Before you fire your pollsters

Before you fire your pollsters

pollsterThis election was fascinating. It is amazing that Clinton lost to a guy who has shown that he is not qualified for the job. This is not even up for debate. The last four years have proved it convincingly. He is now the president-elect and we must wish him success. If he behaves himself. Here is the rub. We are not sure he is able to behave himself, based on what this 70-year-old has allowed us to see. In their rush to explain Clinton’s monumental loss, pundits have been quick to throw the pollsters under the proverbial bus. They got it wrong, they say. Trump tapped into what nobody else could see. Rural America was hurting, jobs were being shipped overseas, the elites have given them a raw deal with technology, leaving them with nothing to fend for themselves with and that explains Hillary’s catastrophic loss. People who want easy explanations will buy into that — to give them something to wrap their arms around. While these explanations can be some of the reasons for Clinton’s defeat, there is no way they should be  considered as the primary causes for the DNC’s debacle. There was an elephant in the room and Van Jones mentioned it during that fateful Wednesday morning : white-lash. It propelled Trump into political stardom.

However, it must be said that while it is true that Trump amassed his political capital with it, even white-lash was not wealthy enough to buy him the presidency. Doubtless, it is interwoven into many of the factors that have finally catapulted him inside the White House but there is something even more powerful that helped him. If we are to fault pollsters for predicting the wrong winner, what we should blame them for was underestimating the impact of Comey’s intervention in the electoral process only eleven days away from election day. That letter announcing lawmakers on Capitol Hill that Clinton’s e-mails were found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop effectively revived an investigation that Comey completed. It did what the Russians and Wikileaks valiantly tried to do but failed to. It gave the momentum to Trump. That announcement knocked the wind out from under Clinton and she never recovered.

The Access Hollywood tape had Trump doomed. Even Billy Bush, who was just a sounding board to the billionaire, lost his job over the 11-year-old incident. For everybody, even his fellow republicans, Donald Trump had hung himself in that tape and had nobody else but himself to blame for his impending demise. People began to flee like he had the plague. Jason Chaffez, Republican congressman from Utah, declared he was done with him, not wanting to tie his good name to someone bragging about sexual assault. The Utah buoyant congressman declared he could not look at his 15-year-old daughter in the face and still support Trump. The wave of defections in Trump’s party reached a fever pitch. One after another, tapes of Donald Trump on the Howard Stern show were unearthed and people could hear Donald Trump himself bragging that he can “get away” with walking in on “incredibly beautiful” naked contestants in his beauty pageant because he was the owner of the show and was entitled to inspecting them. One by one women came out of the woodwork accusing him of the very thing he bragged about on the tape. It was painfully obvious to his surrogates that the election was out of reach. The Clinton camp got everything it wanted, Hillary winning debate after debate against Trump – in fact she schooled him in all three – while he continued to dig the hole where he was burying himself.

It was in this toxic brew that Trump was wallowing hopelessly in that James Comey made his announcement and saved him. But prior to that, Rudy Guiliani, one of the candidate’s most visible and vocal surrogates went on Fox News to announce that they would not go down without a fight and had a couple of things up their sleeves – major revelations that would turn the campaign around. Sure enough, Comey delivered. His announcement removed the focus from Trump and breathed new life into his campaign. Now Clinton was in the spotlight trying to shed the perception that she was caught and was going to be prosecuted. He was free to attack mercilessly. He did with a vengeance.

This scandal is bigger than Watergate, he said. Crooked Hillary has finally been caught. He associated her with “pervert Weiner.” He mocked Weiner and Huma Abedin, his ex-wife and Clinton’s closest admin and confidante. Thank you Huma, thank you Anthony, he derided them. He sent his followers into a frenzy, utterly delighting them with his attacks against Clinton. He said if Hillary got elected she will spend the next four years under investigation and will be unable to govern. For him and his supporters there were grounds to imprison the former first lady and the cries to “lock her up” grew louder. In this atmosphere totally deleterious toward Clinton, Mike Pence began to reach out to wayward Republicans who had fled his running mate because of the despicable Access Hollywood tape. And surely they were coming home. Prodigal Chaffez went back to his abode. His good name could be now be associated with Trump again. He would now feel no shame in looking at his teenage daughter square in the eyes and tell her that he supports a man who bragged of grabbing helpless women by their genitals and inspected naked girls her age in his beauty pageant. Other colleagues followed suit. For nine endless days Trump continued his relentless hammering of Clinton. It is clear now that his assault took its toll on her. Not only did it embolden Republicans, it demoralized both democrats and independents who were reluctantly warming up to the former secretary of state.

