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Why do so many commentators and pollsters keep getting it wrong?

Thursday, November 10, 2016 15:44
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All year I have been told that Brexit could not win, and Mrs Clinton was a shoe in. All the clever and well educated people were quite sure of these “facts”. They were critical of anyone who suggested UK voters might want to leave the EU, or who dared to venture there might be quite a lot of support for Mr Trump. They were confident because the pollsters told them their preferred outcome was going to happen. They were unsighted on the attractions of the alternative view, leading them to believe someone would have to be stupid to vote for it. They assumed their priorities including freedom of movement, tackling climate change, intervening in Middle Eastern conflicts and the rest were also the preoccupations of enough other voters.

I predicted the UK vote for Brexit correctly because I listened carefully to opinion outside London and Scotland. My only surprise was that the vote was not even higher to leave given the mood and opinions of the majority. Doubtless the tragic death of an MP towards the end of the campaign, and the relentlessness of Project Fear clipped some support from a popular cause. I did not call the vote for Mr Trump because I am not an American voter, and I did not visit the USA to hear for myself on the ground what people were thinking. I did however think it quite likely Mr Trump would win. I was always careful to write about his candidature as a serious one which might win.I afforded equal protection to Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump from bloggers who wanted to be disobliging about them.

I formed this view of Mr Trump’s campaign from reading his website and comparing it with Mrs Clinton’s. Both were professional. Both contained serious policy recommendations. His was more focused, and spoke to the main issues US voters were likely to worry about, hers was wider ranging, lacked focus, and did not seem to grasp the concerns people had about their jobs, their wages, and the security of their local communities.

Last week I asked UK observers of the election who generally thought Mrs Clinton would win to tell me what the slogans were of the two campaigns. Most could name “Making America great again” for Mr Trump. Most struggled to remember either “Stronger together” or ” I’m with her” for Mrs Clinton. That summed up the impact of the two campaigns. Mr Trump had a popular optimistic slogan which could mean what the voter wanted it to mean. Mrs Clinton had a self serving slogan about her which did not cut through. Mr Trump offered people no tax on income below $25,000 a year, and the promise of more jobs from putting America first. Mrs Clinton’s offers were more detailed and diverse.

If the media, the pollsters and the establishment commentators want to be taken seriously, they have to remember the fundamental principles of democracy. Any main candidate running for office might win and deserves a fair hearing. Whilst I am the last person to say commentators should not be partisan, a good commentator understands the other point of view and seeks to explain it as well as criticise it.

The worst feature of some reactions on both sides of the Atlantic is the one where people say “He is not my President” or refuse to accept the verdict on Brexit. I wonder if the next move of Mr Trump’s critics will be to claim the US election was just an advisory vote which does not entitle him to assume office as the wrong person won? Or will they go off to the courts to try to block the decision?

I was on the losing side in General elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005. I thought it was a fair cop, given the damage the Conservative government did with its fashionable establishment policy of belonging to the ERM. I accepted Labour’s right to govern and to implement their Manifesto. I with colleagues took up the task of opposing where we judged it wrong, or where we thought it could be improved. We never said the elections were wrong or Labour had no right to govern. I often agreed with what they were trying to – I became, for example, a fan of much of Mr Brown’s tax policy.

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