Are Polls Showing How You’ll Vote? Or How You Think Others Will?

Laura Hollis

10/2/2012 12:01:00 AM - Laura Hollis

One of the things which makes the media’s bias in favor of President Obama so influential is the natural human tendency to want to belong, and the fear being out of the mainstream.

As a professor, I cannot count the number of classes in which students were reluctant to ask a question for fear that everyone else already knew the answer. And yet when some “brave soul” actually asks, at least half the class heaves an audible sigh of relief – they all have the same question.

The “grownups” behave this way as well. A few years ago, a group of my colleagues at a major state university decided to conduct some baseline research about faculty receptivity to entrepreneurship. Those who conducted the poll identified some of their own assumptions up front. The primary assumption was that most faculty would be either ignorant about or hostile to entrepreneurship (or both).

The results were astonishing.

Overwhelmingly, the faculty polled were not only aware of entrepreneurship, but very favorably disposed towards it, viewing it as a form of creativity, individual expression, and problem solving. They even identified colleagues they admired who were, in their view, “entrepreneurial.”

That was surprising enough. But it was the rest of the poll that was so revealing, and relevant here.

Those same faculty were also asked how they thought their peers viewed entrepreneurship. Amazingly, they, too, assumed that the vast majority of their peers were hostile to the idea of entrepreneurship, and that they were the outliers. It was only when they were made aware of the results that they discovered their own viewpoint was actually in the majority.

This same dynamic is, I believe, what’s behind some of the wacky poll results we are seeing -- for example, that 80% of Americans think that the economy is the most important election issue, that 51% of Americans think Romney and the Republicans would do a better job with the economy, that nearly 60% feel the country is on the wrong track, that 51% of the voters in the swing states don’t approve of Obama’s job performance, that voters believe Romney will be better than Obama on terrorism by a margin of 48% to 42% -- but 50% think Obama will nevertheless win – even if they don’t plan to vote for him!

Meanwhile the prevailing “narrative” is that Romney is doomed.

It seems to be that we have a case of the “shy students” and “fearful faculty” going on here, writ large. I suspect that what we are seeing in many “close” races is not a reflection of what people themselves plan to do, but their beliefs about what other people plan to do.

This is where the media bias and manipulation is so influential, inaccurate, and potentially destructive. An individual’s vote may not initially be affected by what the media says. But their perception of what “everyone else is doing” most certainly will be. If, at some point,that perception becomes overwhelming, it may persuade some to give up and stay home. Even if they are in the majority, they’ll never know it.

That of course, is the point.

All of this might be little more than idle speculation except for one thing – the media’s predictions, as well as many of the polls they have touted – have been WRONG in most of the elections since Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

· In 2009, we were told that a Republican could not win the governorship of New Jersey. Chris Christie trounced Jon Corzine – and even then, the media could not admit it was a victory for a Republican.

· We were told that Republican Bob McDonnell was too “extreme” for Virginia moderate voters, and could not attract them without losing his core constituency in his run for governor. McDonnell won by 17.5%.

· Republican Scott Brown came from behind (at least according to the pundits) to win the U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts formerly held by Ted Kennedy.

· There are too many elections from the 2010 midterms to list here – but we all know that the Democrats took a beating, and the media denied it to the bitter end (and then threw temper tantrums).

· More recently, here in Indiana, Dick Lugar and Richard Mourdock were said to be “neck and neck” until just before the actual primary; Mourdock won by 22% (and the Pravda press still characterizes the Tea Party as “gasping for relevancy.”)

· Texas U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz wasn’t supposed to beat David Dewhurst, but he did. By 14%.

· And then there was the special election to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Remember how much money the unions pumped into that one? Walker won by a wider margin than his original election.

In each case, the media spent months telling us not the truth, but what they wanted us to think was the truth. In each case, we voted our beliefs, without regard to the media “spin.” And in each case, the media was left sputtering, and with egg on their faces.

