"In effect America is increasingly resembling countries like Belarus" [from comment on last week's blog]
A very pertinent comment raised by one reader of last week’s blog referred to several issues that could distort the meaningful role of polling and predictions of the 2020 US Presidential elections. They include manipulation of the psychological dimensions of voting behaviour through the interrelated use and/or misuse of technology, in particular the social media; foreign interference; voter suppression; the conflation of protests and violence with law and order; and COVID-19. Consequently, I thought that this week I will reflect on the rationale and benefits of polling and on those aspects in the electoral process that could distort polling predictions.
The Essence of Polling
The most credible market research services rely on the design of a scientifically local or nationally representative sample of the population (electorate) on the basis of which they make projections to the entire population. Whether the sample design is with 1,000 persons or 4,000 as is the range among US pollsters, the most important factor is that it precisely mirrors the national profile within small margins (1-3%) of error. It is therefore within the margin of error for the most part, that distortions may mostly occur. With 60 days to the Presidential elections, a useful gauge to voting outcomes is the accumulated averages of credible polling establishments such as FiveThirtyEight. And while the prediction of the elections results is of most concern, very often the subsets of the national polls such as marginal (swing)states, trends among certain demographics like urban women or voting turnout of black/brown populations and psychological factors like views on violence, commitment to specific ideologies or to tribal affiliations are equally relevant in sounding the pulse of the electorate. Then there is the distinction between the popular vote and the vote allocations from the electoral college where different states are allocated a number of electoral college votes with these accumulated votes in the final analysis determining the winner.
Updates on Polling Trends
Interestingly, while President Trump received a slight bump following the Republican National Convention (RNC), the following average polling results up to September 3, 2020 are relatively mixed.
Just from a simple reading of these trends, if elections were held at the time of writing , Biden would be elected President. Why then are most pollsters indicating that election results are still in the balance. This is mainly due to the incalculable components revolving around manipulation of the psychological dimensions of voting behaviour, including discrediting and tampering with the electoral process. What follows are examples of how the psychological dimensions are being manipulated
Voter suppression and Creating Doubts about rigged elections
There are concerns about Mr. Trump’s capacity to affect the election by using the powers of his office to obstruct the voting process. Interference in the post office to slow down the outcomes of voting by mail is a glaring example. Trump has also set up the conditions to undercut confidence of the electoral process by declaring postal votes as a predilection for rigging the election. This claim is made despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The states like Colorado and Oregon, that have created a universal vote-by-mail system years ago, are examples of overwhelming success. Then there is a record for a Democratic primary in the Massachusetts on September 2, where more than 1.5 million people voted, wait times at polling places were mostly short, many people voted by mail, and the results were available on election night. It was a contrast to the recent messes in Georgia (June 2020) where voting times in white areas averaged 6 minutes per voter but 51 minutes in non-white areas where lines lasted for hours and in New York (July 2020) where some results were not available for a week. Whatever the results, The New York Times provides a poignant reminder that Trump has questioned the veracity of an election even when he won.
Trump’s Universe of Distractions
In reference to the RNC, Frank Bruni described as an “upside-down vision” of the world, the shameless display of loyalty to President Trump, a universe in which the coronavirus pandemic was largely in the rear view and where, radical Democrats were portrayed as threatening to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” In this a universe of distraction, the existential dangers of climate change find no place even as the West is ravaged by wildfires and the Gulf Coast is slammed by a devastating hurricane.
Trump has reverted to a formula used by Nixon in the 1980s to proclaim himself as the President for Law and Order, conflating protests with violence and condoning white supremacy disruptions on many otherwise peaceful demonstrations. That the President could make excuses for the white youth that murdered two other white men in the black lives matters (BLM) protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin as self-defense, stands in stark contrast to his lack of condemnation of the white police officer that shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Camouflaging the response to COVID19
COVID-19 has undoubtedly been one of the major factors contributing the President's under water favourability ratings. The RNC's downplaying its severity, including the largely unmasked gatherings and the popularizing of the unscientific 'herd immunity' thesis from the Whitehouse and Fox news are examples of camouflage. Most terrifying is the attempt of the Trump campaign to use the clout of the Presidency to influence the messages of CDC and create the illusion of a vaccine availability by November 1, and the role of plasma treatment to reduce spread, despite the overwhelming views of the scientific community to the contrary. But the evidence is overwhelming. At least 1,078 new coronavirus deaths and 45,600 new cases were reported in the USA on September 3 and an average over the past week of 40,530 cases per day, a decrease of 12% from the average two weeks ago. At the time of writing, more that 6,167,400 people are affected and at least 187,700 people have died from coronavirus. In addition, food insecurity and persistence of hunger and the economic crisis through high unemployment at 8.4 percent are some of the immediate deleterious effects that highlight the dramatic income disparity on many who may or may not vote.
Conclusion: Is America becoming like Belarus?
Voter suppression, undermining the credibility of the elections, Trump's universe of distraction, violence in Trump’s America converted into a Law and Order prescription, and camouflaging the effects of COVID-19 are among the major sources of manipulating the psychology of voting to which GOFAD's valued reader referred. There are several others including the discontinuation of face to face US Intelligence briefings of the Congressional National Security Committee, a glaring attempt at camouflaging Russian interference in the USA 2020 elections as it did in 2016. Amid all this is the number of books recently produced that fully underscores Trump’s combative and unyielding messages as a generator of the nation’s escalating polarization and violence. What is most terrifying is the quote in the subscript of this blog from a GOFAD's reader: "In effect, America is increasingly resembling countries like Belarus". This warning is aptly amplified by an insightful-must read blog by Peter Laurie former Barbados Ambassador to USA and Head of its Foreign Service. He highlighted that Trump summed all this up in the slogan "make America great again ... he tops it off by a classic fascist tactic used by Mussolini and Hitler I alone can fix it". TRUMPISM: The Last Gasp of White Supremacy - By: Peter Laurie | Barbados Today
The good news is that the higher the voter turnout according the polling trends, the greater the possibility that voters will " fix that" thereby saving America from becoming Belarus.
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Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.