Hold the Polls: Lower Black Turnout Makes Them Wrong

By Richard Morris & Eileen McGann

November 2, 2016 3 min read

Pollsters are excellent at figuring out how people will vote, but they do a poor job of judging whether or not they will vote. The best they can do is ask how likely a person is to vote. Since most of the marginal voters don't really know themselves what mood will strike them next Tuesday, their answers are not always a fair indicator of the truth.

So pollsters weight the results demographically to adjust for sampling error. That means they each assume a certain level of African-American turnout. But they can be wrong. And the current indications from early voting in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina indicate that they may be in error.

Since blacks cast 13 percent of the vote in 2008 and 2012, it would be logical to assume that they will replicate their turnout in 2016. Or so the models of most polling firms assume. But before Barack Obama was on the ballot, African-Americans cast an average of 11 percent of the vote in 2000 and 2004. So when pollsters weigh the black vote at 13 percent, they are likely overstating Hillary Clinton's vote by at least two points nationally. And in swing states with high concentrations of minority voters — like North Carolina and Virginia — the results are likely to be even more skewed.

Analysis of early voting in all states indicates a big drop in black participation in this election. In Florida, for example, blacks cast 25 percent of the early ballots cast in 2012 but, so far, account for only 15 percent of the votes this year — a cut of 40 percent, according to The New York Times.

In Florida, if black turnout is down by anything like 40 percent, it would throw statewide polls off by at least five points, transforming a one-point lead for Donald Trump in current polls into a six-point laugher.

One fallout of the email scandal is that it has so preoccupied the country that President Obama has not been able to hit the campaign trail for Clinton as hard as he might. Michelle Obama has been out there, but she's no substitute.

Hillary Clinton is not giving her voters any reason to turn out. Her closing campaign is wall-to-wall negative and she offers no alternative vision for the nation. Why are her voters to decide to get out of bed on Tuesday morning and vote?

The Democrats are relying on their vaunted "ground game" to produce a turnout, but the effectiveness of their phone calls, rallies and visits are likely overstated. While they produced a huge minority turnout for President Obama in his elections, it was likely voter enthusiasm rather than Democratic mechanics that generated the vote. And, this year, the enthusiasm just isn't there.

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Dick Morris
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