Meet The Polls
Written by Mike Kikta and Johnathan Nowakowski|
October 5, 2016
Dear Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between,
We are The Polls and we are here to explain, inform, and bring some levity to what is possibly the most influential campaign in modern American Political history. Don’t believe us? Here’s our evidence:
1) Both candidates are historically disliked. Hillary’s favorability ratings would probably be fatal if she were paired against any other candidate than Donald Trump.
2) This election has the ability to impact the arc of jurisprudence on the U.S. Supreme Court for the considerable future.
3) The events of this election call into question many of the thoughts, feelings, and theories Political Scientists have touted for a long time. What do people care about when they get in they get into the ballot booth? Issues (hint hint, probably not)? Trust? (Maybe, but if that’s the case, our major party candidates have reason to worry.) Do people really think about their votes at all?
4) All the campaigns throughout this cycle, big and small, have made choices about how they intend to target, motivate, and convince voters. The results of this contests give us a unique insight into the effectiveness of those methods of campaigning we are familiar with. Will Hillary’s vast and professional staff in Brooklyn, using Big Data, targeted advertising, and cutting-edge campaign tactics win the day, or will The Donald’s skeleton crew, lead by his pure bravado, find path to 270 and the voters hearts? We’re about to find out.
5) Lastly, our country is divided in many ways — politically, socially, and racially — and the two candidates before us are espousing two very different understandings of what America is and what it should become. Can we find consensus or must we make a choice?
Given these considerations, we think the stakes of this election are large and, no matter your partisan inclinations, the outcome will affect your future. Because of the historic nature of this election, we are surprised by how few voices exist to explain mechanics of this contest in an accessible way — what do the polls mean, who runs debates, why does the electoral college exist etc… Given these considerations, we would like to try to give poignant, informed, and interesting insights into the 2016 Election.
Over the next month and a half (yes, only a month and a half) we will try to explain the science, political science that is, behind the events on your newsfeed. Have you ever wondered what it means when the paper says, “Trump 5-points up in Ohio”? Maybe not, but have you ever wondered why you should even care? We’re here to break that down. Have you ever wondered what “cash-on-hand” is or where you can get some? We’re here for that. Have you ever wondered what a Libertarian is and why they exist? We’ll do our best to explain.
However, special to us, among all the questions to be asked about this election, are those that deal with Data. Yes, data, that word that either brings you joy or dread depending on what you majored in. Data is especially important in this election. The charged discourse and sensational stories in this season make it hard to see the forest through the trees. Data, and public polling in particular, has the ability to cut through this noise. These polls tell us who people intend to vote for and why, and while their responses can be affected by many things, when taken in aggregate these polls build a bigger picture of the contest before us. This belief, along with our Chicago-Polish heritage, is the reason we named this blog “The Polls”. We believe that these methods are some of the most reliable ways to judge the outcome of this election and we’d like to share that with you.
Now, we’re certainly not the first people to say these things. Many of you already are may be familiar with Nate Silver’s work predicting the election in 2008 and 2012 and in the wake of his success many news-outlets and websites started bringing data and political science into their standard coverage. Indeed, there are a variety of excellent writers and statisticians, far more accomplished than us, doing the work of weighting polls, rating pollsters, mapping demographics, and modeling this election, whom we will refer to frequently — 538.com and the New York Times “The Upshot” being a couple of our favorites. These websites often provide beautiful and elegant graphics depicting the results of their models, but often the descriptions of the methods underlying those analyses can be particularly complex and technical. Much of this in unavoidable, numbers can be complex and technical things, but we here at The Polls will try to explain them as fully as possible.
In the end, our goal here is to help you, the reader, understand politics, data, and our elections by explaining it to you. It’s as simple as that.
So William and Mary, why should you care about this? Well, many people, especially young people, are put off by Politics. The rules constantly change, so do most of the names and faces, and it’s hard to keep up. Unfortunately, there are a lot of belly-achers in the media that think young people’s lack of interest in politics is some failure of themselves: they’re too selfish to take the time to learn the increasingly complex ins-and-outs of the political process and, because of this, get what they deserve when electing people they don’t approve of. However, we don’t think that’s the case. When you develop a complex system, you shouldn’t be surprised when its complexity baffles people who are already busy doing the much more important work of feeding, working, and otherwise caring for, themselves. We also believe that the students here have a real interest in good policy and good government. We’re were recently ranked the number one school for Public Service in America. We believe William and Mary students like to get the facts right and we intend to help.
Maybe it’s a problem that politics is so complex, but it’s certainly not a problem that we can fix right now. So, until “The Revolution comes”, we at The Polls will do our best to simplify the narrative and hopefully, make you into fellow political junkies in the process.
If you’ve made it this far into the piece, I hope you will come back every week for entertaining and enlightening content. Also, you are special and deserve happiness — so few people actually read through these things, so thank you! If you have questions, thoughts, feelings, or interesting material that you’d like a bit of explanation on, submit your questions here. Also, follow us on Twitter, here, where we share interesting work from people smarter than us and our unsolicited opinions on the day’s events.
We hope to see you soon!
All the best,