There is a Pavlovian aspect to Comey’s interventions that sounded the death knell for Clinton’s presidential bid. People hate to be jerked around. Take Ted Cruz, for instance. Trump had disparaged his wife, insinuating that he was in possession of incriminating information about her. Then he went on to link Cruz’s father to JFK’s assassination. This definitely created some bad blood between the two men. Trump’s attack on his wife almost sent Cruz into an obscenity saturated rant against a candidate who did not have the decency to leave his spouse out of the contest, threatening to drag her into the cesspool. A mortified Ted Cruz went to the Republican convention and did not endorse Trump. Kicking and screaming Cruz finally endorsed him. He even made a few calls on the Republican nominee’s behalf. But when the story broke, Cruz did not rescind his endorsement. He would look like a fool if he did. Instead, he lamented that NBC sat on a story that would have allowed him to win the Republican primary. But even with his thinly veiled antipathy toward Trump, he would not be jerked around.

When James Comey cleared Clinton back in July, Democrats breathed a sigh of relief and Independents held their nose and decided to cast their vote in her favor in spite of her high negatives. They wanted to avoid the spectacle of a reality TV star at the helm of the country. But Clinton was always operating at the edge and could fall off the precipice at any moment. That she was never able to clear 50% (except briefly when Trump was in the midst of the tape ordeal) was proof enough that she was a remarkably unpopular candidate. James Comey gave her the nudge that caused her to plunge. She was then at the mercy of Trump and the FBI and had no counter for the bleeding from her opponent. That damaged her beyond repair. His attacks shook even Democrats let alone the Independents who were leaning toward her. The former decided to sit out the election or give their votes to Johnson or Stein, voting down ballots while the latter did virtually the same. Bernie Sanders’ followers who were going to support her at his behest, even in the face of Wikileaks revelations that the DNC plotted to wrest the nomination away from him, found another reason to back away from Clinton.

So a Clinton battered for nine days was unmoved when two days before election day Comey cleared her once more for the same offense. She did not even acknowledge it. It was too late. Deep down inside, she knew it was over. It was a surreal moment when Russia, Wikileaks, the Alt-right, the National Enquirer and the FBI, all collaborated to vanquish her. You know something is afoul when a tabloid passes up a juicy adultery story of a celebrity and presidential candidate on top of it, but rather bought the story and shelved it like the National Enquirer did to protect Trump. This was stunningly atypical of the Enquirer. But to an atypical candidate like Trump, you need the tabloids to act atypically in order for him to defeat Clinton.  She had already lost a sizable amount of votes during early voting, at the height of Trump’s onslaught, when she could not put together a decent counter against his lethal use of Comey’s announcement. The people who ditched her because of it who had not voted against her during early voting were also unimpressed by Comey’s clearing of her. Their mind were already made up. Three was really the charm. He jerked them in July, jerked them on October 28, jerked them again on November 6. They decided that they would have no more of this. These were people who did not like Hillary in the first place.

In Florida, Trump won by one percentage point, 49%. Both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein doubled their 2012 scores. Gary Johnson obtained 2% while Stein grabbed 0.7%. Had Johnson and Stein fared as they did in 2012 we might have had a different story in Florida. In Michigan the results are even more dramatic. Trump won by one percentage point, 48%. Johnson collected 4% while in 2012 he was limited to a minuscule 0.16%. Stein claimed 1% while in 2012 she could not get past one half of a percentage point. It was the same story in Wisconsin: Trump 49%, Hillary 48%, Johnson 4%, Stein 1%. The same in Pensylvania: Trump 49%, Hillary 48%, Johnson 2%, Stein 1%. Give Clinton these states and she would be now the president-elect. When Comey channels Pavlov, the voters write-off Hillary Clinton. It was as if the FBI director reached in and forcefully yanked the election from Clinton and handed it to Trump.

The pollsters should have tried and devised polls specifically designed to capture people’s sentiments after October 28, as a result of Comey’s letter. They never thought it had completely ruined Clinton. Even Nate Silver got into a shouting match with Huffington Post’s pollsters because they felt that Silver’s prediction of 65% chance for a Clinton win were way too low. For them that number was 98%, in prominent display on their website on November 8. They and other pollsters were obviously wrong in the post Comey period. But before then they were largely on point. Clinton had held steadfastly to her razor thin edge, and Wikileaks and the Russians could not break through. Poor Billy Bush predicted the outcome of the election on that infamous tape: “The Donald has scored,” he said giddily. Indeed the Donald has scored on a multitude of fronts. First against Arianne Zucker, the actress at whose sight Trump sweetened his breath with Tic Tac “just in case he might start kissing her,” then against Billy Bush himself who got fired while the Donald scored the White House, becoming the first citizen of the United States, against these ladies who came out against now a president-elect effectively out of reach, against Hillary Clinton, against the people who voted for him who got fooled, against Comey… and the list could grow ad infinitum; but finally against the pollsters who, according to Trump, were rigging the polls in favor of Clinton. Nevertheless, we know better. The pollsters were done in by Comey, mind-blowingly so; as was Clinton.

Marc-Arthur Pierre-Louis

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