and its supporters:  the creation of an information bubble that makes not only clear assessment of their candidates and positions difficult, but denigrates our government’s ability to govern.

This is important because regardless of who wins elections, the government has to be run.  Laws have to be passed.  Policy has to be made.  Specifically:  negotiations have to take place and compromises have to be forged.  If one of the major parties does not see it that way, this creates serious problems for this process.

(As a side note, I am not saying the the Democratic Party is perfect or without blame.  However, the evidence of recent years is pretty clear:  the GOP is simply not interested in compromise, as the debt ceiling  game of chicken debate indicated.  I would further note that political commentary and analysis should not be viewed as a zero sum game:  i.e., a negative thing said about one party or candidate should not be construed as a positive thing said about the other).

There has been, as many have noted, a long-term problem within certain elements of the Republican base, and that is its tendency to live within a very specific media bubble.  If one consumes huge amounts of conservative talk radio and Fox News, then one is going to have a very specific view of the world.  And it is not just that these outlets have an ideological point of view, it is that most of the programming is commentary and not news reporting.  Further, it needs to be understood that these media outlets are oriented towards entertainment first and foremost, not news and information.  This is, of course, generically true of all for profit media (although it is especially true for talk radio and cable news regardless of ideological disposition).  This fact, however, should help highlight the fact that the goal of Limbaugh, et al. is not to inform or educate, it is to keep the listener/viewer listening/watching so that they can sell commercial time (Limbaugh’s job is to sell Sleep Number beds, or whatever he is hawking these days, not to inform, or even to get Republicans elected).  As such:  what is likely to keep a conservative tuned in:  a dispassionate discussion of poll numbers, or suggestions that the bad numbers for Romney are, in fact, wrong?

This bubble reality can be empirically demonstrated.  For example, a January poll indicated that 37% of Republicans did not think that Obama was born in the US and 35% were “not sure.”  Only 27% of those polled thought that he was born in the US.  And this was, by the way, after release of the birth certificate by the president.  This is reality denial in the face of overwhelming evidence by a stunning percentage of a particular group.  Likewise, 30% of Republicans think that Obama is Muslim.  Further, the entire meme that Obama is the most liberal president ever is created by over-exposure to a very narrow set of media actors.

This gets to the polling issue directly because poll denial, and the notion of “unskewing,” is deeply linked to the notion that the media are all not only biased against Republicans, but actively involved in a conspiracy to misreport basic facts about  American politics.

Let me note:  I have no problem with a healthy intellectual skepticism about polls (or, really, healthy intellectual skepticism about pretty much anything).  I certainly have no problem noting when a given poll appears to be an outlier or to listen to specific and legitimate concerns about methodology.  However, I find the notion that large swaths of people will simply decide to reject the product of an established process simply because they don’t like the results to be disheartening and problematic.  And from there I find the notion that the solution is to simply resort the numbers to one’s partisan preferences (i.e., the unskewing routine) to be intellectually unconscionable.

The basic point of all of this is:  if we cannot agree on what basic reality is, we cannot govern ourselves.  Indeed, if there is one basic explanation for the fact that I no longer adhere to the Republican Party it is that the vast majority of the party’s candidates, commentators, and supporters have abandoned the notion that reality is reality.  Specifically:  tax cuts do not, in fact, always create GDP growth (we have empirical evidence that clearly demonstrates this fact—see the Bush tax cuts), American power cannot always shape the international system to US preferences (see:  Iraq and Afghanistan), there is climate change (see all the data), and so forth.  I will note:  there are real debates to be had about how to deal with these, and other, issues, but we all have to at agree on the fact that a debate needs to take place.    We can debate what to do about the climate and what the the appropriate level of taxes should be, but simply denying that there is climate change is not a policy. Asserting that tax cuts will lead to growth has no basis in reality.

The poll situation strikes me as simply a manifestation of a broader problem.  Further, it is linked directly to what I note above:  lots of people are living in a media bubble.   For example, if one watches Fox & Friend, one would have heard host Getchen Carlson tell viewers “not to believe their eyes” in regards to the polls and Steve Doocy say that the polls are “skewed” while the banner on the screen saying things like “Dishonest Data” (source).  One gets similar spin from Rush Limbaugh, Dick Morris, Hugh Hewitt, and a host of others.

Now, to reiterate:  I have no problem with healthy intellectual skepticism.  Further, I recognize that polls are slices of opinion at a specific moment in time and they are not predictions about the future.  Having said that:  if one is going to make claims about a given poll, let alone pretty much all of the polls, then one has to have what I like to call “reasons” and “evidence” to back the claims one is making.  If all one has is invective (e.g., “X is a hack,” or “I don’t trust anything paid for by the NYT!”) then, I would note that one ain’t got nuthin’ (to use formal political science terminology).

