Listen up my little ones, because I have a story to tell that I was pointed to by Dave Weigel! You certainly know about the website Real Clear Politics, where they put together all of the major polls and provide an average, even though the polls are not all of equal value. But still, that’s not a bad approach to figuring out what’s going on. It is certainly better than getting all excited about one poll or another. But it was not always this way.
Remember back in 2000, Al Gore ran against the President Whose Name Dare Not Be Mentioned. As you probably recall, Gore won the popular vote. And he would have have won the electoral college if the Supreme Court had not voted to stop the recount in Florida. So you would think that the polls from that time would have been close. And you would be right!
But if you thought that the Real Clear Politics final call would be close, you would be very, very wrong. Take Florida for example. There were four polls: Bush +4, Gore +2, Bush +3, Gore +3. That is close with an average of Bush +0.5. The RCP final call: Bush +6! (This was at best a minor win for Bush: less than 0.1 percentage points.) But there’s more: Pennsylvania. There were two polls: Bush +1, Gore +1. The RCP final call: Bush +4! (Gore won by 4.2 percentage points.) But there’s more: California! There were three polls: Gore +9, Gore +4, Gore +6. The RCP final call: Bush +2! (Gore won by 11.7 percentage points.)
What is particularly funny about this is Real Clear Politics seems to have been snookered by Karl Rove and the Bush campaign. At the end of the campaign, Rove sent Bush to California. This was done only to get the media chattering: “Bush has a chance of winning California! He’s another Reagan!” And it not only worked with the regular media, but RCP fell for it as well.
I am genuinely concerned that we liberals are placing too much faith in poor ol’ Nate Silver. He does seem the most reasonable person to listen to. But the truth is that the polls are a mess. Perhaps it is best to take William Goldman’s advice and trust no one. “Nobody knows anything.”