ChrisWeigant.com

Watching The Polls In Virginia

[ Posted Tuesday, October 26th, 2021 – 15:26 UTC ]

For whatever reason, New Jersey and Virginia set themselves up as political harbinger states. They hold their gubernatorial elections the year after presidential elections, and since they're the only two such races in the country in these off years, they almost always get plenty of national attention. The question now (as always) is: "What are the chances for the party in power in next year's midterm elections?" The fact that these two races don't always accurately predict much of anything when it comes to midterms is always conveniently ignored, as the pundits spend months dissecting both the build-up and the aftermath of the two state contests. This year is no different, and all eyes are on Virginia (since New Jersey seems safely in the Democratic column, this time around).

At this point, nobody has any idea of the outcome. There are a lot of factors at play, some of which could change by Election Day. There are two strains of conventional big-picture wisdom competing for attention in the punditocracy which contradict each other. Depending on the outcome, one will become ascendant afterwards as a frame to explain the election.

The first is that in modern times, with only one exception, the party which wins the White House usually loses the Virginia governor's mansion the following year. Since Democrat Joe Biden won last year, this would mean the Republican should win this year. The competing storyline is that Virginia has gone through a remarkable transition from being a reddish-purple state (redder for presidential elections, more purple for governor) to being a solidly blue state. The demographics of the Northern Virginia suburbs have shifted dramatically over the past two decades, which is the root of this change. But if Virginia is now a safe blue state, then the Democrat should easily win the governor's race.

Big pictures aside, the race itself seems a lot closer than it really should be. Virginia has a strange law that forbids governors from running for consecutive terms, so the sitting governor isn't a factor. But the Democratic nominee, Terry McAuliffe, was governor just before the current one, so he is already a known quantity to Virginia voters and (perhaps importantly) he was the only exception to that "the party in the White House loses Virginia" rule. McAuliffe's first governor's win was in 2013, right after Barack Obama won his second term as president. So perhaps he can break the historical mold once again?

Since the last time McAuliffe won, Virginia has trended even more Democratic, which means this race should have been easier for him than his first win. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Polls show a neck-and-neck race, with McAuliffe only very slightly ahead. But is the polling accurate? Nobody really knows. After the polls were so spectacularly wrong in both 2016 and 2020, it truly is an open question how much attention should be paid to any poll these days.

The trendlines of this polling show that McAuliffe had a pretty comfortable lead which has narrowed significantly in the final month. There are a lot of possible reasons why (assuming the polling is accurate, of course). McAuliffe initially tried to make the race all about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the stark differences between how Republicans think things should be handled and what Democrats think should be done. This worked amazingly well in the California gubernatorial recall election a few months earlier, but McAuliffe actually was using it as a prime issue even before Gavin Newsom started doing so.

Since the race tightened, McAuliffe has shifted to trying to make the race a referendum on Donald Trump and Trumpism within the Republican Party. This is largely to address a perceived lack of enthusiasm among Democratic voters, since having Trump on the ballot (even metaphorically) does indeed drive Democrats to vote. And the entire race will likely hinge on turnout. If Democrats get people to vote at the same rate they have in the past few elections, McAuliffe will likely (and easily) win. If Democrats stay home in large numbers, he will likely lose.

McAuliffe has also tried to distance himself a bit from both Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress. He knows neither one are polling particularly well right now, so this was probably a savvy move. In terms of Biden, there's really not a lot of distance between him and McAuliffe (indeed, Biden is actually campaigning for McAuliffe today). McAuliffe has, however, expressed what many voters are currently feeling -- disgust with Democrats in Congress over their seeming inability to get anything across the finish line. This has actually become leverage in the current deal-making, since passing both the Build Back Better bill and the bipartisan infrastructure bill might make Democratic voters a lot less disgusted by all the delays in the sausage-making. If they can get a bill or both bills to Biden's desk this week, that will be seen as helping McAuliffe's chances, especially with the problem of voter enthusiasm.

The Republican candidate has chosen to center the closing days of his campaign on public education. Republican voters have been primed for battle at the schoolboard level all year long, and Virginia is where they are hoping it will pay off. At first this was mainly a fight about masks and vaccination mandates, but this has shifted to how much say parents have over their kids' education. McAuliffe, in one of the gubernatorial debates, made what can only be called an unforced error by saying: "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach," which has been used against him in ads ever since. Republicans nationwide have been whipping fears of "Critical Race Theory" up for months, and the phrase has morphed into meaning (for them): "any mention of race or racism in all of American history." Also motivating the right is curtailing any rights for transgender students.

Republicans are trying to target the most crucial demographic which abandoned the party during the Trump years: suburban women. Soccer moms. They were largely disgusted by Trump's antics and began voting for Democrats so the big question in the Virginia election is: can they be enticed back to the GOP or have they become a reliable part of the Democratic coalition?

