Froma Harrop: Pollsters were biggest losers
Sat., March 12, 2016
When the dust settled after Tuesday’s Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton expanded her commanding lead over Bernie Sanders by 18 delegates. This was the political bottom line, but it wasn’t THE story, was it?
The story was that by confounding pollster expectations that Clinton would handily take Michigan, Bernie scored a huge upset. Thus, Clinton’s loss in Michigan was “shocking” and Bernie’s win “stunning,” according to the Washington Post.
Actually, the two split Michigan pretty much evenly. Bernie’s 49.8 percent victory in Michigan was no more spectacular than Hillary’s 49.9 percent win in Iowa.
We are assuming it’s the vote that matters, as opposed to the story. Bernie’s great triumph came from upending the predictions of pollsters who, obviously, weren’t doing a very good job of polling. It’s all part of a pundit-pollster complex in which the analyzers play the man behind the curtain and the voters are munchkins who serve to validate their confidently delivered predictions.
Bernie did run a strong campaign in Michigan. He wisely showed up in the smaller cities, such as Traverse City and Kalamazoo. And he profited from his simple, if simple-minded, message that trade agreements single-handedly killed thousands of factory jobs in the Rust Belt.
One can understand the anger of a worker whose employer packed up and moved to Mexico. And the North American Free Trade Agreement provides a handy explanation of why that happened.
It’s a lot harder to examine the complex dynamics of trade. Reputable economists who have studied NAFTA, including some of its critics, have concluded that the accord modestly helped the American economy on the whole.
How many of the jobs that did leave for Mexico would have otherwise gone to even-lower-wage China? And how has rising demand for U.S. products from Mexico’s growing middle class helped U.S. manufacturing?
Back to the pundits.
The herd has stampeded to the importance of “angry white working-class men,” a group with which Bernie did quite well in Michigan. And they are important. (Many Democrats have long erred in cultivating racial and ethnic identity politics at the expense of white blokes.)
At the same time, THE story could have lingered longer on Clinton’s decisive win in Mississippi, where 90 percent of that state’s large African-American electorate chose Hillary over Bernie. Black votes matter just as much as white votes, do they not?
My Bernie friends have been cross with me of late. They accuse me of being blindly in love with Hillary.
Not true. I don’t love Hillary. She exasperates me on a number of counts. Bernie is more lovable, but he bothers me more. I am suspicious of radical promises from one who couldn’t get a single senator to co-sponsor his single-payer plan. And Bernie’s scheme for funding his proposals was so off-the-wall unrealistic it left even liberal economists gasping.
I do share with my Bernie friends a fear of the Republican candidates, except (in my case) John Kasich. My Bernie people will persist in sending me polls “showing” that he could more easily defeat any of the leading Republicans in a general election than could Hillary.
What those polls really show is how well Bernie would do if he were the nominee and Republicans let his politics, writings and personal history skate into November without comment. Hillary has already been copiously dumped upon.
Really, how much stock are you going to put in an eight-months-hence prediction from the same fellows who couldn’t get Michigan right the night before? The biggest losers on Tuesday were the pollsters, for sure.
Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.
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