Bad Polls, Fear, and the American Psyche

The prophets of the American political industry have failed the American voter. Days and in some cases only hours prior to election day 2020, a majority of pollsters predicted that a blue wave would sweep across America and would gently deposit Vice President Joe Biden on the lawn of the White House. According to the Real Clear Politics polling average, Vice President Biden possessed a 7.2% advantage over President Trump in the national vote. FiveThirtyEight said Biden had an 8.4% advantage. The Vice President was also projected to take Michigan by a 4.2% to 8% margin and Florida by a 1.1% to 2.5% margin. He was then supposed to speed across North Carolina and eventually contest if not flip Ohio, Iowa, and Texas. Few of those things occurred. Trump had almost a 4-point advantage in Florida, and a 6-point advantage in Texas. Though he seems to have lost Georgia, he has held firmly onto Iowa.

If readers dive into the Senate races, they will discover even greater polling inaccuracies. For example, Susan Collins was supposed to lose Maine by 6%. She won by more than 9%. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham were also supposedly fighting for their political lives. McConnell garnered a 20-point victory and Graham had a 10-point victory.  At the end of the 2020 election cycle, the polling industry appears to be as credible as the physic hotline industry. Or to use the words of the Atlantic, the polling industry faces, “serious existential questions.” They do. Let’s tackle some of them.

Why Were the Polls Wrong?

Undoubtedly, the polls’ inability to capture the sentiment of the American voter reveal something of the biases of those who run the industry. But the phenomenon also exposes a fundamental problem with the American psyche, a psyche that has fallen victim to fear.

Fearful Pollsters

Americans like winners. If the polling data rummaging around the internet reveals that candidate A will most likely lose to candidate B, some of candidate A’s supporters will choose to avoid the polls on Election Day. After all, what is one more vote for a lost cause? By the nature of their societal position, pollsters have the power to both report and to shape public opinion.

The gross discrepancy between the election and the polls indicates that some pollsters may have exploited their position and played statistical gymnastics with the data they have collected. They appear to have published reports that reflected their wishes for the American voter instead of the electorate’s wishes for their nation.

Left to itself, the American electorate possesses the ability to choose both great and not-so-great candidates. To prevent the ruin of the nation that they love, some pollsters have stopped listening to the voters and have attempted to manipulate them through social engineering. Their misstated data promises to bring out certain voters and to suppress others, helping the “great” candidate win. The ethics involved in such a decision prove problematic because they express of fear of neighbor. In short, some pollsters fear the electorate lacks the wisdom to choose its own leaders.

Though the pollsters fear the average voter, they also covet that voter’s approval. To get that approval, pollsters must provide the electorate with meaningful data. Speculation that candidate A may win proves far less exciting than a poll that says candidate A has a 7-point lead. That seven-point advantage proves relevant because of the pollster’s margin of error. The margin represents with a 95% confidence level how much variation could occur if another pollster ran the same poll with the same respondents and questions. Most polls claim a margin of plus or minus 3-points. If candidate A was polling at 54%, the margin of error would allow that her real numbers could be between 51% to 57%. Thus, voters would conclude that candidate A appeared to be on the path to victory. The information proves insightful and noteworthy.

But according to a UC Berkley study, the margin of error is almost twice that of what the average pollster reports. When polls are compared against election results, the margin of error for most polls doubles to 6%. If we go back to our imaginary poll and apply this correction, candidate A could now be polling at either 60% or 48%. She could be on her way either to a huge victory or a close defeat. Such a poll proves far less definitive and by extension far less newsworthy. Instead of admitting their human frailty, most pollsters say that their margin of error still hovers around the 3% range. Fear of the electorate and of rejection drives many pollsters to distort and exaggerate reality, undermining political discourse.

Fearful Voters

But the fault for the erroneous polls does not lay only at the feet of those crunching numbers on their laptops. The American electorate is also becoming increasingly fearful. Pollsters have noted that fewer and fewer voters will participate in polls. Voters will not share the information that pollsters need to create accurate polls. The head pollster for the Trafalgar group reported that a majority of those who participate in polls possess either deep partisan affiliations or large amounts of boredom. Essentially only those willing to die for their cause or those so desperate for human interaction that they welcome a telemarketer call talk to pollsters. The average voter who looks to the polls for guidance about what tomorrow will bring proves to be the very person who will not respond to the pollsters’ phone call, text message, or email.