So while turnout overall is going to be critical, suburban turnout is going to be the one key thing political wonks will be watching. If McAuliffe loses, look for Republicans to double down on fearmongering about school boards nationwide. To be honest, this will likely happen anyway, even if McAuliffe wins (since they don't have a whole lot else to run on, really), but it will be a lot more intense if it is already a proven winner for the GOP.

But what I'll be looking at most closely is how the pollsters did. If McAuliffe wins by a huge margin (as indeed happened in California even after the pollsters and the media spent months hyperventilating over how close a race it was), then the polls will have been proven unreliable once again. This would also happen if McAuliffe loses by a wide margin. If the race is in single digits and very close, this will at least exonerate the pollsters.

The reliability of polling has been shaken to its foundations in the last five years. If the pollsters just cannot be believed, then hopefully we'll all stop paying so much attention to them (although probably not, to be honest). There are plenty of explanations for the breakdown in polling reliability, including what could be the biggest one in Virginia -- it is very hard to accurately predict who is going to turn out and who is going to stay home. Voter enthusiasm is very difficult to measure, or at least it has become so in the age of Trump.

I will celebrate a Democratic win in Virginia, but if it's a big one I will also be a lot less impressed by much of any political polling going forward. If they consistently can't make accurate predictions -- not even ones in the correct ballpark -- then the value of political public opinion polling will shrink once again. And after 2016 and 2020, that could be a major blow to the entire polling industry.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

25 Comments on “Watching The Polls In Virginia”

  1. [1] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    The very nature of polling has always made it a very chancy proposition, and the modern means of communication and hi-tech in general seem to make it even chancier than it traditionally was. but what the hell, if it were to be done away with, what would you guys have to talk about between elections?

  2. [2] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    One reason polls in recent elections have not been accurate is some citizens are not paying as much attention to the polls.

    The majority of the polls are designed to manipulate public opinion, not find out what it is.

    Bernie and Trump inspired many citizens to ignore polls and vote based on what they thought they were getting.

    Many also began to not pay as much attention to the media so that articles like the one above are not fooling as many people as they used to.

    The writing is on the wall. Get out while you still can, CW, and stop the propaganda for the Deathocrats.

    TAKE THE VACCINE!

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i wouldn't say polls are useless, just that they no longer mean what they claim to mean. they're sampling from a skewed population because the distribution of people who can't or won't participate is nonrandom.

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    also, they don't offer pie, so what good are they?

  5. [5] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Well (it's a deep subject).

    We just need to realize that we need to listen to Don Qui, he is a political visionary.

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:

    C. R. Stucki
    1

    but what the hell, if it were to be done away with, what would you guys have to talk about between elections?

    All the other subjects on the blog you've been reading for multiple years that has nothing whatsoever to do with polling. If you have any more totally asinine queries, fire away. Also, don't listen to those who claim there is no such thing as a stupid question. :)

  7. [7] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris
    2

    One reason polls in recent elections have not been accurate is some citizens are not paying as much attention to the polls.

    Not paying attention to polling makes it somehow inaccurate!? You really seem to have no idea whatsoever how utterly asinine your constant BS appears to people with functioning critical reasoning skills.

    The majority of the polls are designed to manipulate public opinion, not find out what it is.

    Incorrect. In fact, the majority is internal polling that goes unpublished, and I can assure you that people pay attention to it.

    Bernie and Trump inspired many citizens to ignore polls and vote based on what they thought they were getting.

    You should divest yourself of the ridiculous notion that you understand the thoughts of voting citizens when you demonstrably and quite obviously have very little clue whatsoever in the "what people think" department.

    Many also began to not pay as much attention to the media so that articles like the one above are not fooling as many people as they used to.

    Then by your own definition, you've spent years and years wasting your time stalking this author to shill for your failed attempt at political activism. No, seriously. Isn't it you who has repetitively shit on the reputation of the author that you believe has a responsibility and whom you expect to bring your message to the public? If you knew how voters actually do think, then you'd be infinitely aware how ignorant it would be to repetitively do that.

    Why on Earth would anyone believe anything positive that the author might have to say about you and your political claptrap when you've disparaged near every word he's written herein?

    They won't. That reeking stench you keep smelling is coming from your end because it's you who have spent multiple years defecating in the lake in which you're trolling for fish. You are the living embodiment of the ignorant moron who's pissing on his own message... by pissing on the messenger.

    How effing stupid is that? <--- Rhetorical question.

    Also, nothing in your piss-ant puny political contribution purity test changes the fact that politicians' salaries are paid 100% by taxpayers, and there is absolutely and unequivocally no politician who is paid less than $200 by taxpayers... regardless the amount of political contributions he/she accepts from taxpayers, they're accepting thousands and thousands of dollars in salary from same taxpayers. So by your pathetic definition, they're already bought and paid for by "Big Money" taxpayers.

