The weird incompetence of our elites!


Big polling experts in action:
Credit where due! Among cable stars, Lawrence O'Donnell took the cake when it came to crazily bogus predictions.

In this earlier post, we recalled the ridiculous way he assured the world that Candidate Clinton was running away with Florida. A few nights later—on Friday, November 4—he opened his show with the number-crunching prediction savant, Princeton professor Sam Wang.

Professor Wang said the Senate could go either way. No so with the White House!
O'DONNELL (11/4/16): Your consortium has put out a projection of a 99 percent chance of [Clinton] winning, is that correct?

WANG: Yes. We should be careful about probabilities this high because once the probability gets that high, it's not so clear that it matters whether it's 91 percent, 95 percent or 99 percent. But yes, that's right. The probability is high enough that my side is reporting it as currently above 99 percent.

O'DONNELL: Just— Is it possible to get a hundred percent probability on one of these things?

WANG: It is never possible to get exactly a hundred percent probability. If my site says 101 percent, then you should worry.

O'DONNELL: OK, so she got the best score she can get. That's the highest score on the SATs here, as it were, of this thing.

WANG: Yes.
Professor Wang had even worked in a joke, so sure was he of the outcome. At any rate, he was reporting a probability of more than 99 percent.

Next, O'Donnell asked Wang to detail his methodology. The skillful professor explained that he only uses the most accurate polls. Along the way, O'Donnell displayed the mawkish behavior TV performers tend to direct at mental giants from Princeton:
WANG: The Princeton Election Consortium and uses entirely state polls. State polls are the most accurate of the polls that are available to polling analysts in the U.S.

And so what we do is we take each state, take the available polls for the last two weeks, actually a little bit shorter period now, calculate a median, so arrange them in order and calculate the median of those polls, figure out the possibility from that of who's ahead in either state, in each of those states, and then take that and compound that across all 56 races.

There are 56 races that determine the Electoral College and that's over 72 quadrillion possibilities and so I have a little script that I've written on my computer that does that. It figures out what the median is, or the midpoint of all those possibilities. And the median currently is at 312 electoral votes, and so the general idea is that is our sharpest snapshot of where the race appears to be, based on today's state polling.

O'DONNELL: That is the first time I've heard "72 quadrillion" used in a sentence, but that's because I'm not in your class at Princeton. And so between now and poll closing Tuesday night, what could change this?

WANG: It would be really unusual for anything to change. I would say that opinion doesn't move very quickly. In the last two decades of polarized politics, voters have gotten more and more entrenched and the only thing that can change is small variations in turnout.

So for instance, if there's a really bad storm on the East Coast then that could depress turnout maybe one or two points, same on the West Coast. So I think given the way things stand right now, it would take a very large weather event to change things and, you know, the forecasters in that domain are not expecting a giant weather event.
If a hurricane hit the East Coast, Wang's prediction might be affected, he said. Four nights later, in beautiful weather, Dewey beat Truman again!

It's amazing how little is currently being said about the three interventions in this campaign performed by Comey the God. Also, how little is being said about the failure of the predictive giants who sailed the ship of state into an iceberg, as was done with the unsinkable Titanic of old.

In this morning's New York Times, Julie Turkewitz filed a fascinating report from the conference of the International Association of Political Consultants. She described a remarkable panel discussion involving three polling experts.

Who knows? Maybe Turkewitz is misreporting what these experts said. But if Turkewitz is reporting it straight, they made some remarkable statements.

The experts seem to have described themselves as complete incompetents. Presumably, the word "some" really means "two" in this three-panelist context:
TURKEWITZ: In one session dedicated to polling, three panelists who had predicted Mrs. Clinton would win took to the stage, framed by a royal blue backdrop. Instead of PowerPoint presentations and state-by-state voter analyses, there was morose self-flagellation, as some admitted they had spent the election seduced by “magical thinking,” unable to envision a Trump presidency and therefore blind to the story in front of them.

