Cause for pause
By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 17, 2016
The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has brought up numerous questions about just what is going on in the country to our south.
Questions about sexism, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism and plight of the “rust belt” American male will be asked for a long time as political scientists try to dissect exactly what happened during last week’s election.
Another question that should be asked is one about the validity of political polls and if they are in fact harmful to the electoral process, and perhaps our political culture at large.
Readers will recall that leading up to the Nov. 8 election, virtually none of the multitudinous polls being conducted throughout America predicted a Trump victory.
In fact, most pollsters gave Clinton a 70 to 99 per cent chance of winning. These stats were repeated and repeated and repeated in the media for weeks leading up to the election.
The election of Donald Trump, according to the statistical experts, was all but an impossibility.
Then, bam! A huge, orange atom bomb shatters expectations, leaving Americans, and many people around the world, dumbfounded at the result.
Polling is an unscientific science, yes, one that typically carries a margin of error of two to three per cent.
But how could this happen? How could the vast majority of polls be so wrong?
Theorizing will go on for some time. Perhaps polling organizations are not reaching far enough outside urban areas. Perhaps people were just too embarrassed to admit they planned to vote for Trump.
The point is, for months, Americans were basically reassured by pollsters that Hillary Clinton was going to be their next president.
How many Clinton supporters didn’t bother showing up to vote since an echo chamber of statisticians kept reiterating her supposed victory?
It’s a question worth asking.
Political polls are interesting, sure, and help fill time on the air. Pollsters are often brought on for television segments, both in the U.S. and here in Canada, and organizations such as Nanos and Reuters are referred to in the media all the time.
But should they be? What’s the point of paying attention to polls if they aren’t going to be remotely accurate?
How many pollsters in this country predicted a Trudeau majority in the last federal election, or a Wynne majority in the last provincial election, for that matter?
Former prime minister John Diefenbaker apparently once said that dogs knew best what to do with polls.
Perhaps he had a point.