Race in doubt, polling in the cross hair

WE DON’T KNOW who will win the presidential election, but it seems clear who is getting tagged with a big loss: pollsters.

“We still don’t know much about this election — except that the media and pollsters blew it again,” reads the headline over Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan’s early-morning dispatch posted at 5 a.m. 

After failing four years ago to pick up on movement toward Donald Trump in the closing days,  especially in key swing states that decided the race, pollsters said they learned their lesson.

One upshot of that: lots of state-level polls carried out through last weekend so that late movement in the race could be detected and crucial state findings didn’t get lost in the broader narrative of national polling numbers. Pollsters also said that despite sophisticated modeling that adjusts for a host of demographic factors that may be linked to voter preferences, they had not sufficiently accounted for educational attainment level in 2016, something they made sure to correct for this year. 

With all of that said — and with pronouncements there would need to be a polling error greater than that seen four years ago for Trump to prevail — we woke up this morning to a race still standing, as several headlines put it, “on a razor’s edge.” 

The election is coming down to the outcome in a few key states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia. 

Many political junkies had been obsessively checking the poll-crunching site FiveThirtyEight, and its final forecast gave Joe Biden an 89 percent chance of winning while Trump only prevailed in 10 percent of thousands of plausible scenarios run through their models. 

Without final results, we still don’t know how far off the state-level polling averages were, but it seems clear they were off in almost all the key states in ways that undercounted Trump’s support, just as they did four years ago. 

The headline on FiveThirtyEight editor Nate Silver’s final pre-election write-up on Monday declared Biden the clear favorite, but with the giant-sized caveat that “it’s a fine line between a landslide and nail-biter.” 

Many are now probably now down to gnawing on cuticles. 

There will be no end to the election and polling post-mortems, but first we do need to get to a mortem.

Read in the context of this morning’s uncertainty, one passage from Silver’s pre-election piece seems pretty on the money right now:

“[W]hat’s tricky about this race is that — because of Trump’s Electoral College advantage, which he largely carries over from 2016 — it wouldn’t take that big of a polling error in Trump’s favor to make the election interesting. Importantly, interesting isn’t the same thing as a likely Trump win; instead, the probable result of a 2016-style polling error would be a Biden victory but one that took some time to resolve and which could imperil Democrats’ chances of taking over the Senate.”

A Democratic Senate takeover looks increasingly unlikely this morning, and Biden could certainly still pull this out — though there’s no landslide in sight. 

Silver may have tried to cover all the bases, but the polling world seems to be in for some serious reckoning. 

According to Sullivan, “we should never again put as much stock in public opinion polls, and those who interpret them, as we’ve grown accustomed to doing. Polling seems to be irrevocably broken, or at least our understanding of how seriously to take it is.”

One wild card that will surely be scrutinized is the role of massive mail-in voting and how that might have influenced polling. 

“We’re, in some sense, always fighting the last war,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, on The Codcast two weeks ago. “We know we fixed what happened in 2016, but it’s just something worth keeping in mind that we don’t really know exactly what 2020 is looking like just yet.” 

Koczela added that he was not engaged in extensive presidential race polling this year, “which I have to say is somewhat of a mental health relief for me.”

MICHAEL JONAS 

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

A blue wave rolls across Massachusetts, but the impact appears to be the greatest toward the top of the ticket.

In the Senate, Democrat challenger John Cronin declared victory over incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg. But Tran wasn’t conceding and results from Fitchburg were not in. Incumbents, including two Republicans, won or were leading in the other contested races.

In the House, full results were unclear, but Republicans were not being swept out.

Despite $10 million of spending in support, the ranked choice voting ballot question went down to defeat. The right to repair Question 1 was approved, but implementation of that complicated measure may take some work.

What’s at stake: Trump and Biden differ sharply on immigration policy.

COVID-19 cases balloon at MCI-Norfolk, where almost one in three prisoners tested so far have had a positive result. Staff testing is now mandated after the correctional officer union and Department of Correction brokered a deal. 

Gov. Charlie Baker nominates the first Latina to the Supreme Judicial Court — Appeals Court Judge Dalila Argaez Wendlandt.

Baker says if Massachusetts residents wear masks religiously for a month we could kill the COVID-19 virus.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A Harvard epidemiologist called Gov. Charlie Baker’s new directive that people wear masks at all times in public — even outdoors when far from other people — “pandemic theater.” (Boston Herald)

Cape Cod Healthcare officials have announced the launch of a $70 million electronic medical record system. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Voters in New Jersey vote for recreational marijuana. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

President Trump falsely claimed election fraud and prematurely claimed victory in the presidential race early Wednesday morning. (Washington Post

In local election results, several open state House seats are filled. Democrat Sally Kerans wins the seat in the 13th Essex District (The Salem News), Fitchburg City Council President Michael Kushmerek, a Democrat, wins in Worcester’s 3rd District, and Democrat Meghan Kilcoyne of Northboro will fill the open House seat in Worcester’s 12th District.  (Telegram & Gazette) Kilcoyne becomes the first woman to ever hold that House seat. Republican Kelly Pease wins an open Westfield seat. (MassLive

In the tight race for the 7th Hampden House seat, both Republican James “Chip” Harrington and Democrat Jake Oliveira are claiming victory. The uncertainty appears to stem from the Belchertown ballot count. (MassLive)

Stephanie Fattman is on track to defeat John Dolan in the Worcester County register of probate race. (Telegram & Gazette) Rosemary Saccomani will become the next Hampden County register of probate. (MassLive)

Jake Auchincloss wins the 4th District seat vacated by Rep. Joe Kennedy III. (The Enteprise

Adam Gomez, of Springfield, is the first Latino elected to the state Senate. (MassLive)

In voting glitches: A corrupt memory card in a Gloucester voting machine requires poll workers to scramble and delays the results as a hand-count is required (Gloucester Daily Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Public comments in the city development review are trending heavily against Don Chiofaro’s plans for a Boston waterfront tower. (Boston Globe)  

Encore Boston Harbor is temporarily closing its casino hotel amid the new coronavirus restrictions issued by Gov. Charlie Baker. (Boston Globe

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The family of Whitey Bulger, who was murdered in prison, sue the federal bureau of prisons and 30 unnamed prison employees for failing to protect Bulger. (Associated Press)

The Worcester courthouse will close early Wednesday amid plans for downtown protests. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Massachusetts State Police trooper is fired after using racial slurs while off-duty in a confrontation with a Revere motorist. (WCVB)

Community Legal Aid sues the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance for halting unemployment benefits for five people and demanding repayment without a hearing. (MassLive)