By Rick Manning
The biggest news out of the United Kingdom’s landslide reelection of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is that, once again, the pollsters got it completely and utterly wrong. This follows the embarrassment of these same wizards of statistical prediction in the Israeli reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government a few months earlier.
But the professionals can take solace in the keen political aptitude of the nation’s gamblers. The UK, unlike the United States, allows gambling on virtually anything, including election outcomes. As the election drew close, the bookmakers were flooded with bets on Cameron, even as pollsters were calling for an extended battle for control of the House of Commons.
As usual, the people were right.
When putting pounds on the line, the Brits threw away sentimentality and bet who they thought would win based upon what they were hearing. No one throws away money because they really hope that someone will win even though they doubt they will.
Pollsters also lose out to the quadrennial grade school poll taken by The Weekly Reader, where the publishers ask elementary school kids to vote for President. In the fourteen presidential elections conducted since this survey was started in the President Dwight D. Eisenhower/Adlai Stevenson race in 1956, it has been right on thirteen occasions. The one miss was when Bill Clinton defeated George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992 as third party candidate Ross Perot was not included in the poll.
Once again, it makes sense that for all the hoopla, commercials, turnout models, and analysis, a bunch of elementary school kids haven’t been wrong in twenty years. After all, those little ears hear what their parents are saying and tend to reflect that viewpoint. Those who don’t know, don’t mail in the form creating the ultimate voter turnout screen.
As contenders for President continue to emerge, just remember that the breathless media polls that come out rating the horse race are pretty much meaningless. They are like early season baseball standings or first quarter NBA scores, interesting at the time, but irrelevant in the end.
In the United States, it is the children who provide the best window into how their family is going to vote; and in the UK, it is the gambler looking to score some cash off of insider knowledge of how his/her buddies will vote.
Pollsters everywhere are scrambling for justification of their existence, but they should not worry. Millions of bits and bytes will be expended even if they are wrong, because America loves a sporting event, and the pollsters are like the announcers who give us the running scorecard.
As for me, just wake me up when the second graders weigh in — at least I know they will get it right.
The author is president of Americans for Limited Government.