In 2016, just a few days after the November election, I had the wild experience of attending the convention of the International Association of Political Consultants. Nearly every speaker confessed to being freaked out by the election results. (None of them used the term “freaked out,” but every one of them manifested the symptoms associated with that state of mind.) A good share of the freaked-out speakers were professional pollsters, and they led the pack in chagrin, self-examination, and humility.
That humility lingered for a while. But then pollsters started to cut back on reminiscing about their missteps in 2016. Here’s what I think I have seen in the last few months: the near-evaporation of humility in the profession of polling.
The results of new polls are announced every few days (or maybe I meant to say every few minutes). Every now and then, those results are accompanied with an acknowledgment of sectors of society that the polls may have missed, or of undertones that may have figured in the phrasing of the polls’ questions, or of the obstacles to reaching a definitive interpretation of the numbers.
The humility I heard from every pollster speaking at the International Association of Political Consultants seems to have lost its grip.
To help with a possible restoration of tempered self-confidence in pollsters, I have dug out the two limericks I wrote at the conference in November of 2016.
The folks in charge of the polls
Have loosened their grip on their goals.
Once cheerful and strong,
They’re now shown to be wrong–
A significant blow to their souls.
This week, the presidential race
Delivered a pie in the face.
And the liberal elite,
Now flummoxed and beat,
Still soldiers on without grace.
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