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Is 538 in the Bag for Hillary?

In her recent piece for CounterPunch, Margot Kidder, aka Lois Lane, did a super job of unpacking the tawdry details of how Hillary Clinton bought the support of democratic parties in 33 states with a scheme that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars of out-of-state donations that were then funneled into her campaign. Getting around individual campaign contribution limits in this way is legal but really sleazy because, as Kidder points out, it completely perverts the whole idea of a primary where voters can consider and then choose who they want their candidate to be in the general election.

Kidder explains how pols in her state (Montana) pledged their support and sold the farm to Clinton for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver. Primary voters are influenced by endorsements and Clinton has rigged the state primary game in her favor. You can read Kidder’s article here.

Voters are also influenced by polls, which have consistently shown Hillary beating Sanders with three key demographics: seniors, women, and minorities. One of the most widely read poll aggregators with its statistical hand on the political pulse of the nation is Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.  Perhaps more than any other prognosticator Silver has repeatedly given Clinton the edge in his stat-driven predictions. It turns out Silver’s figures and methodology are biased in favor of Clinton and his predictions have been wrong in a number of states where Sanders did much better than expected.

I’ve based several articles on Silver’s flawed analyses of the primary races and have predicted a Clinton win, as most MSM pundits have, because Sanders doesn’t have and won’t get the delegates he needs to win in the upcoming big primary contests in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey. I’ve never been more pleased to admit that I just may be wrong.

Enter Doug Hatlem, once a Jerry Falwell Baptist in Virginia, then a Mennonite street pastor working with the homeless in Toronto, and now a stay-at-home Dad in Chicago, Hatlem’s peregrinations have quixotically led him to stop and consider numbers: specifically, the old adage about lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Hatlem claims that in 18 of 21 states outside the South, Silver’s predictions have a pro-Clinton bias of 12.5%. He bases his analysis from what polls predicted, on what 538 forecasted, and on the results from those primaries. Silver has been averaging polls to predict primary outcomes and he has also been mapping polls and 538’s predictions to track over time how well candidates are gathering the necessary delegates to capture the nomination. Significantly, Hatlem does something Silver doesn’t do: admit his own bias—for Sanders. He writes that he has been wrong in twelve of eighteen states since Super Tuesday because his predictions had a pro-Clinton bias of 7%. In other words, he “undersold Sanders a bit” just to be safe in his voting forecasts.

Significantly, Hatlem faults 538 for its “boneheaded demographic modeling” that has all of Bernie’s supporters pegged as young White millennials and this picture has not changed since July of 2015 when Silver predicted Sanders would only win in Vermont, Iowa, and New Hampshire. Hatlem slams Silver for not properly “critiquing, weighing and averaging real poll numbers.”

If you’re not mathematically inclined, Hatlem’s analysis gets into the weeds but his critique explains a lot of things that 538 and the MSM have gotten wrong or misinterpreted about the Democratic race. For example, the low-voter turnout in the Southern primaries perpetuated the idea that Sanders lacks support among minorities even though, as Hatlem points out, Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington (as well as Colorado and Michigan) have significant numbers of non-white voters and Sanders won all of them. There is also the recent hashtag #BernieMadeMeWhite and in a recent Dornsife/LA Times poll, Sanders scored a higher favorability rating in California than Clinton amongst racial minorities where he is supposed to be down 23% in the Latino vote, according to other polls

“The race hasn’t anywhere near begun in earnest in California, but Sanders seems to be doing okay with his supposed greatest weakness,” writes Hatlem.

In Nevada, Sanders lost to Clinton on February 20 not because his message didn’t appeal to minorities but because Nevada’s Democratic Party, the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, and the Clinton campaign got casino owners to give workers time off in Las Vegas so they could vote on the job. In Arizona they waited in line for hours and didn’t get to. Clinton beat Sanders there by 10 points. But in a surprise development over the weekend, Sanders pulled off an upset at the Clark County Democratic Convention in Las Vegas and flipped Nevada into his win column. You can read the story here.

The biggest problem Hatlem sees with bad predictions (which voters tend to believe) comes from the poll numbers themselves (which pollsters tend to believe). Hatlem says inaccurate sampling of age, sex, and race demographics as well as “bad urban-suburban-rural splits” has produced some ridiculous results. For example, in Wisconsin, where voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, an Emerson poll on March 23 had Sanders losing to Clinton by six points and 538 predicted then that Clinton had an 84% chance of winning the state. But by March 30, a Marquette poll had Sanders ahead of Clinton by four points. And a March 31 PPP poll had him ahead of Clinton in Wisconsin by 11% among African Americans. Three days later, Sanders was down by six points in a Loras College poll. The same day, April 2, 538 averaged a number of the latest polls and reversed itself from a week ago, concluding Sanders now has a 70% chance of winning Wisconsin—almost a 100% turnaround in one week. Hatlem’s article can be found here.

I suppose it’s possible Wisconsin democrats have massively switched their preference from Clinton to Sanders in just a week, but it’s much more likely that Hatlem is correct when he says the polls and pundits, and politicians have gotten a lot wrong about the Democratic race and they may all be eating crow if Sanders pulls off an upset not only in Wisconsin but elsewhere as well.

Two weeks ago, a number of polls had Sanders trailing Clinton by about 30 points in New York. The latest Quinnipiac poll has him down by only 12 points. He’s cut the distance in half with three weeks to go before the election.

So are polls just too inaccurate to take seriously or is it okay to assume that the closer we get to an election day, the more accurate the polls become in predicting the winner?

As a Sanders supporter I would like to think that he is getting more popular the longer the race goes on. I would like to think the MSM is flat wrong about Sanders only appealing to young White liberals. I would like to think the Sanderistas, who have railed against Blacks for not supporting Bernie, have been misled by a biased media they should know better about believing. And I would like to think, as Kidder discovered in Montana, that we all have been misled by Democratic functionaries who have been sold a bill of goods we neither want nor deserve but which they are trying to foist on all of us whether we like it or not.

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