How Can So Many Experts Be So Wrong?

If you were a betting person, you could have placed a safe bet on Hillary to beat Donald. Well, that is if you believe the oddsmakers. You would have been wrong, but not alone. Almost everybody was wrong, and that’s alarming.

This isn’t a blog about politics. This is a blog about quantitative data and how it is impacted by more factors than anybody really understands. It’s becoming increasingly evident that polls are a slippery slope in this digital, cellphone-based world. There are very few land lines left, and young people and others are simply not found via traditional polling methods.

I believe in Newton’s third law – that for every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction. But polling is an uncertain science, to say the least. What happens, for instance, when people don’t tell you what they are really going to do out of concern for privacy, retribution or appearing politically incorrect? Donald Trump may be able to answer that. But for the rest of us, the silent, Midwestern voting bloc (many of whom had voted Democratic for almost forever) provided a Tuesday night surprise that left pundits scrambling and pollsters embarrassed. I like what Larry Sabato had to say: He didn’t just have egg on his face, he had the whole omelet.

Sure, a few people had it right. Well, very few. I actually heard campaign people predicting an electoral landslide for Hillary Clinton and a Republican Party in shambles. For whatever reason(s), it’s actually the Democrats’ car in the shop for more than a tune-up.

While this election will go down in history for hitting some new, all-time lows in mud-slinging (yes, I said mud), I wonder what would have happened if the candidates had focused on substance versus subterfuge and policies versus pandering.

A senior member of the George H. Bush administration once told me that information is key in government, and you had to have a lot of it. As my boss, he warned that if you made a decision based on sound information, and it wasn’t, trouble would ensue.

Polling and predicting involve such a huge number of variables that outcomes are never certain. I’m sure there are people today planning to start new polling companies that will try to get it right next time. Problem is, there are too many people staying off the demographic grid. These are the hard-to-find individuals who actually vote, pay taxes and send their kids to college. They do this quietly without ever showing a political hand.

Maybe it was this silent majority that suddenly awakened and suggested enough is enough. And maybe some incalculable circumstance will cause these folks to vote differently in the next election.

Nothing is certain but uncertainty. More mistakes will made in predicting elections, just as there are when betting on a team, horse or craps table. After all, isn’t that why they call it a “crapshoot?”

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