November 10, 2016

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EVERYONE WAS WRONG!” is the New York Post headline, its excoriation including the Polling Industrial Complex that has propelled efforts like FiveThirtyEight and The Upshot.

Poynter’s Al Tomkins argues that “Many of these critiques have a key flaw: They fail to acknowledge margins of error built into political polls across the United States.” (Poynter)

Yes, but…

“Data journalism in particular, including websites like The Times’s Upshot and The Huffington Post’s Pollster, was under fire after guiding audiences — often through visually appealing speedometer-type graphics that forecast the probability of winning — to the conclusion that Mrs. Clinton would prevail in electoral votes. On Tuesday, the meters went haywire.” (The New York Times) Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet concedes error and initially points to professional claustrophobia and not getting out “on the road” enough.

It’s a bleak moment for polling and, in particular, the media’s increasing reliance on it (often for faux news stories) and the decreasing use of reporters to actually spend gobs of time with voters on their terms. There will be many symposia on this topic in the year ahead, and for good reason, though it’s early to wax all-knowing about what happened even as one try to figure it out. (The Atlantic)

Many have reached a precarious stage with mediocre response rates, respondents lying, some underfunded, at times questionable methodologies, too many robo calls — and media outlets that believe all you need do is find a calculator and average a bunch of polls to bring a patina of utilitarian coherence to an inherent mishmash.

“Telling you precisely how each segment of voters feel about a candidate, what they believe, what they like most, what they like least, and how they would vote today – all that is precise and easy for a good research firm to do,” says Ron Howard, CEO of Washington’s Mercury Analytics, a corporate-political research firm that works for both parties.

“But then taking that data and using it to predict who the hell is actually going to VOTE on election day weeks from now or even tomorrow, particularly with two disliked and mistrusted candidates who are so volatile and polarizing, plus WikiLeaks, plus Russian hacking, and plus last-minute FBI director flip-flops — is, at best, a crapshoot.”

Each election cycle there tends to be one pollster over whom the media fawns. We love glamorizing tacticians and consultants far than, say, assessing actual policy. Somebody whom we deem prescient often gains a following, chummy reporters on his speed dial, clients and fat speaking fees.

One beneficiary of the press spotlight has been Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight. Tuesday they concluded that Clinton had a 72 percent likelihood of winning. Not close. “Bye, Nate,” says Howard. Well, maybe. We’ll see if his all-knowing aura is deflated. Sometimes, failure seems no impediment to success in the polling and pundit rackets.

Silver himself tells CNN, “I think it’s pretty irresponsible for people to blame the polls, though, when the conventional wisdom was so much more sure of itself than it should have been.”

Well, the early consensus is otherwise. So this year’s winner? It might be Kellyanne Conway, the GOP pollster who was Trump’s campaign manager.

“Congratulations, Kellyanne,” says Howard. “It’s your turn.”

Yahoo thinks hacker may have user codes

“Yahoo Inc. is evaluating whether an unidentified hacker has access to its user account data, following a 2014 hack that resulted in the theft of more than 500 million user account records.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“In a regulatory filing Wednesday, Yahoo said law-enforcement authorities on Monday ‘began sharing certain data that they indicated was provided by a hacker who claimed the information was Yahoo user account data.’ Yahoo said it would ‘analyze and investigate the hacker’s claim.'”

Ratings winners

“The Trump Phenomenon Delivered Massive Ratings for Cable News Throughout Fox won election night in total audience, CNN in younger viewers” (Adweek)

“CNN did make some ratings history in prime time, as 13.3 million total viewers tuned into the network’s Election Night in America coverage. CNN was the most-watched network in prime time across both cable and broadcast.”

Vice underscores a lack of engagement

Of 231.5 million eligible voters, just 128.8 million voted, or 1.5 million fewer than 2012, and a decline for the second consecutive presidential election. In the developed world, that percentage of 46.9 percent who didn’t vote is pretty awful, as “Vice Night Tonight” noted.

Of those who voted, 25.5 percent voted for Trump, 25.6 percent for Clinton. In sum half the nation was disengaged, with the media leaving the impression that early voting was evidence of some intense interest in the political process.

Amid analyzing Clinton’s defeat, a Vice newscast that was dominated by the election (as was the case with its broadcast rivals) noted this about women in politics: there have been 256 female U.S House members, 46 female senators and a mere 38 female governors. Five states have never elected a female House member, 21 have never elected a female U.S. senator and 23 have never elected a female governor.

Still, Tuesday brought its first Latina senator (Nevada), second black female U.S. senator (California) and first openly LGBT governor (Oregon).

Hannity’s job interview

Sean Hannity, an unpaid on-air publicist for Donald Trump during the campaign, opened last night with a rhetorical deluge that revealed he will in coming days “outline the agenda that I believe the forgotten people need so that the rungs of the ladder will be put back in so that they can climb to success themselves.”