    So to recap: You've repeatedly taken aim and shot your chosen messenger, you shortsighted effing benighted imbecile.

  8. [8] 
    Kick wrote:

    Elizabeth Miller

    Thank you for the tune on 7/11... lyrics incorporating Einstein's special relativity in a song written by an astrophysics dropout who became a rock star but eventually did earn his PhD in astrophysics approximately three decades later: Dr. Brian May.

    I also liked the tune on 7/18, but it's getting kind of repetitious (just kidding) since you already played it around Labor Day 2020, but who remembers details like that? I do. Which reminds me you've played Dancing in the Streets more than a person can count on one hand... but I love that one myself too! :)

    Also, I hope you don't think I did not notice the Queen tunes you played on September 12 and how you played one of them twice in a span of 3 comments. Are you testing to see who's paying attention?

    Lastly, I definitely enjoyed:

    Leonard Cohen: Tower of Song

    https://itunes.apple.com/ca/movie/leonard-cohen-tower-of-song/id1343544766

    Not on YouTube (to date, so far)... but definitely on iTunes. So awesome.

    I am never not here. :)

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    And after 2016 and 2020, that could be a major blow to the entire polling industry.

    Perhaps a major blow to any remaining notions of polling infallibility. But the polling industry is far too valuable to every entity (political, business, whatever) in America that cares about people's opinions to be in any real danger.

  10. [10] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Kick [6]

    Oh yes, now I actually DO remember at least one of "those other things", like for instance Russiagate.

    You by any chance been following that particular thing the last 2 - 2 yrs? If so, did you manage to get Glen Greenwald's or Matt Taibbi's take on it (two of your own guys), or maybe the "Rising" crew, or Saagar Enjetti, or Krystal Ball's ultimate analysis on it?

    Of course not, I'm betting you dropped it like the proverbial Idaho hot potato when the truth came out, right?

  11. [11] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    [10]

    You mean the Russiagate where Trump wouldn't let anyone testify and was cited for ten different indictable instances of misconduct? The one where Bob Mueller said, "If we could exonerate Trump, we would do so?"

  12. [12] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    For the record, Stuck, we're you/are you okay with all this Russia stuff just because Trump was a Republican?

  13. [13] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Ah, Kick.

    Missed ya, Gurl. I always enjoy your eviscerations of Delusional Don.

  14. [14] 
    Kick wrote:

    MtnCaddy
    9

    Perhaps a major blow to any remaining notions of polling infallibility. But the polling industry is far too valuable to every entity (political, business, whatever) in America that cares about people's opinions to be in any real danger.

    Exactly. The decisions of our lives are carried out in a finite amount of space and time, the majority of people are infinitely impressionable and highly predictable, and opinion polling is a valuable science. Algorithms... cha ching.

  15. [15] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Cad [12]

    Not sure what you mean. I consider Trump a moronic world-class asshole, not to mention, an abhorrent human being.

    That doesn't legitimize the whole Dem attempt to discredit him with lies and false accusations, Steele dossier, etc.

    The dip-shit does plenty to discredit himself, without the Dems fabricating falsehoods about him.

  16. [16] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    You do know that it was a Republican oppo research outfit that first commissioned Steele to find Trump dirt, right? And that nothing in the disuse has been disproven to date, right?

    Democrats couldn't make this stuff up so don't blame them.

  17. [17] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Anyone who thinks that Trump never got a break from the media is ignoring that Trump has been playing the New York douchebag character for decades in the media. He campaigned and then governed as a NYDB. So why did Trump ever deserve a break from the media?

  18. [18] 
    Kick wrote:

    C. R. Stucki
    10

    Oh yes, now I actually DO remember at least one of "those other things", like for instance Russiagate.

    Yes, of course, we know you do; your response falls in the infinitely predictable category for troll types.

    You by any chance been following that particular thing the last 2 - 2 yrs? If so, did you manage to get Glen Greenwald's or Matt Taibbi's take on it (two of your own guys), or maybe the "Rising" crew, or Saagar Enjetti, or Krystal Ball's ultimate analysis on it?

    "Two of your own guys"... *laughs* Incorrect. Glenn Greenwald is a narcissist hypocrite owned by big tech... he's also a lawyer and not remotely an ethical journalist. Glenn can currently be located in his Rupert Murdoch right wing nut Tucker Carlson phase... whatever gets him noticed and monetized is where he fixates and bloviates... where he moves with ease and attempts to be all things to all types because (very much like Donald Trump) he's a grifter/drifter with no discernable core values other than his love of fame and money. The remainder of them aren't worth wasting my time explaining to you... any way the wind blows, just to be succinct about it.

    Of course not, I'm betting you dropped it like the proverbial Idaho hot potato when the truth came out, right?

