The Scarlet Letter

 

In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley secured the Democratic nomination for Governor of California, a first for an African-American politician since Reconstruction. The polls showed him easily defeating the Republican George Deukmejian and the early post-election editions of The San Francisco Chronicle carried the headline “Bradley Win Projected.” But in the end, Deukmejian won by less than 94,000 votes (in an election that saw almost 210,000 votes go to third-party candidates.)

When the question arose as to how the pollsters screwed it up, the theory of “The Bradley Effect” was born. In a nutshell, white voters were supposedly “ashamed” to admit that they were supporting a white candidate over a black candidate and lied to the polling companies, especially if the individuals asking the questions were black. It is a theory that has been both pushed and dismissed without proof one way or the other for almost 40 years now.

In the last three years we’ve seen three massive failures of public opinion polling worldwide: the 2016 US presidential election, the UK referendum on EU membership and, most recently, the Australian Parliamentary elections. Of those three, Australia is the most interesting. Down Under, the Aussies have mandatory voting. If you don’t vote they will seek you out afterward for a reason. If the authorities aren’t satisfied with your answer there’s a modest fine. ($20AUS for the 1st offense, $50 for repeat “offenders.”) Since its institution in 1924 turnout has never been lower than 91%. Modeling the electorate or predicting turnout is not their problem. The only logical conclusion is that respondents are deliberately misleading them.

The idea that someone in 1982 either felt shame or feared retribution is laughable. That can no longer be said today. Give the wrong opinion now and within minutes your picture could be on social media with pleas for crowdsourcing your identity, with the ultimate purpose to make your life a living hell with everything from threats to your life, your property and your livelihood.

Of course, none of the legitimate pollsters would put up with any of their employees doxxing survey participants. But the thought only has to exist in the minds of the public to put a chill upon the whole process.

Make no mistake about it: de-platforming, de-monetizing, doxxing and shaming on social media is the new Puritanism. Like the heroine of Nathanial Hawthorne’s story, we’re all to be branded with a new scarlet letter, be it “C” for Conservative or “T” for Trumpist. That’s going to push the gap between public pronouncements and the private actions of the voting booth farther and farther apart.

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There are 45 comments.

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  1. E. Kent Golding Member

    Moderates and country club Republicans are going to talk voting for Democrats in 2020. However, once they get in the booth, they will have to choose between voting for the jerk or for the menace — and I think they are going to pull the lever for the jerk.

    • #1
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:13 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. Guruforhire Member

    I don’t talk to pollsters. I don’t donate to politics.

    You donate or talk to pollsters and your name address and families names and information goes into a database, which some frightening retread from the third reich will pore over to create a geo-tagged map of people to target.

    • #2
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:15 PM PDT
    • 14 likes
  3. Kay of MT Member

    I lie like a pro to pollsters or just hang up when they ask. None of their business how I vote or wish to vote. These polls are used to influence the voting public.

    • #3
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:17 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  4. Stad Thatcher

    EJHill: When the question arose as to how the pollsters screwed it up the theory of “The Bradley Effect” was born. In a nutshell, white voters were supposedly “ashamed” to admit that they were supporting a white candidate over a black candidate and lied to the polling companies, especially if the individuals asking the questions were black. It is a theory that has been both pushed and dismissed without proof one way or the other for almost 40 years now.

    It’s broken record time!

    I’ve often touted the 1954 book How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff. One of the many examples he gives is a study on how the races of pollsters and those polled matter when asked questions or opinions about race. The conclusion drawn from the study was when the races of pollster and person polled were the same, the opinion changed dramatically when a pollster of Race A asked a person of Race B an opinion on a statement critical of Race A. The result was a lower negative opinion than when a pollster of Race B asked a person of Race B the same critical question about Race A.

    Fast forward to today. Now we have marked differences not only with race, but homosexuality, abortion, nuclear weapons, sex, unions, etc. It used to be people lied in polls so as not to make the pollster think badly of them. Now, people fear their answers will come back to haunt them in the form of losing jobs, having protesters harass you and you family, even violence.

    No, the hell with polls . . .

    • #4
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:33 PM PDT
    • 14 likes
  5. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Stad: No, the hell with polls . .