Instead of learning from their (repeated) mistakes and resolving to do their jobs, it would appear that the media have doubled down on their tactics. They refuse to report on issues as serious as Obama’s dereliction of duty in matters of foreign policy or national security, the politicization of the Justice Department, or the dismal domestic policies that threaten to prolong the country’s ongoing economic malaise.

No, the media expends every ounce of effort trying to persuade conservative voters that everyone knows Romney’s done for, everyone knows Obama is going to win, everyone knows the election is a done deal. (Pundits like Peggy Noonan – she who worshipped at Obama’s feet in 2008 – play right into their hands. Every time.)

This campaign is so nasty not only because nasty is Chicago politicians’ stock-in-trade, but because the media are, frankly, pissed that they haven’t been able to control the outcomes of recent elections, and they are determined to, this time.

Let’s look at things logically for a moment. The economy Obama inherited was bad, but no worse than (and arguably not even as bad as) what Reagan inherited in 1980. Four years later, he could run for reelection touting an economic upturn. Obama’s recent 2-minute ad cannot cite a single economic success. He sounds like a newcomer running against an incumbent. He is the incumbent. So he is trying to persuade voters that President Obama 2012 will be more successful than President Obama 2008, without changing a single policy.

How is that even remotely credible?

In the face of four solid years of economic bad news, foreign policy was hailed as Obama’s bailiwick. But the events of the past three weeks (not to mention the White House’s efforts to cover them up) demonstrate that his foreign policy is a disaster. Not only can we not say we’re better off now, we must seriously question whether we are safe now.

Obama won in 2008 with only 52.9% of the popular vote. John McCain had 46%. Does anyone really think that a single McCain voter will vote for Obama this time? All that has to be done is to peel off even small percentages of President Obama’s core constituencies, and his chances of reelection dwindle to nearly nothing.

So, is this happening? The media sure want you to believe it isn’t.

Obama will still get a majority of the Jewish vote, but even the best models are showing a 15% decline from 2008. They can spin this all they want, but if any demographic that voted Republican showed a 15% drop this year, we’d be hearing portents of disaster. What’s behind this? Obama’s attitude about business and his treatment of Israel and Israel’s Prime Minister – all very fresh in people’s minds.

Obama has already lost huge swaths of the independent vote – a demographic that the media hailed as critical to his success in 2008, but is conveniently ignoring now.

Catholics will, I regret to say, probably vote for Obama in large numbers again, but here, too, he will lose another big chunk of those who object to his bludgeoning of Catholic and other Christian universities and hospitals. (Support for Romney is up among evangelicals. Interesting, given that they were the group projected to have the greatest issue with his faith.)

Youth are fleeing Obama in droves, wearied by rising debts and the specter of long-term unemployment.

He will likely even lose a small percentage of the black vote, as some of the most conservative pastors who object to his stance on gay marriage are advising congregants to stay home, if not to vote for Romney.

Then there will be those who simply look at the carnage in the Middle East, the White House’s bumbling of security, its deceit about the actual events surrounding Ambassador Stevens’ death, and its apologies for free speech, and conclude that the guy is just not cut out to be Commander-in-Chief.

What of the much-touted “undecideds”? Many of those who are still saying they are “undecided” have already made up their mind, but they are unwilling to say so. (Let’s face it, being undecided after four years of an incumbent’s presidency is a little like being undecided about marriage proposal after four years of dating – if you can’t say ‘yes,’ the answer is ‘no.’)

And none of this even mentions what will likely be much higher turnout among Republicans and conservatives.

How does any of this translate to a clear-cut win for Obama? The answer is, it doesn’t.

The media know this. Sort of. Which is to say, they know that we are out here, but they perennially underestimate us, and overestimate their ability to control us. As has been the case for years, the press is using every tool at their disposal to persuade Romney supporters that it’s futile -- given what “other people” are going to do.

That’s irrelevant. And, if past is precedent, also inaccurate. As my faculty colleagues discovered over a decade ago, there are many more of “us” than there are of “them.” And if we vote what we believe in, that will make all the difference, no matter what the “polls” say.

SHOW UP AND VOTE.