    Thanks for that redundant exercise in confirming you still haven't read the facts contained in the Mueller and Senate reports. It's no doubt too late in your life to suggest you educate yourself regarding the myriad of things you seem to believe you know but for which you fail miserably in practice and print, but it's never too late to instruct you to avoid gambling with your demonstrably lousy intellect... you'd "lose your shirt" along with your mind that's demonstrably long since been effaced and erased. :)

  19. [19] 
    Kick wrote:

    MtnCaddy
    16

    You do know that it was a Republican oppo research outfit that first commissioned Steele to find Trump dirt, right?

    Yes, sir, Stucki has definitely been informed of the facts regarding the Washington Free Beacon and the origins of the dossier, etc. and that Mueller, Comey and FBI company don't remotely meet the definition of Democrats (and far from it), but his initials do not fail in the least to suit him perfectly: Can't Remember Shit.

    Tune in next week when Stucki declares 1/6/21 was an unarmed and unharmful peaceful protest. Spoiler alert: There were several insurrectionists who were absolutely armed, and anyone who tells you otherwise is ignorant of the facts or is a lying fool... or both. Hint: Those insurrectionists in combat gear marching up the steps in single file in matching outfits and those carrying the matching megaphones weren't exactly there to peacefully protest... far from it.

    That was for Stucki. Of course, I know you know this. :)

  20. [20] 
    Kick wrote:

    MtnCaddy
    17

    Anyone who thinks that Trump never got a break from the media is ignoring that Trump has been playing the New York douchebag character for decades in the media. He campaigned and then governed as a NYDB. So why did Trump ever deserve a break from the media?

    Exactly. The Douchebag's name is John Barron. He's a con and grifter from way back:

    https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2018/04/20/lead-marquardt-john-barron-donald-trump-forbes-dnt.cnn

  21. [21] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    oh come on, trump hasn't been a russian asset since the 1980's.

  22. [22] 
    Kick wrote:

    nypoet22
    21

    oh come on, trump hasn't been a russian asset since the 1980's.

    Are you kidding here or have I just herein covered the long-coveted straw man fallacy space on my BINGO card?

    Straw Man Fallacy

    A straw man fallacy occurs when someone takes another person or persons' argument or point, distorts it or exaggerates it in some kind of extreme way, and then attacks the extreme distortion they've created as if it is really the claim the other(s) are making.

    But of course, you obviously know this... so you're kidding (?) or rather than that or a straw man fallacy, perhaps you've simply confused me and/or MtnCaddy with Yuri Shvets, a former major in the KGB, who actually has made that claim regarding Trump. It wasn't exactly top secret and was quite well known during the late 80s that the Russian government requested a meeting with Donald Trump.

    I'm talking about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government. They have asked me to go to Moscow in July.

    ~ Donald Trump, Trump: The Art of the Deal, 1987

    It was not long after Trump's invitation at the behest of the Soviet government and the Trump's trip to Moscow in July 1987 when he shortly thereafter published his infamous multiple full-page ads in September 1987 replete with Russian talking points including Trump's criticism of America's foreign policy and (gasp) America's former and current leadership of Saint Ronald of Reagan (genuflect). The full ad can be seen here.

    Mere coincidence? The former Russian KGB major says "no":

    Trump’s invitation to Moscow in 1987 was billed as a preliminary scouting trip for a hotel, but according to Shvets, was actually initiated by a high-level KGB official, General Ivan Gromakov. These sorts of trips were usually arranged for ‘deep development,’ recruitment, or for a meeting with the KGB handlers, even if the potential asset was unaware of it.

    Before Trump’s first trip to Moscow, he met with Natalia Dubinina, who worked at the United Nations library in a vital position usually reserved as a cover for KGB operatives.

    In 1987, according to Shvets, the KGB circulated an internal cable hailing the successful execution of an active measure by a newly cultivated American asset who took out full page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe promoting policies promoted by the KGB. The ads had been taken out by Donald Trump, who, Shvets said, would become a “special unofficial contact” for the KGB, that is, an intelligence asset whose role has been compared to that of the late industrialist, Armand Hammer. A number of America’s highest national security officials have said they believe Trump is a Russian asset, but neither the Mueller Report nor the numerous congressional investigations throughout Trump’s presidency pursued that vital question.

    ~ Craig Unger, American Kompromat , 2021

  23. [23] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Are you kidding here or have I just herein covered the long-coveted straw man fallacy space on my BINGO card?

    umm... both?

  24. [24] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    sorry kick, if there's a word for making a point by sarcastically refuting an even more hyperbolic version of the same point, i don't know it.

  25. [25] 
    Kick wrote:

    nypoet22
    24

    sorry kick, if there's a word for making a point by sarcastically refuting an even more hyperbolic version of the same point, i don't know it.

    Tongue-in-cheek, dearest. You blink, you'll miss it. ;)

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