Margie Omero of PSB Research theorized that pollsters had held back Trump-leaning data,
unwilling to release something that looked like an outlier. Or that Trump supporters had simply not told pollsters the truth, either embarrassed by their choice or angry at callers whom they perceived as part of a conspiracy against him.

“It was impossible to conceive of an incoming President Trump,” said Ms. Omero, whose firm has worked for both former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton over the years. “A couple-point advantage seemed comforting to prevent something so catastrophic.”

Mr. Anderson, the Democratic pollster, said he should have seen the win all along.

“The story that played out was right in front of me,” he said.
(Mrs. Clinton never went above 45 percent in his surveys.) “But my basic assumption, and why I think why I was wrong was I continued to say to myself: ‘This segment of voters, about 15 percent, who view both of them unfavorably, they think Clinton has the judgment, temperament and qualifications to be president. They do not think the same of Trump.’ So I believed that at the end of the day they would vote for Clinton.”
If Turkewitz is reporting this straight, two of the pollsters confessed to "magical thinking." They'd been unable to envision a win by Trump. For that reason, they were blind to what was occurring.

Omero theorized that pollsters simply withheld data which favored Trump. That's pretty much what Trump said all along.

Omero further said it had been impossible to conceive of Trump winning. Anderson seemed to say that he simply refused to believe that a key segment of voters could possibly break for Trump. He'd been reading the flight of birds.

We've suggested for years that you shouldn't put your faith in our professors and experts.

We've long been amazed by the general incompetence of the nation's education experts. If Turkewitz is reporting this straight, it may be time for a pair of top polling experts to go.


  1. Or maybe the election was rigged and Ohio, Michigan, and other states voted Clinton due to some electronic manipulation in the tabulation.

  2. Polls have two types of errors
    1. Statistical variability
    2. Assumptions underlying the model.

    Pollsters generally report the error range corresponding to #1 only. They'll say their poll is, e.g., "Plus or minus 3%". But, #2 is a bigger source of error. However, it cannot be qualified, and pollsters tend not to talk about it.

    A famous historical example is the telephone poll for Truman vs. Dewey. The pollsters assumed that they were geting a random sample. However, in those days, people owning telephones tended to be richer than average and more Republican than average.

    Pollsters today are aware of many factors that might make their results uncertain. E.g., maybe one side or the other is more likely to be willing to respond to a poll. Maybe people supporting a particular candidate are less likley to admit their preference. Maybe voters for one side are more likely to actually vote than voters for the other side.

    Although pollsters recognize these problems, they can only be dealt with judgmentally. That was especially true with Trump, who attracted a somewhat different type of voter than, say, Romney did.

  3. I am not sure what the point is of these Nostrodami anyway. I saw a polysci professor on Monday and he had written a predictive column. I told him that I was going to make my predictions on Wednesday.

    I still think part of it is self-fulfilling. The media spend months pounding the message about who is going to win. That could sway 3-5% of the voters and make it happen.

    This time they perhaps did not have a consistent message. To some degree as well, a "Clinton is going to win" message might encourage Bernie supporters to cast a protest vote for Johnson or Stein, expecting that it would not matter.

    I did that myself in 1996 (not that anybody noticed). Really I think there were enough pissed off Bern victims that voted for Johnson or Stein to tip Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida into Trump's column.

    As for Ohio, well, I said she should have picked Sherrod Brown. That likely might have gone some way to appeasing Bern victims too.

    I still think people do not realize how close 2012 was. It looks like an electoral college blow out, but Romney only needed to flip about 40,000 votes to win Florida and less than 100,000 to win Ohio and 80,000 to win Virginia and so on.

    Johnson and Stein got 1.4% in 2012 and 4.3% in 2016 and that made the difference.