Whether Republican or Democrat in Washington, “you either get on board solving these problems for these suffering American or I’m done with you,” he declared. Exhibit courage “or get out of the way,” whatever that means.

He will also call out the “corrupt media…It’s an informational crisis in America and it’s doing you, the American people, a grave disservice….It’s far worse than we ever imagined.” He cited WikiLeaks disclosures as he bashed Donna Brazile and CNBC’s John Harwood, while waxing indignant over its disclosure of journalists having dinner at Clinton campaign bigshot John Podesta’s house.

Unless catered by Le Meurice in Paris, presumably dinner was cheaper than when Hannity flew Newt Gingrich to Indiana on a private jet so he could audition as Trump’s running mate. (The Hill)

David Remnick on the election

The New Yorker’s polymath editor writes, “On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President — a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit — and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.” (The New Yorker)

George Will on the election

“In 2016, Republicans won a ruinous triumph that convinced them that they can forever prosper by capturing an ever-larger portion of an ever-smaller portion of the electorate. This kamikaze arithmetic of white nationalism should prompt the president-elect to test his followers’ devotion to him by asking their permission to see the national tapestry as it is and should be.” (National Review)

Dissecting the dissections

There was Springsteen’s old line about “57 Channels and Nothin’ On.” Yesterday brought “58 Ways The Race Was Called,” Bloomberg’s breakdown (with front-page images) of how 58 papers called the election. 57 headlines mentioned Trump’s win, nine named both candidates, seven named just Clinton (“How Hillary Clinton Blew It” in Quartz), five mentioned neither (“Let the People Rule” in Drudge), three mentioned changes in markets, four expressed shock (“The Unthinkable” in New York Magazine) and six sounded dire (“A Disaster for Democracy” in Salon).

The morning babble

On CNN’s “New Day,” co-host Chris Cuomo said to Jason Johnson of Morgan State University, said, “This is going to be some test, professor, of President Obama’s ability to swallow the personal in favor of patriotism…Donald Trump is the face of The Resistance. ‘He wasn’t born here, Obama’s not one of us…'” He broached “the collective fiction” of thinking Trump will morph into a less incendiary presence.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on “Morning Joe” called “remarkable” and “moving” Clinton’s concession speech yesterday. “It was beautiful,” said Mika Brzezinski. Steve Rattner, who’s a longtime Clinton ally and donor with his wife, said “the devastation” among her supporters “is calculable” (presumably including him and his wife).

Scarborough got preachy, facile and self-serving as he bashed the press and heralded himself, Brzezinski and colleague Mark Halperin for getting out and talking to real people. Puhleese. There was tons of knowing looks throughout at how “real people” were feeling, such as The Washington Post’s great David Maraniss traveling 35 days to execute a very long four-part series, “Looking for America,” that spoke to tons of “real” people. He nailed the unease, and wasn’t alone. (The Washington Post)

Halperin, who did get out a lot for Bloomberg and a Showtime series, “The Circus,” held up the page one headline of this morning’s Times as evidence of an unceasing bias: “Democrats, students and foreign allies face the reality of a Trump presidency.” Why not, he wondered, something like, “Disaffected Americans have a champion going to the White House,” or “The country votes for fundamental change?” He was amazed.

Scarborough liked “seismic shift” in The Boston Globe. Halperin added, “If Trump lost, do you think the press would have been so concerned about his supporters?” alluding to the images of tearful Clinton staff. “The coverage can’t be about just how upset those people are.”

Again, the new information age gives us more unadulterated crap. But it also gives us more good stuff. And did. The navel gazing need not morph into self-immolation.

The press and the presidency

Shock aside, one positive about Trump’s victory is that we may have far fewer debates on whether the sexual behavior of Presidents matters — or should matter — to anyone.

On Tuesday, it was clear that many millions don’t give a damn.

Inside scoop on Silver’s forecasting model


-Navigate to these coordinates (40.731014, -74.303500) on the night of a waxing moon. Bring a white goat. Once there you will see a keypad.”

-Enter the probability of a sample mean being two standard deviations from the population mean at a 95% confidence level.

-To enter the chamber where the model resides you must pass” three trials: shouting out certain baseball metrics; find four stone tablets with a scatterplot etched on each and press the one with a correlation of 0.6; and then find an old Compaq desktop in the final of three chambers, turn it on and boot up to PokerStars with a $10 bankroll you turn into $10,000 to enter the final chamber.

Finally, select “Update Model” and find an altar appearing behind you. “Chant the new poll results while performing a blood sacrifice with the white goat on the altar.”

CORRECTION: In the original version, I repeated a mistake of “Vice News Tonight” by citing Kate Brown, the first openly LGBT governor, as from Maine. She’s the just-elected governor of Oregon.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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