One thing that we can do is look at the actual track record of polling.  Nate Silver has done some of that:   Poll Averages Have No History of Consistent Partisan Bias.  I know that some readers think that Silver is a hack or has a left-leaning bias.  First, I am not sure how one can look at his meticulous work and call him a “hack” and likewise I am unsure how Silver’s possible partisan preferences can influence things like calculating means and medians (a process I find to be amongst the least partisan of activities):

The analysis that follows is quite simple. I’ll be taking a simple average of polls conducted each year in the final 21 days of the campaign and comparing it against the actual results. There are just two restrictions.

First, I will be looking only at polls of likely voters. Polls of registered voters, or of all adults, typically will overstate the standing of Democratic candidates, since demographic groups like Hispanics that lean Democratic also tend to be less likely to turn out in most elections. (The FiveThirtyEight forecast model shifts polls of registered voters by 2.5 percentage points toward Mr. Romney for this reason.)

Second, the averages are based on a maximum of one poll per polling firm in each election. Specifically, I use the last poll that each conducted before the election. (Essentially, this replicates the methodology of the Real Clear Politics polling average.)

Let’s begin by looking at the results of national polls for the presidential race.

 

Now, the main point that I think that one can take away from this is that there is a pretty good track record and this track record should bear on evaluations of current polling.  The long terms patterns indicate that the polling has been pretty good.  Now, it is true that there are some years in which errors were made, and so perhaps this year is one of those years.  However, one cannot reach that conclusion simply because one would like it to be the case.  Further, I would note that there are more and more polls, which should, at least theoretically, lead to better results as it increases out number of observations.

Silver also did state-level numbers:

I took the average of late polls in each state, using the same rules as for the national polls (one poll per firm, and only likely voter polls). Then I took the average of these state polling averages, comparing them against the actual results in states where there was at least some late polling.

(BTW:  based on the text of the post and the general approach, I am assuming that “number of state” in the table is “number of state poll”—I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine that the numbers in 1972 are based on only 2 states).

He also does Senate polling, which I have not included here.

His overall conclusion:

On the whole, it is reasonably impressive how unbiased the polls have been. In both presidential and Senate races, the bias has been less than a full percentage point over the long run, and it has run in opposite directions.

That does not mean the pollsters will necessarily get this particular election right. Years like 1980 suggest that there are sometimes errors in the polls that are much larger than can be explained through sampling error alone. The probability estimates you see attached to the FiveThirtyEight forecasts are based on how the polls have performed historically in practice, and not how well they claim to do in theory.

But if there is such an error, the historical evidence suggests that it is about equally likely to run in either direction.

Nor is there any suggestion that polls have become more biased toward Democratic candidates over time. Out of the past seven election cycles, the polls had a very slight Republican bias in 2010, and a more noticeable Republican bias in 1998, 2000 and 2006.

They had a Democratic bias only in 2004, and it was very modest.

Still, 2004 went to show that accusations of skewed polling are often rooted in wishful thinking.

To which I can only say:  indeed.  Look, polling is not magic and I am not claiming that it is.  There is a real chance, albeit a very small one, that almost all of the polls will be incorrect.  If that turns out to be the case there will be a  an awful lot to write on the subject and I will be one of the ones writing about.

Note:  my position is not predicated on my preferences, it is predicated on my real and serious concern about a large number of persons seemingly denying reality when it isn’t to their liking.

Ultimately, however, all this hits on the famous admonition usually attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s:  “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2012, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I agree with what you’ve written. But what can be done about it? The only solution I see is for the Republican base to grow older still and die. Yes, there are plenty of young and stupid Republicans, but IIRC the polling on things like birtherism and climate change denial has them skewing old. So it may be that a gradual descent into the grave is all that will liberate the GOP to return to reality.

  2. @michael reynolds: Some of this is going to require generational change, to be sure.

    I think, too, that enough electoral defeats will help.

    For my own part, I am saddled with the impulses of my profession and have to assume that I can persuade the persuadable by the presentation of reason and evidence. I also know that there are many, like scores of students over the years, who are impervious to rational discourse and/or learning.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    Well, isn’t this the standard problem with relationists or whatever they call themselves today? The group of modern philosophers (mostly French) who ended up creating the idea that reality is only what you believe it to be? A view that used to be considered “left-wing”?