    But you’ve got a lot of people around here with their finger in the wind and their ear to the ground. (A vulnerable position when you stop and think about it.) 

    Biden’s UP! Trump is DOWN! OMG! Why don’t you people PANIC!?!

    • #5
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:45 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  6. Jim Kearney Contributor

    At least some of you still get polled!

    When I turned 60, the focus group invitations ceased abruptly.

    When I passed 65, the political polling phone calls suddenly stopped.

    Hopefully when I turn 70, the telemarketers will go the way of the pollsters.

     

    • #6
    • June 8, 2019, at 3:19 PM PDT
    • 17 likes
  7. The Reticulator Member

    The solution to the Bradley problem is to elect people based on polling results, not on the weaponization of marks on scraps of paper behind a polling booth curtain.

    It used to be said it’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes. This reform will do away with that problem, too. The results will instead depend on who picks the pollsters.

     

    • #7
    • June 8, 2019, at 3:27 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    The solution to the Bradley problem is to elect people based on polling results, not on the weaponization of marks on scraps of paper behind a polling booth curtain.

    It used to be said it’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes. This reform will do away with that problem, too. The results will instead depend on who picks the pollsters.

     

    Good suggestion but I think a more equitable and just (as in social justice) way to conduct elections would be to convene a group of data scientists from our leading universities along with experts from Google and Facebook to devise an algorithm to predict how specific voters would vote if they recognized what was in their best interests (from the perspective of the experts of course) and election results would be announced after running of the algorithm. Science!

    • #8
    • June 8, 2019, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  9. Gossamer Cat Coolidge

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    The solution to the Bradley problem is to elect people based on polling results, not on the weaponization of marks on scraps of paper behind a polling booth curtain.

    It used to be said it’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes. This reform will do away with that problem, too. The results will instead depend on who picks the pollsters.

     

    Good suggestion but I think a more equitable and just (as in social justice) way to conduct elections would be to convene a group of data scientists from our leading universities along with experts from Google and Facebook to devise an algorithm to predict how specific voters would vote if they recognized what was in their best interests (from the perspective of the experts of course) and election results would be announced after running of the algorithm. Science!

    That’s the ticket. And then we’ll replace the news anchormen with algorithms, only they won’t even have to be that smart to predict what they’ll say.

    • #9
    • June 8, 2019, at 3:52 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Some of you people are scary, scary individuals…

    • #10
    • June 8, 2019, at 3:58 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  11. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I love responding to polls. If I know that a pollster is on the line, I pick up and answer. I always tell them exactly what I think. I never lie to any pollster. And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    By the way, I rely on Rush Limbaugh to tell me when it’s time to panic. So far, he hasn’t said to, even through eight years of Obama.

    • #11
    • June 8, 2019, at 4:04 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  12. Randy Webster Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    It used to be said it’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes.

    Attributed to Stalin.

    • #12
    • June 8, 2019, at 4:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. The Reticulator Member

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    That’s the ticket. And then we’ll replace the news anchormen with algorithms, only they won’t even have to be that smart to predict what they’ll say.

    You mean that hasn’t already happened?

    • #13
    • June 8, 2019, at 4:32 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    I love responding to polls. If I know that a pollster is on the line, I pick up and answer. I always tell them exactly what I think. I never lie to any pollster. And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    I always respond to polls but refuse to answer when they ask me the race question.

    • #14
    • June 8, 2019, at 5:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. The Reticulator Member

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    I love responding to polls. If I know that a pollster is on the line, I pick up and answer. I always tell them exactly what I think. I never lie to any pollster. And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    I always respond to polls but refuse to answer when they ask me the race question.

    Last time a pollster called me (October 2017) I replied that a) I was too busy at the moment, trying to reach my destination before dark, and b) It didn’t matter, because my policy is to lie to pollsters. She seemed amused. I didn’t reach my destination before dark, anyway.

    • #15
    • June 8, 2019, at 6:28 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. Franco Member

    I worked for 3 polling companies doing phone surveys in the 80’s. The first was for Penn and Schoen who were doing internal polling for the Philadelphia mayoral race between incumbent Republican Frank Rizzo and Democrat Wilson Goode.

