Biggest Loser in Pennsylvania? Polling

That Conor Lamb squeaked out the narrowest of victories in a pre-midterm election is hardly surprising. Although Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by 20 points, the Western Pennsylvania district nevertheless has a Democratic registration advantage of 46 percent to 41 percent and is “ancestrally Democratic.”

Midterm elections nearly always go against the party in power. Since 1938, only twice has the president’s party gained seats (and one of those times was post-9/11) and in the pre-midterms, when a new president is finding his feet, the challenge is even more difficult.

That said, and remarkably, in the 11 congressional elections since Trump was elected the GOP has won nine and one of their two losses was the Alabama U.S. Senate fluke.

But the GOP was not the biggest loser with all the above taken into consideration. Rather the polls, or specifically the benighted Monmouth Poll performed disastrously, as did its cheerleader, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which has failed again and again in the age of Trump.

Patrick Murray’s Monmouth Polling was the worst of all the final polls at RealClearPolitics before the 2016 election, giving Hillary Clinton a six-point margin over Donald Trump. “The polls were largely bad— including our own” Murray wailed in an understatement at FiveThirtyEight’s post-election inquest.

Monmouth has come under severe criticism from The Conservative Treehouse: “Monmouth University Pollster Patrick Murray Busted, Manipulating Poll Data Then Lying About It.” Essentially, it turns out Murray’s outfit was not presenting an accurate polling picture, as “no weighting” was done by “region, age, race, or gender, only by party ID.”

Monmouth, which seems to have a penchant for six-point Democratic Party leads in its final polls, gave Democrat Lamb a six-point lead over Republican Rick Saccone in its final poll at RealClearPolitics. The final result, with no excuse for the usual “within the margin of error” get-out-of-jail-free card, was Lamb by less than 1 percent.

FiveThirtyEight, hubristically publishing “All You Need To Know,” cheered on Monmouth and gave it an “A Grade” in its polling-day analysis (there is no need to go into that site’s monumental failures on Trump, as they are well known). “Monmouth, the only FiveThirtyEight gold-standard pollster to look at the race, has Lamb ahead by 6 points,” the blog trumpeted. But they hedged their bets, as they are wont to do, also noting“even a runaway win by one of these candidates wouldn’t be that much of a shocker.” OK. So it was either going to be close, a six-point spread, or a runaway election. That’s helpful!

Polling is, at worst, pure partisan shilling. It offers some entertainment value for political junkies and the “pundits” who cater to them. The Trump election was thought to have killed off respect for polling, but political passions and page clicks from people looking for a crystal ball fix seem to have kept them alive.

In a just world, the Pennsylvania result would be the final nail in the coffin for the polls and “poll analysts,” if such a term has any meaning any more.

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About M. Joseph Sheppard

M. Joseph Sheppard has been published in Time Out, American Journal, and numerous other venues. He is an Ambassador for The Leprosy Mission, and has worked in China's rural leprosy villages, assisting with outreach endeavors. He blogs at A Point of View.