    I find it ironic that the Republican party has stampeded off the edge in this direction. Myself, I look at it as a form of never growing up. Two year olds are the ones who whine and stamp their feet and throw temper tantrums because the universe out there doesn’t correspond to their wants. Most of us get beyond that stage. As a physicist, one of the hardest things I had to pound into my head is that if I came up with a theory that turned out to be wrong, that did not reflect on me. The universe doesn’t care what I believe. There is reality out there, and if I decide to lie to myself and tell myself the world is somehow different because it makes my ego feel better, at some point, I will have to pay the piper.

    Examples: the USSR statements about their GNP and production levels. Greece and their deficit. In both cases, the countries jumped off the top of the 50-story building and pretended that everything was fine all the way down until the final splat. At some point, the kitty is empty, the shelves in the stores are bare, or your supposedly inviolable nuclear power plant springs a leak. Nature ALWAYS wins. And Russia, Greece, and Japan are now having to deal with the aftereffects of years of lying to themselves.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    have to assume that I can persuade the persuadable by the presentation of reason and evidence.

    Fight the good fight. I don’t mean that snarkily.

  5. Jim Henley says:

    The aggregate averages themselves are really skewed by 1980. There’s almost no net bias without that one, crazy cycle.

    I blame John Anderson.

  6. Eric Florack says:

    I seem to recall somewhere arguments just before Jimmy Carter won a landslide victory against
    Reagan. Oh, wait…..

  7. @Eric Florack:

    I seem to recall somewhere arguments just before Jimmy Carter won a landslide victory against Reagan. Oh, wait…..

    No, you don’t, because the media environment in 1980 was in no way analogous to the current one. Nor, for that matter, were there anywhere the same number of polls under discussion.

  8. mattb says:

    @Eric Florack:
    Like stories about how “Scientists predicted an Ice Age in the 70’s” the popular remembering of events does not match the actual data when discussing predictions of Carter’s “landslide.’

    The polls at the time in aggregate showed Regan ahead, and ahead well before the debates.
    http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/08/09/what-really-happened-in-the-1980-presidential-campaign/

  9. john personna says:

    @Jim Henley:

    In 80 they announced the winner with polls still open. That had to produce all kinds of plan Bs.

  10. @mattb:

    We touched on the “Carter was leading Reagan before the debate” myth here at OTB as well

  11. @Doug Mataconis: Thanks for posting that. I was going to link it in my response to EF, but couldn’t find it quickly and decided to punt.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Funny you remember that, because I remember being so sure my vote wouldn’t matter that I pulled a Mataconis and voted for John Anderson. So apparently at least some of us had figured out that Reagan was going to win.

  13. mattb says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Right… I had forgotten that post. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    I think you’ve nailed it with the (mis) information bubble. FOX and the talkers tell their listeners what they want to hear because they are interested in numbers not news. They just make stuff up including ridiculous conspiracy theories. That’s why guys like Dick Morris, who hasn’t been right about anything for decades, is all over FOX news. Morris may be the master at creating alternate realities for fun and profit.

  15. Console says:

    @Eric Florack:

    I wasn’t even alive for that election and I’m damn near 30.

  16. Jim Henley says:

    It’s interesting. In most lines of work we’d look at results like these and say, “Wow, that method’s pretty good. Except for the one outlier, the results are so close we can trust this pretty far.” In, for instance, a real business, the responsible thing to do, to a first order of approximation, would be to ignore the outlier. But…

    @Eric Florack:

    I seem to recall somewhere arguments just before Jimmy Carter won a landslide victory against
    Reagan. Oh, wait…..

    there’s always that one guy from Sales, always insisting that it’s 1980 all over again this time, for sure.

  17. @Jim Henley:

    there’s always that one guy from Sales, always insisting that it’s 1980 all over again this time, for sure.

    Herb Tarlek and his fashion sense?

  18. Jim Henley says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, come to think of it…

  19. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: There’s a great deal of GOP orthodoxy that just doesn’t hold with the young. Two big ones: gay rights and abortion. Even older Gen-X-ers (like me) are far more likely to support both.

    When I was reading Steven’s post on the problem been “less Romney and more GOP,” I thought pretty much the same thing. Eventually the “GOP base” is just going to age out. They’ll either be left with a “rump” party populated entirely by whatever religious science deniers and homophobes are left, or they’ll return to the intellectually-based conservatism of Buckley and Burke.

    Will they ever change enough so I’ll go back? No idea. I’m not spending a lot of time caring, frankly.

  20. john personna says:

    Related:

    Where (and How) Evolution Is Taught In the US

    Will the Internets trump schools? Remember we have the whole idea, unsubtly voiced by Santorum, that too much education is a bad thing.

  21. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Hmmm…Virginia is red in that graphic, which surprises me. From what I recall of my daughter’s high school days, they had a sizable unit on evolution in her biology class.

