Pollsters and Pundits Had It Wrong

All this talk of a blowout was

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It wasn't a forgone conclusion...

    The pollsters and the pundits were all wrong.
     
    In the weeks before the election, the polls predicted that Mayor Bloomberg would defeat Bill Thompson by, variously, 18, 16 or 12 percentage points. But it didn’t turn out that way at all. Thompson nearly won. He lost by only 5 points and, in the last stages of the vote count, at times, he was only one or two points behind.
         
    Resentment over the Mayor’s heavy-handed campaign to overturn term limits, the incredible amount of money [about 100 million dollars] that Bloomberg spent in his effort to persuade, cajole and frighten people into voting for him -- all these were factors in this election.

    But what was most dismaying was that so much of the news coverage depended on polls that forecast what one pollster called a “blowout” for Bloomberg.
     
    Too many modern day journalists have become lazy. They use poll information as source material for stories. They don’t realize that polls, based on phone calls made by a battery of young people, can hardly substitute for the insight that an experienced journalist brings when he goes to a neighborhood and talks to the people who live there. The problem is that requires harder work, what might be called shoe leather reporting. You can’t pick up all the vibes on the phone. You can’t pick up the mood of a neighborhood as well on the phone as by looking into the eyes of the people who live there.
     
    Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, blames the outcome of the election on two main factors: that Bloomberg “circumvented the wishes of NYC voters” by abolishing term limits and the fact that Bloomberg outspent Thompson “by an unseemly amount.” No doubt she is right. .

    But, as late as October 22, the Marist Poll and others were showing Thompson losing ground to Bloomberg. Among “likely voters” Bloomberg led Thompson by 52 to 36. It appears there was a major shift among likely voters by Election Day.
     
    We journalists are our own worst enemies. Instead of going out and talking to people, we scan the polls, searching for scraps of statistical information. Polls have some value but nothing trumps the value of a journalist going out and meeting the voters face to face.