The election prognostication season has begun, and the focus seems to be narrowing down to two questions that have have no direct connection to policy or character.
First: is there a silent majority of “shy Trump supporters” who are going to hand him a decisive victory in November (or whenever they finish counting the ballots)?
Second: are any of these political polls at all reliable?
These appear to be the main questions related to interpreting the election because policy and character are by now irrelevant. There is at this point nothing either candidate or campaign could do to dramatically change the dynamics of this election. Trump could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, or Biden could slip into a coma on live television, and nary a vote would change.
I suppose it might help Biden and the Democrats if a bunch of Democrat governors and mayors suddenly adopted zero-tolerance policies on rioting—but that might also hurt Biden and the Democrats, in that the gains they made with moderates could be offset by losses among the more excitable type of Democrat: the type who think of federal officers as stormtroopers and lawful arrests as kidnappings. (You know: like Nancy Pelosi.)
We already know where the candidates, campaigns, and parties stand on the major issues. We know their intentions. We’re already acquainted with all the many skeletons in both men’s closets. We know that one man is a babbling idiot on Twitter and the other is a babbling idiot everywhere else, and we also know that their supporters aren’t troubled by their preferred candidate’s babbling idiocies.
For the first question—whether there’s a real silent majority—there are signs that there may be, like this article from yesterday’s Times. There are also signs that there may not be: for example, the facts ticked off in this Jonah Goldberg column from early August.
Mostly, however, there are speculations from Trump-friendly sources that there are “shy Trump voters” keeping their heads low and waiting to make their opinions known at the ballot box, and speculations from Trump-hostile sources that there are about as many “shy Trump voters” as there are unicorns in the White House rose garden.
So the answer appears to be: who knows?
Which brings us to the second question: are the polls reliable?
Based on RealClearPolitics, they’re at least consistent, and their consistency shows a pretty solid preference for Biden nationally. Their electoral map shows Biden with 212 electoral votes in the bag, against Trump’s 115, with 211 toss-ups. But is that reliable? And if it’s reliable, is it meaningful?
Here again, the answer appears to be: who knows? Because if we set the wayback machine to November 7 of 2016, the answer to “who knows?” is clearly not these guys.
And back on November 7, 2016, everyone was these guys.
Here’s a video from two weeks ago of Nate Silver talking with George Stephanopoulos about the uncertainty of 2020, and concluding: “The bottom line, it’s simply to soon for a model or anybody else to be all that confident about what is going to happen.”
That bottom line is unlikely to change before election day.
Trump is Trump and Biden is Biden. 2020 is not 2016. We’re in the middle of a global epidemic that’s crashed the American economy. American cities are literally burning with civil unrest. We’ve reached the point where American civilians are now assaulting, stabbing, and shooting one another in the streets. Things have gotten so weird that the U.S. military released videos of actual UFOs, and no one gave a damn.
So (as usual) we won’t know the answers to any of these questions until the ballots are counted. Which is apparently something that’s going to take a lot of time, and lawsuits, to settle.
From an economic perspective, it’s obvious what’s happening: the closer we get to election day, the greater the demand for answers to all of these questions. But the supply of real answers remains effectively at zero, because even if someone has the correct answer to a particular question, there’s no way of knowing whether it’s right. (If one “election expert” says Joe Biden is going to win 320 electoral votes, and another says Donald Trump is going to win 320 electoral votes, and we know with metaphysical certainty that one of them is exactly right, in what way is that helpful if we don’t know which one?)
What happens when there’s massive demand for something with no real supply to meet it?
You get a Turkish bazaar. You get hucksters and frauds pushing phonies and fakes, knock-offs and imitations.
And you find the one you like and you buy it.