    Then again, this is Fairfax County, which has some of the best public schools in the country, so maybe things are still pretty bad in the rest of the Commonwealth.

  22. Fiona says:

    Great post Steve. I have family and a few friends who inhabit the Fox News space and find that they might as well inhabit another planet when it comes to the information on which they base their political decisions. To me, they live in a land where facts are optional and no amount of actual evidence will dissuade them.

    The poll denialism now prevalent among that crowd will enable them to explain, should Romney lose, that it’s all the fault of the liberal media and Democratic voter fraud. And no facts will persuade them otherwise.

    Andrew Sullivan has been saying for years now that Republicans have no interest in governing. He’s right, as are you.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Likewise, 30% of Republicans think that Obama is Muslim. Further, the entire meme that Obama is the most liberal president ever is created by over-exposure to a very narrow set of media actors.

    OK, this jumped out…. Somebody please tell me…. What is more conservative than Islam???? (in it’s most strictest form)

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    What is more conservative than Islam????

    (in it’s most strictest form)

    And by this, I mean, either Obama is a socialist commie faggot,….. or he wants to impose Sharia on America….

    Make up your minds. I am dizzy.

  25. sam says:

    For example, if one watches Fox & Friend, one would have heard host Getchen Carlson tell viewers “not to believe their eyes” in regards to the polls and Steve Doocy say that the polls are “skewed” while the banner on the screen saying things like “Dishonest Data” (source).

    While Fox’s own poll was showing Obama with a lead. Bubbles inside of bubbles inside of bubbles.

  26. @sam:

    While Fox’s own poll was showing Obama with a lead. Bubbles inside of bubbles inside of bubbles.

    Indeed. It is truly bizarre.

  27. anjin-san says:

    Getchen Carlson

    Ah Gretchen. She’s not a moron but the plays one on Fox.

    Gretchen Carlson dumbs down

  28. The GOP has declared war on anything remotely appearing to be science, why should statistics and polling be any different?

  29. @anjin-san: That has to be one of Jon Stewart’s best clips, I love watching it every time.

  30. steve says:

    They are setting up a stabbed in the back narrative.

    Steve

  31. john personna says:

    Another TDS classic:

    Science: What’s It Up To?

  32. Stan says:

    According to Max Plank, “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    Seems to work in politics as well as science.

  33. Andre Kenji says:
  34. michael reynolds says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I despised Carter. I thought he got played by the Iranians. I didn’t like Reagan, so I was glad of the opportunity to vote ‘none of the above.’ Of course I was young an idealistic then.

  35. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds: You are not the only one. Carter was so despised at the time that I think that´s bizarre that Republicans keep insisting in doing this comparison.

  36. al-Ameda says:

    The Republican Party has declared war on any source of news and information thatcontradicts or conflicts with the message or ideology that is counter to their message. And let’s not kid ourselves, their media network is strong and they have millions of listeners who accept and adopt their talking points from conservative media sources. Liberals have nothing like this at all. Air America, MoveOn, Kos and Huffington? Not even close, completely anemic and ineffective.

    Most of my extended family has adopted the FoxNews package whole. I was speaking with a couple of my brothers recently and they were insisting that Romney is going to win easily, and the polling is so biased that America is going to be shocked by Romney’s victory. This is lifted entirely from the current Poll Denialist movement.

    It’s hopeless, America is dumbing down and the bottom is not in sight.

  37. john personna says:

    My mom met an old family friend who is similarly convinced of a Romney victory and happy days ahead.

    The days after the election will be weird.

  38. jukeboxgrad says:

    The days after the election will be weird.

    The important thing is to be prepared:

    Be calm….Be strong
    Just vote R/R on 11/6
    Buy food, fuel,guns and ammo…
    Have your SHTF plan in good shape…
    Best of luck to us all.

    There’s plenty more like that.

  39. jan says:

    @al-Ameda:

    It’s hopeless, America is dumbing down and the bottom is not in sight.

    I tend to agree with you but for cross reasons.

    Frankly some of the most misinformed voters are the ones on the left. There have been numerous man-on-the-street interviews, and the liberal left virtually is unaware of who their leaders are, what the issues are, only that they aren’t going to vote for any republican. So much of the ideology of the left is without any purpose — only political correctness and peer group solidarity seem to be the major components in so many people self-identifying as ‘democrats.’

    In the meantime, the current Obama/Romney election has taken on a surreal hue of democratic dominance, mainly due to the multitude of polls showing Obama ahead in many of the key swing states. On the surface this looks really positive for Obama’s reelection. Blogs like this one are even calling those who disagree as being in a ‘Denialist position.’ Maybe you and they are right. But with the RCP national polling spread being 4.1 as of tonight, and the three big states of FL, Ohio, and VA showing an Obama lead of anywhere from 3.2 to 5.6 percentage points, not taking into account any MOE, I would say that there is still some reason to believe that such a lead is not necessarily a decisive one.

