If you think everyone you know has been obsessed with this election so far, brace yourself for the remaining few days. In particular, we’re going to be entranced by every tremor in the polling data because for some reason we’re desperate to know the outcome right now even though we’ll know the real outcome in mere days. So it’s important to imbibe a dose of reality about how polls are likely getting it right and getting it wrong.
The big ideas to remember: Recent swings in polling data probably don’t reflect similarly wide swings in voter sentiment. Dramatic events – the FBI’s announcement about its Hillary Clinton email investigation, the tape of Donald Trump talking with Billy Bush – probably haven’t changed the race much. We should insist on a sober view of our own biases and those of the analysts we read, because we’re all shockingly inclined to see what we want to see. And just possibly the polling hides an advantage for Trump.
In a fascinating article by YouGov pollsters Benjamin Lauderdale and Douglas Rivers, we learn the many ways in which pollsters can go astray. It can get a bit recondite, but if you remember nothing else, remember this fact: When your candidate is in trouble, you’re less likely to respond to opinion polls. If pollsters don’t adjust for that tendency, then every major campaign news event will produce polls results finding – maybe falsely – that the injured candidate is losing support.
Lauderdale and Rivers believe Clinton is still the likely winner. After deep analysis, they conclude: “Clinton was probably never leading by double digits, nor has she fallen as far as some recent polls suggest. The truth is more prosaic: Most voters knew how they were going to vote before the campaign began; real swings are rare and usually small.”
RealClearPolitics analyst Sean Trende identifies a different source of error: We don’t read the data objectively. He examines Exhibit A in the case against polling, the wrong predictions of last June’s Brexit vote. The trouble with that case, he says, is that the polling wasn’t terrible; the bigger mistake was how people analyzed it. “The socioeconomic class to which columnists, analysts, and speculators in political markets belonged had a heavy pro-Remain tilt to it. This infiltrated their analysis, as the supposedly objective measurements that they chose turned out to be massive exercises in confirmation bias.” Trende believes Clinton is still the frontrunner, but he notes that confirmation bias is probably playing out in the U.S. on both sides.
In fact, Lauderdale and Rivers think that for all their careful tweaking of the data, the extraordinary nature of this year’s race may hide an unpredictable advantage for Trump. “People who are alienated from the political system” – that is, many Trump supporters – “are less likely to respond to polls, especially when they (rightly) suspect that their preferences are the subject of scorn,” they write. So polling may systematically understate Trump’s support. In addition, “while such groups are often less likely to vote, “ the YouGov model assumes they’ll vote at the same rate as they voted in 2012, when Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee. Is that a reasonable assumption? The authors acknowledge that alienated voters might turn out in larger numbers for Trump than they did for Romney.
Bottom line, a cold-eyed analyst would still bet on Clinton. And yet… a race that has blasted so much that we thought we knew may be saving its final surprise for the pollsters.
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What We’re Reading Today
Parliament must approve Brexit
The U.K.’s High Court ruled that the government cannot trigger the process of leaving the E.U. without parliamentary approval. The decision means that MPs, most of whom opposed Brexit, could force Prime Minister Theresa May to temper her “hard Brexit” plan. The High Court said its decision could be appealed to the country’s Supreme Court. Fortune
John Mackey takes full control of Whole Foods
Co-founder Mackey has long served as co-CEO with Walter Robb, who will step down from that role at year-end. The company reported that annual comparable store sales had declined for the first time since 2009, and the board felt a clearer leadership structure would help it respond. WSJ
Obama criticizes FBI director Comey
Speaking on Hillary Clinton emails, President Obama said the FBI doesn’t operate on “incomplete information.” Critics from both parties have attacked director James Comey for announcing that more emails may have been discovered 11 days before the election, without further detail. Politico
Prosecutors sue DirectTV and AT&T for collusion
The Justice Department says DirectTV and its now-parent company, Randall Stephenson‘s AT&T, colluded with one another and with Cox and Charter Communications in negotiating with Time Warner Cable, which owned broadcast rights to Los Angeles Dodger games. The goal was allegedly to get a lower price for carrying the games. Los Angeles Times
Building A Better Leader
If you work for an unpredictable boss…
…prone to outbursts, don’t take it personally. You likely triggered a response to some larger personal issue. Harvard Business Review
The number of Americans seeking jobs in Canada…
…on Monster.com has risen 58% since last year. The likeliest cause is anxiety over the election. Fortune
Defense Secretary Ash Carter wants $140 Million…
…to broaden military recruiting over the next five years, including boosting the ROTC program. He also wants to review rules that disqualify potential recruits, such as those prohibiting tattoos and past marijuana use. Associated Press
Adidas CEO lays out first big change
The new head of the sports apparel company, Kasper Rorsted, says he wants to create a new global team to head its Reebok unit. Plans also include a new Reebok headquarters in Boston next year and closing a number of the brand’s stores. WSJ
Automakers bear “ultimate responsibility” in Takata airbags recall
So said National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Mark Rosekind, addressing concerns that automakers haven’t done enough to replace the faulty airbags. An estimated 300,000 older vehicles in the U.S., mostly Hondas, still carry the airbags. Takahiro Hachigo‘s Honda says it’s trying to find new ways to reach owners and convince them to get the airbags replaced. Fortune
Mattel prepares for CEO’s departure
The toy company has reportedly hired the Spencer Stuart search firm to identify a successor to CEO Christopher Sinclair, hoping to avoid a repeat of its most recent, troubled succession. Timing is unclear; Sinclair says he intends to stay until Mattel’s turnaround is complete. MarketWatch
Up or Out
Gap CFO Sabrina Simmons will step down at the end of January. Business Wire
Fortune Reads and Videos
Facebook blew past profit expectations…
…but its stock fell after its earnings announcement. CFO David Wehner warned of “ad revenue growth rates come down meaningfully.” Fortune
Kohl’s will start selling the Apple Watch…
…in 400 stores on November 15, just in time for the holiday rush. Fortune
America’s least miserable airport…
…is Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, according to a new ranking that considers delays, cancellations, wait times, and other factors. The worst is New York’s LaGuardia, as if any traveler needed data analysis to tell them that. Fortune
Whether your favorite store is open on Thanksgiving…
…will depend on how that decision affects profitability. For promotion-heavy stores, such as Macy’s, an extra day can only help. Fortune
Quote of the Day
“That really resonated. More than anything else, that feeling influenced my decision to come to Chicago, because that was the one place in the world where you could experience something that meaningful again and play a small part in contributing to something that meaningful.” — Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein saying last year how Boston Red Sox fans still thanked him daily for developing a team that broke the team’s World Series losing streak. Chicago Tribune