Eric Cantor and why polling fails

Eric Cantor and why polling fails

Eric Cantor wasn’t the only person at a loss for words on Tuesday night.

His pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, found itself trying to explain the impossible — how a projected 34 percent lead for the House majority leader 12 days before the election could end up an 11-point loss on Election Day to David Brat of the Tea Party in the Virginia Republican primary.

We’ve all been there. There isn’t a pollster alive — me included — who hasn’t had to take the walk of shame, hat in hand, to explain to an angry client why a predicted outcome simply didn’t happen.

Make no mistake: This was a whopper for the ages. McLaughlin didn’t merely get it wrong; this was quantitative malpractice — a mind-blowing modern-day “Dewey Beats Truman” moment.

That said, polls can’t predict elections. They are essential tools, windows into the minds of a particular audience — but they cannot and should not be used as infallible crystal balls.

Trouble is, pollsters are under ever increasing pressure to feed a voracious media beast and provide the answer to that perennial question, “Who’s gonna win?” And therein lies the problem with polls, pollsters and consumers of both.

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