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Seemingly, the American electorate increasingly fears the pollsters. The average voter has seen the press, the pollsters, and the Twitter mobs dub some candidates to be the embodiment of racism, intolerance, and hatred. The electorate fears that going on the record to support the manifestation of Satan or supporting a satanic cause could result in their Twitter account being suspended or the termination of their job. Though the pollsters promise confidentiality, the American voter cannot help but wonder what would happen if some unscrupulous employee released the polling database and exposed their answers to the American public, a group that increasingly criminalizes and then asks questions. The average voter fears both the pollster that he doesn’t know and the neighbor he does know. Discourse which helps American politics to thrive and adapt has been broken down by fear.

For the sake of full disclosure, I need to admit that I too felt this fear in my gut as I came to the final question of a YouGov survey. I thought to myself, “Do I really want my name attached to this data? Will I be punished?” I wasn’t sure. So, I sat staring at the iPhone screen.

The Explanation and Solution

Why are the polls so off? Why is the American psyche shaped by the fear of neighbor instead of the love of neighbor?

The American voter has become increasingly less religious, less Christian. According to a 2019 Pew research poll, only 65% of Americans identify as Christians, a decrease of 13% over the last ten plus years. When Americans drift away from Jesus, they wander away from the embodiment of love which cast out fear. The soul that trusts in Jesus has no reason to fear its neighbor. Jesus has conquered the shame of sin and the fear of death when he died on the cross and rose again. He bequeathed the liberating power of the cross to all who trust in him for salvation and unites the heart of his children to the love of God. Thus, the Christian is not defined by his neighbor’s vote, approval, or disapproval but by the love of God, a love that can never be lost (Rom. 8:38-39). Since God loves the Christian, he or she can enter the political discussion without fearing either the electorate or the pollster. The Christian does not have to fear the American voter for that subset of individuals cannot elect a politician that will separate the Christian’s soul from God. And the Christian voter does not have to fear the pollster because a leaked survey or suspended social media account will not separate the believer from the love of Jesus.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18).

At the end of the day America does not need an infusion of better pollsters. The electorate needs an infusion of the faith that casts out fear.

…and that YouGov survey…well if you want to know how I voted, I encourage you to check out the results of the November 3, 2020 YouGov election poll. My opinion is hidden somewhere in all their data.

Thanks for visiting the witkowskiblog.com If you have other insights or thoughts on the 2020 polls please drop a comment below.

Micah, America, and the Importance of Taking Sin Seriously

American Christians should not approach the sins of their nation with a disinterested or cavalier disposition. Even if things like racism, abortion, and government corruption never touch our souls or never reach our block, we should still take an interest in the issues that have corrupted our churches, communities, and governments. We should actively mourn sin and call for repentance on a national scale.

Though patient, God never overlooks a nation’s sin. He never writes off evil as being inconsequential. According to Micah 1:12, disaster, judgement, will “come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem.” God will deal with the sins of the nations.

Even ancient Judah which could make the case for Christian exceptionalism without having to perform any hermeneutical gymnastics was at risk. God had promised to bless this nation. David’s heir sat upon their throne. The temple resided in their capital city. To reach the citadel of Jewish culture, opposing armies had to crash through an ancient line of fortresses set upon the mountains and had to defeat Israel large chariot force. By all accounts, Judah was God’s favorite nation, the city set upon the hill – a hill fortified by wealth and military ingenuity.

And yet the nation was not immune from judgement. Because they turned their back on God and worshipped idols, abused the poor, and bribed prophets, God erased their kingdom from the geopolitical landscape.

Like Micah’s original audience, some Americans pivot and discount these predictions of national doom because they don’t believe they could ever apply to the United States. They know this country was founded upon Christian principles. After all, the Declaration of Independence appeals to both “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” While the depth of the Christian influence remains debated, its presence in the original thirteen colonies and our nation’s government cannot be credibly denied. For all of their faults, America’s founding fathers bequeathed their nation a host of well-crafted documents which had been shaped by the biblical view of humanity. But such successes or “smiles of divine providence” will not save the United States from its sin. It did not save Judah.