    Also, if people take into consideration that there is still something like 5+ weeks left in the campaign, with 4 debates yet to be conducted, an unsettled account in Benghazi, a yet to be aired Univision ‘blockbuster’commentary excoriating the many across the border deaths brought on by the Fast & Furious debacle, several EU reports yet to unfold, a lackluster economy that more economists are saying is resembling another recession, that only 9% of people are now answering pollsters calls bringing into question what the majority of people really feel about this election, that tea party groups are actively working under the radar in swing states not being reported by the MSM — there are still many components of this race in play and subject to changing the outcome.

    Sure, if the election were today, I would say that Obama would have a good chance of being able to pull the wool over people’s eyes and winning this thing. But, today is not November 6th, is it.

  40. jukeboxgrad says:

    Frankly some of the most misinformed voters are the ones on the left.

    I guess you must be “on the left,” since you have a stunning track record of posting brazen falsehoods (example).

    that only 9% of people are now answering pollsters calls bringing into question what the majority of people really feel about this election

    Suddenly this is popping up. I addressed this here.

  41. jukeboxgrad says:

    ozark:

    I mean, either Obama is a socialist commie faggot,….. or he wants to impose Sharia on America…. Make up your minds. I am dizzy.

    sam:

    While Fox’s own poll was showing Obama with a lead. Bubbles inside of bubbles inside of bubbles.

    GOP rhetoric is packed with so many contradictions that even their contradictions have contradictions. (Apologies to those who have heard me say this before, and apologies to a commenter at another site who I stole this from.)

  42. jan says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    You make no sense in your response. It was Pew who found that “fewer than one in 10 Americans contacted for a typical Pew survey bothers to respond. That’s down from a response rate of 36 percent just 15 years ago.”

    If you bother to read other blogs, many people are saying they are not ‘playing the pollster’s game’ and even giving incorrect responses to people calling, just to tweek their results. There are lots of distortions going on out there, many of which are impossible to be picked up by polls. Just the fact that 2008 was somewhat of an ‘outlier’ in how people responded to Obama, in greater than normal numbers, especially in the AA demographic. There is no where near that kind of excitement about his reelection this year. In fact we are kind of in a vacuum of what to expect.

    After November 6th there will be more of a retrospective truth as to where this country stands, and what it wants from it’s government — either more or less of it. In the meantime, for you to act with such superiority of knowing what is going to happen, may end up backfiring in your face.

  43. Tillman says:

    @jan:

    There are lots of distortions going on out there, many of which are impossible to be picked up by polls.

    Like how cellphone-only respondents tend to be disproportionately Democratic-leaning, that isn’t picked up in some polls either. Distortions run both ways, and we can make reasonable inferences about their effects.

    At the end of the day, you still have to deal with the numbers you’re being shown, with full knowledge of the caveats, and argue from there. You can’t start from wish-fulfillment and be taken seriously.

  44. jukeboxgrad says:

    jan:

    It was Pew who found …

    In your usual style, you’re paying no attention to what they said here.

  45. Tillman says:

    The left has been building its own media bubble in response, like an arms race. Thankfully this one won’t stockpile enough explosive power to destroy the Earth hundreds of times over. It’ll just result in very loud people getting paid arguably more than they should. (It all comes back to income inequality.)

    I’m honestly not worried about media bubbles, though. The big three news outlets still average more viewers in the millions every night compared to the cable news people getting less than one million a night. We’re talking about a very, very loud minority on either side of the political divide, not mass movements.

  46. al-Ameda says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Frankly some of the most misinformed voters are the ones on the left. There have been numerous man-on-the-street interviews, and the liberal left virtually is unaware of who their leaders are, what the issues are, only that they aren’t going to vote for any republican. So much of the ideology of the left is without any purpose — only political correctness and peer group solidarity seem to be the major components in so many people self-identifying as ‘democrats.’

    Actually, I find that the most uninformed and reality-averse people in America today are on the right.

  47. jukeboxgrad says:

    jan:

    for you to act with such superiority of knowing what is going to happen

    Last time the late September national polls did not correctly predict the popular vote winner: 1948.

    Keep hope alive.

  48. jan says:

    Believe it or not OTB is not the political Bible of what is going to happen. There are many other opinions, sites, predictions, summations all of which have different takes on this election. I read what you people say and take it all under consideration. However, there are other variables out there that are not being taken into account, as well as a vast amount of time, when measured in political campaign terms. Anything can happen. It would be wise to have some humility on your side of the aisle.