  4. Everyone who reads Somerby's blog knows why Trump won. And it's not because of his stance on coal, or Hillary's disregard for the white working class, or any other stupid shit the media is talking about. He won because of the presence of false beliefs and the lack of true beliefs in the minds of tens of millions of voters . . . which in turn are the result of 20+ years of bogus attacks on the Clintons; the abuse of congressional Republicans' power via endless "investigations" and hearings about Hillary's supposedly many wrongdoings; the right-wing media's constant anti-Clinton propaganda; the mainstream media's echoing of much of this propaganda (plus its creating of some of its own) and its failure to push back on such propaganda vigorously and routinely; Russia hacking the private emails of top Democrats and Wikileaks' strategic release of them, which kept them alive in press coverage nearly every day during the final weeks of the campaign; and as if all that weren't enough, there was also the FBI's unprecedented interference in the election which the media then magnified by a factor of about a million, making it seem like there HAD to be fire behind all of that smoke -- especially Comey's letter just 11 days before the election. Regarding Trump-related beliefs, the fault lies mostly with various parts of the media. They failed to go on the attack early enough and stay on the attack. And of course there were various figures in the media pimping for Trump (or at least "normalizing" him) -- mostly on the right.

    In other words, our side lost a propaganda war, plain and simple. Throughought the entire campaign, most of my conservative Facebook friends posted all the usual crap about Clinton -- Benghazi, the Clinton foundation, emails . . . in particular, that video which juxtaposed Clinton's statements about her emails with Comey's statements, making her out to be a liar and a bad, possibly criminal person for mishandling "top secret" information. (The Clinton campaign did a terrible job of countering this and other attacks; Hillary was not lying in that press conference - at least there is a very plausible explanation for what she said that doesn't involve lying.) Some people, on FB or in comments sections of blogs/articles, wrote about how they could never vote for Hillary because of all her "lies" and "corruption" and because she had blood on her hands from Benghazi and because she had engaged in criminal behavior with her emails, compromising the country's safety by mishandling classified info. They didn't like Trump much either, but they bought into the belief that he "tells it like it is" and he wasn't bought and paid for like other politicians and he was a business genius who had built an empire from hardly nothing and therefore he would be great with the economy, plus he would be tough on terrorists. Remember that ridiculous poll that showed more people thought Hillary was less trustworthy than Trump? That represents a massive failure on the Dems' and the media's part, and a massive propaganda success on the part of the right. I think it's not an exaggeration to say Trump was the worst candidate ever to run for president in nearly every conceivable way (personal life, business ethics, business failures, tax dodging, lack of transparency, temperament, experience, lack of knowlege/understanding, the outlandlish offensive shit he constantly said, his constant lies and conspiracy theories, etc., etc., etc.). He never should have gotten anywhere close the White House. Whereas Clinton is a lifelong do-gooder/policy wonk -- and a smart and competent one, at that. The difference was night and day, and yet in the end, nearly half of voters thought Trump was the better choice. That is truly staggering - and a depressing statement about human naturee/human affairs.

    That is why Trump won.

    1. I don't know about your "massive failure" statement. She won the popular vote, even though Trump squeezed though the electoral college by the thinnest of margins in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pa.

      Her mistake was not paying enough attention in these states. Right wing governors and senators were elected there, and this should have been seen as "red" flags, a good pun.

    2. Her mistake was obviously that she didn't campaign everywhere all the time.

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  5. Human beings are fallible; is this news?

  6. Somerby probably thinks we shouldn't trust anything said by the geologists who study earthquakes because they cannot predict the occurrence of an earthquake accurately either.

  7. Which takes longer: the FBI to read 650,000 of Huma's emails or Professor Wang to average 72 X 10^16 Electoral College possibilities?

    That pondered, I seem to recall reports that national polls averaged had Clinton with a pretty consistent 4-point lead in the popular vote. Once all the votes are counted, she may wind up leading Trump by as much as two points. Experts would call that "within the margin of error."

    In the final days, Nate Silver's 538 gave Trump something like a 35% chance of winning. I would never bet the farm on a horse with those odds, but they do win occasionally.

    Now let's start making book on Trump's impeachment

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