Falling Back

A chart like this led me down a sad little path four years ago and yet, here I am again.

In the days of yore, this was my favorite day of the year, the day where I gained an extra hour of sleep. That was back in the days when sleep was a precious commodity, not just the way I spend about half my life, so now I don’t care and am firmly in the camp that says pick daylight saving or not, but leave the darn clock alone.

This year this no-longer-momentous day is also the first day of November, and since it’s a Sunday that means there’s a Monday, which makes Tuesday the first Tuesday after a Monday in November, which is the awkward construct whereby our forefathers established national Election Day, which ought to be a holiday far ahead of Valentine’s Day or a slew of others that rate “holiday” status while Election Day doesn’t.

Although I did see where several large companies are offering it as a paid day off this year to encourage employees to vote. Blue Apron went so far as to establish voter registration drives, and is offering transportation to the polls for people who otherwise wouldn’t get there.

Pat’s Screen Printing has never offered the day off, but employees have always gone to vote on company time. They had that available this year as well, not just on Election Day itself, and all of us have already voted. Fortino, who no longer works for us, has been texted twice to remind him to vote. We usually do a group discussion of the ballot, particularly on the less-advertised down-ballot races and issues, but that we missed out on.

Like many people of my kind, I want to be hopeful but instead am feeling a big anxiety, feeling betrayed not by the 2016 election results but by Nate Silver, a man I don’t even know.

Mr. Silver runs a site called fivethirtyeight.com (I’m sure there’s a reason, but I don’t know what it is). He was gaining a prominent reputation as a sports oddsmaker when he turned his uncannily successful predictions to politics, where he also proved to be adept at reading the numbers behind the tea leaves. Four years ago he kept assuring me that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president of the United States.

Mr. Silver doesn’t make these predictions in a vacuum; he takes the work of many, many other pollsters. I believe he goes to the trouble of ranking his pollsters based on a huge number of factors including who they talk to and how they access their subjects. He goes to a lot of trouble for his predictions, that’s clear.

He was far from the only one calling for a Clinton victory, and in reality, they all were correct: Secretary Clinton received more votes than her opponent. Almost 3 million more votes, well ahead of the million Al Gore received over George W. Bush.

But our democracy was put together by forefathers who didn’t have a lot of faith in the electors. They didn’t think electors were smart enough to choose their own senators, for instance, never mind anointing the president. So they came up with the Electoral College, which has superseded the popular vote I believe a total of five times, the other three in the 1800s.

As Mr. Silver has pointed out, rather defensively, the results of the 2016 election were within the polls’ margins of error. But those of us who lost on what we view as an antiquated notion, where the will of the people was thwarted a second time in 16 years, want more certainty. And so this time around, when Mr. Silver is positing that Joe Biden has a nine out of 10 chance of winning the election, we’re not sure whether to believe him.

I was believing him, earlier — I was feeling quite optimistic. And then the Washington Post developed heebie jeebies over the past week or two, and is endlessly running stories about how the polls are tightening, and how this state or that is within the margin of error and, this morning, how Pennsylvania is slipping away — and at this point I am willing to give back my extra hour if it could only be Wednesday, right now.

In the meantime Mr. Silver keeps ratcheting down the possibility of a second term for the goon destroying America, while keeping his options open. Today he is talking about the “Zone of Plausability,” in which it is plausible that Joe Biden has somewhere between an 84 and 98 percent chance of winning. 98 percent!

But it is equally plausible that the goon could win, even though Mr. Silver is at great pains to show how far out of the margin of error he is this year.

There was only one poll, Gallup, in 1948 when Harry Truman (remember “Dewey Wins!” in giant type on the front of the newspaper?) beat the poll prediction by nine points and snagged an upset win. Other presidential polls, although they didn’t miss on the winner, have been off by five to seven points on the margin of victory.

To reassure me (I’m sure it’s just me), Mr. Silver went to the trouble of showing what happens if the margin of error is the same this time around as it was in 2016, although he has also spent a lot of time talking about how polling companies have worked to correct their errors of four years ago.

If the polling is off as much as it was four years ago, when Clinton was up by 3.9 points three days before the election — which I’m still not sure what the margin of error was, since she did, in the absence of artificial constructs, win — well, Biden is up 8.6 points with three days to go, and he still emerges as the victor. Based on polling.

And based on, I imagine, the popular vote. I don’t really anticipate that he will lose the popular vote. I expect him to finish with several million votes over his opponent. The big question for me is where those votes are going to be. If they are close but no cigar in several states that have been identified as “in play” . . . the specter of the Electoral College looms large.

Four years ago I felt personally let down by Mr. Silver, a wunderkind who up until then had rarely been wrong. And yet, here I am again, falling back on the guy who got it wrong (they all got it wrong — he was just the one who was supposed to get it right all the time).

Every day he turns a tiny bit more of his prediction grid blue, with the incumbent’s share dwindling. I want to believe, I really do — but I dare not. Can it be Wednesday already?

One thought on “Falling Back

  1. I think we’re all feeling the exact same way. I’m singing – la-la-la-la – not listening to every poll and pundit and yet trying to be hopeful. Let’s reconvene Wednesday – which I’m sure you will!


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