  49. jukeboxgrad says:

    Believe it or not OTB is not the political Bible of what is going to happen.

    “Believe it or not,” I didn’t reference OTB. I referenced national polling, going back to 1936. Do you grasp the difference?

  50. Tillman says:

    @jan:

    There are many other opinions, sites, predictions, summations all of which have different takes on this election.

    A) Not all of them are honest.
    B) The ones that are have formed a consensus about what the polls are saying.

    If you think the consensus is different from me, that’s a matter of disagreeing over which opinions, sites, predictions, or summations are honest.

    Anything can happen. It would be wise to have some humility on your side of the aisle.

    I’m perfectly humble. I know polls aren’t predicting anything, they’re measuring the national mood. The people making predictions are going off the historical pattern of how national mood measured at specific slices of time correlates to election results. The history is very, very unfavorable to Romney.

    The sun might not rise tomorrow. There is an inborn, unprovable assumption that the future will, in many basic ways, resemble the past. David Hume pointed it out centuries ago. We all get that basic kernel of uncertainty. To pretend it is more than a kernel, though, is disingenuous.

  51. KariQ says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Liberals have nothing like this at all. Air America, MoveOn, Kos and Huffington? Not even close, completely anemic and ineffective.

    Let’s thank heaven for that. One party with no contact with reality is dangerous. I don’t even want to think what would happen if neither was aware of objective reality.

  52. Fiona says:

    After November 6th there will be more of a retrospective truth as to where this country stands, and what it wants from it’s government — either more or less of it. In the meantime, for you to act with such superiority of knowing what is going to happen, may end up backfiring in your face.

    Oh Jan–poor, deluded Jan. As usual, you’re arguing with a straw man. Nobody here, especially the main writers, has said that it’s a sure thing Obama will win. The polls provide a snapshot of where the race is now; they don’t predict who’ll win. And here, in the reality-based universe, people recognize that fact. Plenty can happen between now and the election.

    It’s not surprising that the right would engage in the kind of silly poll denialism we’re now seeing. The anti-science, anti-expert, anti-fact attitude has come to characterize modern Republicanism and, as Steve notes here, makes it increasingly impossible to govern. You, Jan, are a perfect example of that attitude.

  53. Mikey says:

    After thinking about this for a while, I’ve concluded the reasons Republicans are so convinced the polls are “skewed” and the reason Romney is behind is “biased media” are two-fold.

    One, it’s just a natural tendency to want to believe the problem is external to the GOP rather than being a fundamental problem with the party’s message. Nobody wants to accept that the party with which they’ve aligned themselves–and party identification is a pretty big aspect of personality for some people–is just failing at reaching the majority of Americans. Far better, in their minds, to point the finger outward than face the hard reality of necessary change.

    Two, party identification very often works to trump reality. When the two come into conflict, people will modify their perceptions rather than consider how reality works against their party. See this excellent article on Buzzfeed: How The Economy Collapsed (As a Political Issue)

    Now, of course, this doesn’t let the GOP off the hook for its anti-science and anti-intellectual biases, but it does indicate what’s going on may be more “natural” than some people think. Unfortunately, that probably means it will be a far tougher problem to solve.

  54. stonetools says:

    For my part, I want the Republicans to continue to believe that their campaign is working and that their message is attracting ever more voters to the Republican fold. As Napoleon said, Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

    Back in the 1930s and 40s, it took four landslide defeats under Roosevelt and another beat down in 1948 before the Republicans gave up on reversing the New Deal .

    It might take that kind of collapse before these Republicans decide to reverse course.

    While I admire the infrastructure that the right has constructed to create, propagate and support their message, the major flaw is that they can make their own reality and screen out any facts inconvenient to that reality. This seems to be what’s happening

  55. Mikey says:

    @stonetools:

    While I admire the infrastructure that the right has constructed to create, propagate and support their message, the major flaw is that they can make their own reality and screen out any facts inconvenient to that reality.

    I think this is just a reinforcing mechanism for tendencies that are already present, and have been for a long time. Unfortunately it serves to make partisan biases so firm and so extreme that governing is becoming more and more difficult.

    Keep in mind, too, that these tendencies exist on both sides of the aisle. After the end of Reagan’s second term, researchers asked “strong” Democrats what had happened with inflation while Reagan was President. More than half said it had gotten worse. The reality? It had gone from 14% down to 4% during his tenure.

    The big difference I see today is the left doesn’t have the reinforcing mechanism in place that the right has. Even though party preference influences perception, a person still has at least a chance at independent thought if he’s exposed to a contrary viewpoint. The right’s bubble prevents even that from happening.