    I wasn’t very political then but it was interesting. Goode was black and Rizzo was a famous law and order ex cop with a strong authoritarian streak. A very polarized race. Many respondents would simply reflect highly partisan views regardless of merit. We didn’t know which side we were working for but it was for the Goode campaign who ultimately won.

    I later worked for Gallup as an executive interviewer ( I joked that I wasn’t an executive, I interviewed executives) for business surveys. There’s where I really saw the sausage being made ( I worked briefly doing that too).

    Polling has to be much more difficult now. In those days people were pretty willing to answer the phone and respond. Now with cell phones and scammers and people inundated with offers and requests it can’t be scientific ( if it ever was) because of sampling.

    Paradoxically, a good poll would include a representative sample of people who generally, or as a rule, don’t or will not respond to polls. Good luck with that one!

    I sincerely believe the subset of people in that category skew Republican, and people more likely to respond to polls skew Democrat.

    They have all these categories, race, gender, religion etc. but the blind spot is the type of person who doesn’t or won’t participate.

    They tend to be busy people, employed, active, cynical, curmudgeonly, anti- social, and secure. This is not to say these traits don’t exist in both parties. But equally in both parties? I doubt it.

    It was always harder to get registered Republicans to respond. Any survey needs a mix and you take what you can get at first. Then you get the quota of Democrats and in order to go home the team needs to complete say, 50 more surveys of registered Republicans. So there’s a bias and an incentive to fudge a bit looking for the ‘live ones’ so we all can go home.

    Then there is the category problem. Republican, Democrat, Independent all mean different things to different people, especially Independent. Very few people are actually Independent in the sense that one election they vote Dand the next R depending on issues or personality. So, what mix of Independents does a given survey get? It’s basically random, and likely the stealth Democrat more than stealth Republicans.

    Then there is the problem of wording questions. Sometimes the writer of the survey questions tries so hard to eliminate bias the question becomes convoluted and confusing. I often could tell when respondents misunderstood the question.

    And the racial aspect is real. (BTW, most people can interpret race ( black vs. white or Asian – accurately by phone)

    • #16
    • June 8, 2019, at 7:45 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  17. Joseph Eagar Member

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    Moderates and country club Republicans are going to talk voting for Democrats in 2020. However, once they get in the booth, they will have to choose between voting for the jerk or for the menace — and I think they are going to pull the lever for the jerk.

    I actually believed I would vote for Hillary Clinton until the morning of the election. But I just couldn’t. People forget, but all the horrible things everyone says Trump has done? The Democrats did every one of those things–and more! The Democratic Party broke a number of taboos in the ten years prior to 2016: mainstreaming fascist anti-white rhetoric; starting an economic war between low-income American racial groups with their blatantly illegal immigration policies; attacking the middle-class taboo against ethnocentrism as racist–I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for more of that. So I voted for Trump.

     

     

     

    • #17
    • June 9, 2019, at 12:43 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  18. Paul Erickson Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    The solution to the Bradley problem is to elect people based on polling results, not on the weaponization of marks on scraps of paper behind a polling booth curtain.

    It used to be said it’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes. This reform will do away with that problem, too. The results will instead depend on who picks the pollsters.

     

    That’ll be the next step: why bother pledging your state’s electors to the winner of the popular vote? Avoid the expense of elections altogether and go with Reuters/CNN/NBC/WSJ/Fox or whoever . . .

    • #18
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:18 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. Stad Thatcher

    EJHill (View Comment):
    Biden’s UP! Trump is DOWN! OMG! Why don’t you people PANIC!?!

    Maybe the general public has slowly come to realize the MSM is the boy who cried wolf . . .

    • #19
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:24 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Stad Thatcher

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Some of you people are scary, scary individuals…

    Handsome too . . .

    • #20
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:24 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Stad Thatcher

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    Speech patterns, use of certain idioms, vocal tonals . . .

    • #21
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:25 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. The Great Adventure! Member

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I love responding to polls. If I know that a pollster is on the line, I pick up and answer. I always tell them exactly what I think. I never lie to any pollster. And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    By the way, I rely on Rush Limbaugh to tell me when it’s time to panic. So far, he hasn’t said to, even through eight years of Obama.