Judah’s possessed the right heritage, a god ordained government, healthy financial institutions, and an advance military. Still, they could not stop God’s justice. God melted the nation’s wealth into nakedness (1:1). He rode roughshod over nation’s chariots and its network of forts (1:13). All that had been Judah’s confidence become the dowry of its conquerors (1:14). God dealt with Judah’s sin.

Even the divinely established throne of David failed to stay God’s hand. God declares, “the glory of Israel shall come to Adullam (1:15).” David hide from Saul in the caves of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1). The rulers of Judah would flee the throne room for the safety of the caves. Like Adam, the heirs of David would go to the dust from which they had ascended (Gen 3:19). The destruction of Israel would be complete and final. Even the nation’s children would be marched off into captivity. All that would be left in Judah was bald men, mourning the grandeur of the past.

If the nation with the best pedigree failed to sidestep the crushing blow of God’s judgement, can the United States hope to do any better? America’s Christian heritage will not stay God’s hand, its founding documents will not stay God’s hand, and its military technology will not stay God’s hand. The nation that does not repent of it’s sins will be crushed in time.

Instead of trying a blind eye to the sins of this world, Christians need to wrestle with their own sins and with the sins that dominate their nation’s political and social landscape. Like Micah, they need to weep and wail because lawlessness ends in either repentance or death. The nation that refuses to repent of its sexual immorality, covetousness, hate, or murder will be destroyed by God. He is just.

And when the nation does fall, believers and unbelievers will both be taken captive. When wickedness goes unchecked, the righteous will suffer.

Christians cannot excuse America’s faults because the nation has known success in years gone by. Though God is patient, he is not blind nor uncaring. He will deal with sin; nations will fall because of the evil that its citizens have carried out within its borders. Only the holiness found at the foot of the cross will save us and our nation from the pending the judgement.

Let’s champion the call for repentance, trusting in saving power of Jesus. Nothing else will save. Chariots, forts, wealth, technology, wealth, and influence will fail us. Repent.

What is your confidence in?

Don’t Forget: We Are Not All Elite

Bravado has swept through the church as local congregations have begun to defy the lock-down guidelines issued by their local governments. I type today not to condemn or support such action. Undoubtedly there is a time and place for civil disobedience. Depending upon where you live, that day may be today.

But as we decide the best way forward for our congregations, I want to remind elders, deacons, and church members that their churches are not comprised of special forces platoons equipped to run roughshod over all that stands in their way. Rather like Moses, we lead camps filled with young mothers, vulnerable children, weak cancer patients, irresponsible teenagers, and aging senior adults. When we oppose the government, we risk the health and safety of both the weak and the strong.

Indeed, the day for such stands will come. They existed in years past. I have the greatest respect for Corrie Ten Boom’s eighty-four -year-old father who willing died in a German concentration camp, preferring the gospel command to love his neighbor above his personal safety.

But for most of us (the residents of Nevada sadly reside in a very different paradigm), the restrictions have not singled out churches. Christians have not been persecuted, yet.

According to history, these pandemic guidelines will be brief. Pandemics usually run their course in about one to two years. Most will not last that long. Life will go back to normal and society will forget the ‘horrors’ that once dominated the news cycle. For example, few to none of us remember that the city of New York killed 72,000 cats and 8,000 dogs in 1916 in an effort to prevent the spread of Polio. Our collective forgetfulness proves that the guidelines of today will soon fade into the wasteland of lost memories. In a few weeks or months, the world will return to ‘normal.’

Until then, I believe the Jesus who welcomed vulnerable little children into his inner circle would desire for us to sacrifice our Sunday morning norms to create environments where all members could worship without facing harm.

If men and women become sick and/or die because we hastily return to our per-COVID19 practices, we will weaken our churches and do harm to our gospel witness. The church needs its weak brothers and sisters, even those over eighty. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted,

Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also the strong need cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.

Before we embrace a plan for the future, we must determine whether or not it benefits both the strong and the weak in our midst. A plan that helps one group while harming the other is incomplete.

Times of persecution will come as the Ten Boom’s life make clear. When the days are dark, churches and their members will need to take stands that risk the wellbeing of all of their members. But such stands should always be the last option, not the first or the second.

If we can move forward and worship in such a way that protects the most vulnerable among us, why would we risk harming them?