  56. jukeboxgrad says:

    mikey:

    Far better, in their minds, to point the finger outward than face the hard reality of necessary change.

    Yes, and this is a normal part of human nature. But it goes beyond this, because ‘conservatism’ has adopted a culture of victimization. It goes like this: ‘Even though I am a rich white male and my cohort has always been in charge, and is still in charge, I feel like all the cards are stacked against me, and everyone is trying to deprive me of my rightful place at the top of the heap. This applies to everyone who is not like me with regard to things like race, religion, gender etc. It also applies to many (but not all) major social institutions: the government, the press, academia, and the news/entertainment industry. (However, there are a few institutions I still trust: business, the military and the church.)’

    what’s going on may be more “natural” than some people think

    I think what I’ve described goes beyond the normal human impulse to blame my own problems on any available scapegoat. It’s extreme, and it’s a deep and pervasive feature of Republicanism.

    It’s also quite ironic, because they pretend to be all about personal responsibility, and this phenomenon is the opposite of that.

  57. jukeboxgrad says:

    stonetools:

    While I admire the infrastructure that the right has constructed to create, propagate and support their message …

    What’s interesting is that this infrastructure is now an industry, and it’s probably driven more by profits than ideology. Will Rush, Murdoch and Roger Ailes make more money if Obama wins? Quite possibly. So their motives might not be perfectly aligned with the hordes of ignorant ideologues they exploit. And they may not care at all that they are helping to drive the GOP off a cliff. This should be taken into account when making predictions about how quickly the GOP is going to recover from insanity.

    The industry created to help the GOP succeed now might have a mind of its own, and goals of its own. It goes back to a core belief that drives Republicanism: money is more important than just about anything.

  58. Mikey says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    I think what I’ve described goes beyond the normal human impulse to blame my own problems on any available scapegoat. It’s extreme, and it’s a deep and pervasive feature of Republicanism.

    I believe this is the primary effect of the right’s media bubble. That bubble reinforces the natural impulse, which increases the external shifting of blame. I see this in my conservative friends all the time. They don’t want to understand Romney’s a shitty candidate who is blowing one of the best chances at ousting an incumbent in recent memory, so it’s all the fault of “skewed polls” and “liberal media” and “academics” (this last makes me a bit angry because my daughter will soon be one of the professors they deride). And they hear all the same stuff from Limbaugh and Fox and the rest of the bubble. And when I try to speak up and say “you know, the polls aren’t ‘skewed’ like you think” they just parrot whatever rightist media outlet that comes to mind first. It’s maddening.

    Keep in mind I have generally been right-of-center and it’s pretty tough to realize I’ve been in the bubble, too. Now I understand it’s important to ask myself if and how my political preferences may be distorting my perceptions.

  59. Mikey says:

    Well, my last comment got caught in the spam filter…possibly because I said a bad word…hey, I was caught up in the moment. Could someone please release it?

  60. Jim Henley says:

    I think people should consider that on a topic like this, this is also the OTB Sports blog. Erick and Jan and the others sound like nothing so much as partisans in an ESPN thread telling you that their team is still going to win the division, despite being down five games with five to play and their defense being ranked last in the league. Do they believe their arguments in their own secret hearts? (I’m not talking about their ideological arguments. I’m talking about their arguments about how their team is so poised for a great playoff run.) Who knows. There does not appear to be a foolproof way of telling if that’s secret heart someone’s smearing all over a comment thread. Are they for damn sure going to avoid giving you, fan of their division rival, a moment’s satisfaction in advance? They for damn sure are going to avoid that.

    For all the many virtues of OTB threads as a discussion forum – chief among them that some of you folks are hilarious – it’s not a place where ideological adversaries are much oriented toward connecting as people. Erick’s not going to risk the vulnerability of saying, “Yeah, seriously, I have no idea how the eff we’re losing this thing, but we are somehow and it’s driving me nuts,” any more than Cowboy Clay is going to call into a DC-area sports radio show and allow that, jeez, he wonders if they’ll ever be good enough with a nutbar like Dez Bryant playing for them.

    There actually are places where that kind of thing can happen, even when it comes to non-political sports. Where the Phillies fan can say, “It’s pretty clear we’re starting a long downslide” and the Nationals fan can say, “I feel for you, man. I lived that about two years too long.” But they’re not the rule.

  61. Mikey says:

    Well, let’s try this one again, without the bad word.

    @jukeboxgrad:

    I think what I’ve described goes beyond the normal human impulse to blame my own problems on any available scapegoat. It’s extreme, and it’s a deep and pervasive feature of Republicanism.