    I often use the old tactic of agreeing to respond then suddenly coming up with “Can you hang on a sec? Someone’s at the door.” Set the phone down and see how long it takes for them to give up.

    • #22
    • June 9, 2019, at 5:40 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. Stad Thatcher

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I love responding to polls. If I know that a pollster is on the line, I pick up and answer. I always tell them exactly what I think. I never lie to any pollster. And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    By the way, I rely on Rush Limbaugh to tell me when it’s time to panic. So far, he hasn’t said to, even through eight years of Obama.

    I often use the old tactic of agreeing to respond then suddenly coming up with “Can you hang on a sec? Someone’s at the door.” Set the phone down and see how long it takes for them to give up.

    I read somewhere that this one mom would do the same thing, but instead hand the phone over to her four-year old . . .

    • #23
    • June 9, 2019, at 6:56 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  24. The Great Adventure! Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I love responding to polls. If I know that a pollster is on the line, I pick up and answer. I always tell them exactly what I think. I never lie to any pollster. And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    By the way, I rely on Rush Limbaugh to tell me when it’s time to panic. So far, he hasn’t said to, even through eight years of Obama.

    I often use the old tactic of agreeing to respond then suddenly coming up with “Can you hang on a sec? Someone’s at the door.” Set the phone down and see how long it takes for them to give up.

    I read somewhere that this one mom would do the same thing, but instead hand the phone over to her four-year old . . .

    Second best thing you can do for telemarketers and pollsters is to hang up on them immediately. That frees them up to dial & harass the next number on their list. 

    • #24
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:00 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Old Bathos Member

    I don’t know how anybody conducts polls anymore. Who stays on the phone for all that? In the 90’s I was on a committee of trade association DC reps who hired Penn & Schoen to do polling on a key pending issue for the industry.

    Mark Penn did the presentation of results with innumerable charts and graphs and the question that occurred to everybody was ‘how in the hell did you find that many people willing to answer that many questions’?

    The left is now mostly about herding and self-justification by ideology so pronouncing one’s views is a theological imperative. I expect they would be over-represented among the willing.

    I do think there is a Bradley Effect where Trump is concerned. I think that polling data used to estimate Trump support in Mississippi would be more accurate than the estimate of Trump support in college towns in the Northeast where the minority is silent out of reasons of self-protection.

    • #25
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:38 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    I love responding to polls. If I know that a pollster is on the line, I pick up and answer. I always tell them exactly what I think. I never lie to any pollster. And over the phone, how do you know what race they are?

    I always respond to polls but refuse to answer when they ask me the race question.

     

    If a pollster asks me my race, I usually say “Vulcan.” 

    • #26
    • June 9, 2019, at 8:37 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  27. Retail Lawyer Member

    I always assume a pollster is really some member of an Antifa type group trying to locate undiscovered conservatives so they can target the conservative for doxxing, vandalism, etc. Because how could you know who they really are?

    • #27
    • June 9, 2019, at 8:47 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. The Great Adventure! Member

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    I always assume a pollster is really some member of an Antifa type group trying to locate undiscovered conservatives so they can target the conservative for doxxing, vandalism, etc. Because how could you know who they really are?

    Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t somebody after me!!! ;-P

     

    • #28
    • June 9, 2019, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. The Reticulator Member

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    I always assume a pollster is really some member of an Antifa type group trying to locate undiscovered conservatives so they can target the conservative for doxxing, vandalism, etc. Because how could you know who they really are?

    The real reason to lie to pollsters is not to fool the pollsters, but to fool the politicians and their consultants, who want to slice and dice their position statements and their show-votes for electoral gain. Better to make them think and act for themselves, and to take their lumps if their constituents don’t agree.

    But I have no problem with fooling the pollsters, too.

    • #29
    • June 9, 2019, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. Stad Thatcher

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    I always assume a pollster is really some member of an Antifa type group trying to locate undiscovered conservatives so they can target the conservative for doxxing, vandalism, etc. Because how could you know who they really are?

    It’s another reason why gun ownership polls tend to underrepresent the actual number of citizens who own firearms – distrust of the pollster, the entity behind the taking of the poll, and what the poll results will be used for . . .

    • #30
    • June 9, 2019, at 9:54 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
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