We are starting to hear about those political opinion polls again. They are slipping up on us on the sly like they do every election, infusing themselves in our conversations and our information gathering without our taking real notice of them.
How short are our memories regarding the veracity of those polls and their utility. How quickly some of us have forgotten what fools they made of us (myself included) over the years from Dewey to Hillary. And yet we revel when our candidate enjoys the favor of the majority and question the intelligence and/or astuteness of that majority when it supports another.
Take the presidential polls we have seen of late harkening one candidate well ahead of the other. Do we not realize that with our country so divided, the final popular vote will be very close as it has been in so many previous elections? Do we have any idea how the Electoral College vote (the one that counts) will go? And these polls, even if accurate, conducted on a national scale are useless for the presidential election because of the Electoral College.
We all know that each state gets the number of electoral votes equal to the number of congressional seats it holds. Each state, therefore, is allotted two electoral votes for its two Federal Senators, and then one electoral vote for each of its Representatives in the House. We also know that while a few states proportion out its electoral vote based on the number of popular votes each candidate received in that state, the majority of states have a winner-take-all system wherein whomever wins the popular vote in that state is awarded ALL the state’s electoral votes no matter how slim the victory.
I’ve often wondered how badly a candidate could be beaten in the popular vote and still be elected President by the Electoral Vote. Say a candidate won each of the few very populous states needed to reach 270 or so Electoral votes by just one popular vote, just one, and then did not get even one single popular vote in any of the remaining states. I’d figure it out if I had a more recent edition of a world almanac than 1989. Whatever the magnitude of the popular vote defeat and the electoral vote victory, the idea is interesting, isn’t it?
Anyway, the polls we hear about would be slightly more germane if an electoral vote were tallied. Pollsters could canvas states individually to see what the electoral vote count (the one that counts) was looking like.
In seventh grade civics class we all learned why we have an Electoral College today based on a compromise in 1787 that was necessary to get everyone on board the Constitution and how some of that reasoning still stands today. (How often would Wyoming or Montana or some other electoral vote poor state ever see a presidential candidate or ever get a new road or dam if only popular votes were counted?)
To be completely honest, something we all avoid, I must confess that I am of little help to improving the accuracy of those polls. I used to avoid answering any of those pollsters’ questions, keeping my personal information as to gender, age, political affiliations and preferences, etc. to myself. Now, I answer pollsters questions but maintain my privacy by lying to them.
Recently, I’ve been an 18 year old female high school dropout with two kids, a 39 year old college graduate bachelor working for a computer company, and a slightly tipsy 83 year old grampa with severe gout.
I’ve been an avid voter, an occasional voter, and one who never votes because “it just encourages them.” I’ve been a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, and I wanted to pledge loyalty to the Bull Moose Party but the option was not presented.
When I commit these acts of mendacity the statistician within me cringes, but the fifth-grader in me rejoices. Hey, this is America, right? Freedom of Speech, right? The polls might not provide much useful information but their reports provide some light entertainment between wildfires and covid deaths.