Poll projections prove accurate with re-election

November 8, 2012


Staff Reporter


History professor David Anderson predicted in a public lecture last week that President Barack Obama would win Tuesday’s election based on projections by the polls despite Republican claims that the polls were one-sided and inaccurate.


“I wasn’t vindicated; I think the pollsters were,” Anderson said.


Many Republicans were comparing this year’s election to the 1980 election between President Jimmy Carter and then Gov. Ronald Reagan: Mitt Romney would win the election because of his good showing in the first debate just as Reagan did after his first debate despite what conservatives contend is the liberal bias of polls.


However, Anderson said in the public lecture that Reagan’s success was not due to the debate, but to the polls, and pollsters have no reason to have a liberal bias.


“Republicans are criticizing the polls and thinking they are being skewed by liberals,” said Anderson, who teaches a class this quarter on the history of presidential elections. “The pollsters are saying ‘we have no agenda because our reputation is based on our accuracy.’


“Pollsters make their money by being accurate, not biased, and when polls are accurate it gives more weight to the polls and the profession,” he said.


Anderson said some Americans disagree with the poll because election predictions often influence the outcome to the point that they feel their vote doesn’t count.


“Some feel the election isn’t really authentic unless there seems to be an element of chance,” Anderson said. “They almost feel cheated by the polls.”


Even though the polls can predict the outcome of the election, people should not be discouraged from voting, he said.


“It is about participating in civic life,” Anderson said.


The pollsters are not trying to predict an outcome, but instead telling people what they are analyzing.


“The critics of the polls were making it as if somehow the polls determined human action,” Anderson said.


The polls are not correct unless people behave the way they should, Anderson said. He said when polls predict that a certain percentage of people will vote for a particular candidate, it simply shows a statistical probability of the candidate winning, instead of absolutely calling the election.


“The polls are predicting human action,” Anderson said. “It is saying if we acted this way, then the election will go that way, but if we do not act, then the election will turn out another way.”


It is the news media that make the information definite, Anderson said.


“The media likes polls to make the race more exciting,” he said.


He also said both Republican and Democratic campaigns use the polls to their advantages, something the Reagan campaign was the first to do.


“Richard Wirthlin was used by Reagan as a pollster,” Anderson said. “He was the godfather of modern polling.”


Anderson said it was Wirthlin’s polling method, not Reagan’s debate performance, that helped Reagan win the election.


“He predicted a low Democratic turnout and he was right,” he said.


Wirthlin polls predicted Reagan would win the election, and this gave rise to the more prevalent use of polls in the presidential elections, Anderson said.


Anderson said Wirthlin used statistics to see how people would behave in the election; he used them to see how things were instead of a distortion to get people to view the campaign in a certain way. He said the Democrats and Republicans used media-reported polls to their advantage during the campaign to show either Romney or Obama in the lead.


“They are all dependent on their models,” Anderson said. “They are not right or wrong; it is just dependent on their models.”


In the end, the polls projecting President Obama winning the election were correct. Anderson said Republicans really thought they had a chance at winning because of the economy and it was amazing that Obama pulled off a win in this tough economy.


“I almost think the voters are saying ‘Let’s not change anything; we are at a fragile time and let’s stick with the same thing,’” he said.


Anderson said the support for Obama because of to his race is unlikely.


“I am surprised how the Republicans are making race and gender an issue,” Anderson said. “I don’t think race explains it.”


Anderson said he believes the support of President Obama and the Democrats is because of a culture shift.


“Virginia now is in danger for the Republicans of being a Democratic stronghold,” Anderson said. “The area of the Republicans are shrinking, the white rural areas.”


He said the Democrats picked up many victories in the 2012 election, especially winning a majority in the Senate, and there was definitely a cultural change. Gay marriage was legalized in Maine and Maryland, and marijuana in Colorado and Washington.


Anderson said it is now up to Republicans to see why they lost the election and what the polls mean.


“You’ll have a lot of soul searching by the Republicans,” Anderson said. “The Republicans have run the establishment candidate the last few terms – George H.W. Bush, Dole, McCain and now Romney, and after everyone they say we have to run a real conservative the next time.”


Anderson said Republicans continue to hold on to the Reagan myth that Ronald Reagan was an absolute conservative.


“I don’t know if they will drop the Golden standard in Reagan,” Anderson said. “I think those who advocate it are the media.”


Anderson said Reagan did raise taxes and expanded the role of government despite Republicans saying otherwise.


Anderson said Romney and his campaign’s use of the Reagan comeback of 1980 that really never happened could have been a misunderstanding or a different interpretation.


“Romney is not Reagan,” Anderson said. “Obama is not Carter and this not 1980.”


The only similarity to the election of 1980 and 2012 are the projections of the winner by the polls.


“It adds interest to the race to see if the polls are right or wrong,” Anderson said. “It adds another element of suspense.”


Email comments to rcj008@latech.edu.


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