    I believe this is the primary effect of the right’s media bubble. That bubble reinforces the natural impulse, which increases the external shifting of blame. I see this in my conservative friends all the time. They don’t want to understand Romney’s a bad candidate who is blowing one of the best chances at ousting an incumbent in recent memory, so it’s all the fault of “skewed polls” and “liberal media” and “academics” (this last makes me a bit angry because my daughter will soon be one of the professors they deride). And they hear all the same stuff from Limbaugh and Fox and the rest of the bubble. And when I try to speak up and say “you know, the polls aren’t ‘skewed’ like you think” they just parrot whatever rightist media outlet that comes to mind first. It’s maddening.

    Keep in mind I have generally been right-of-center and it’s pretty tough to realize I’ve been in the bubble, too. Now I understand it’s important to ask myself if and how my political preferences may be distorting my perceptions.

  62. @Jim Henley: The sports talk/team sports analogy works on a lot of levels in US politics, to be sure.

  63. Jim Henley says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    What’s interesting is that this infrastructure is now an industry, and it’s probably driven more by profits than ideology. Will Rush, Murdoch and Roger Ailes make more money if Obama wins? Quite possibly. So their motives might not be perfectly aligned with the hordes of ignorant ideologues they exploit.

    Also there are enough blocking points in the system – from the filibuster to the supposed left opposition party’s dependence on corporate cash to the increasingly upper-income biases of journalistic celebrities – that it’s not as critical for right-wing goals that the GOP win a particular election as it is for “left-wing” (by American standards) that Democrats win. Conservative, Inc. can afford to farm its base for income even in ways that are counter-productive to winning a presidential election. It’s been stacking the courts for three decades, it made productive redistricting use of its state-level victories in 2010, and the FIRE sector, military contractors and the Likud command the allegiance of both parties elites.

    In that context, getting your guy into the White House is just winning the bonus round.

  64. Jim Henley says:

    Thanks, Steven. I also apparently had a perfectly insightful comment trip the spam filter, Steven, if somebody could check on it at some point, please.

  65. I think all comments have now been liberated. The ways of the filters are mysterious indeed.

  66. jukeboxgrad says:

    mikey:

    I believe this is the primary effect of the right’s media bubble. That bubble reinforces the natural impulse, which increases the external shifting of blame.

    Yes, I agree. There are people who want to feel that way, and there’s an industry based on the idea of helping people feel that way, so I think this dynamic will continue, despite the GOP losing elections. Those losses will just enhance the dynamic.

    when I try to speak up and say “you know, the polls aren’t ‘skewed’ like you think” they just parrot whatever rightist media outlet that comes to mind first. It’s maddening.

    It’s better to feel compassion for them. Hard to do, though.

    ==============
    jim:

    It’s been stacking the courts for three decades, it made productive redistricting use of its state-level victories in 2010, and the FIRE sector, military contractors and the Likud command the allegiance of both parties elites.

    Very true and insightful, thank you. The two parties are different, but not nearly different enough.

  67. john personna says:
  68. jukeboxgrad says:

    Interesting article, thanks.

    … the Internet has let the alternate campaign reality flower this fall in a way that’s both striking and depressing to political professionals and pollsters

    I don’t think that’s quite right. They’re saying this problem is worse then ever because of the internet. Nah, I think the problem is worse than ever mostly because the GOP is crazier than ever. Of course the internet helps, but I don’t think that’s the fundamental issue.

  69. Mikey says:

    Here’s an interesting item from a while back. During the 2004 campaign, a Gallup poll taken in late September of that year showed G. W. Bush with an eight-point lead over John Kerry. MoveOn.org spent $68K to buy a full-page ad in the New York Times, the headline of which read “Gallup-ing to the Right. Why does America’s top pollster keep getting it wrong?”

    MoveOn.org’s complaint at the time? Oversampling of Republicans. I am not kidding.

    Gallup defends results against MoveOn.org attack

  70. elizajane says:

    I blame it on creationism.
    Seriously, when a huge chunk of the population has been trained to disregard evidence in favor of myth, is it any wonder that they can be lead to transfer this ability to other scientific (climate change) and social-science (polling) data?

  71. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    The most serious aspect of the poll denialist conspiracy is it sets up a narrative of the election being “stolen” from them. And given how well armed the truly far right fringe is, that’s what frightens me.

  72. Sri Nune says:

    This article is so well written. Kudos to you Steven ! I hope after this election the Republican party can get back to being an inclusive and a more refined thinking party than what it is today ! The current Republican party in my opinion has become infused with an utter lack of reality. This “bubble” world you infer to is something that I see everyday at work. We have real issues to fix in our country and the Republican strategy of being the party of “no” and expending so much energy on fighting social issues is beginning to set us back further in the highly competitive world we live in.