Why the polls were wrong


November 5, 2020

November 5, 2020
The Hustle
TOGETHER WITH
Fully

Yep, still waiting. As Day 2 bled into Day 3 of the 2020 election, we still don’t know who our next president will be — but we know weed was a winner.

The Big Idea
poll gauge

What’s up with the pollsters?

Poor Nate Silver.

The man behind forecasting website FiveThirtyEight rose to fame after calling Barack Obama’s Democratic primary win in 2008 followed by Obama’s victories in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

But he’s on a bit of a losing streak per The Atlantic’s David Graham (and basically all of Twitter).

Silver missed the mark in 2016…

And this year, his pre-election probability for a Biden win was ~90%.

By late Tuesday evening, things were far less certain.

Regardless of what happens from here, the final Electoral College tally won’t come close to the 348-190 outcome for Biden predicted by FiveThirtyEight’s averages.

The Atlantic notes that “in every swing state but Arizona, Trump outperformed the FiveThirtyEight polling average.”

One issue plaguing the forecasts: the polls that Silver (and other pundits) use as inputs are flawed:

  • Poll respondents may be biased (e.g., Dem-leaning voters may be more likely to respond)
  • Polls can’t properly account for undecided voters (or preference falsification, which is when someone lies about their true choice)
  • Polls don’t adequately account for voter turnout

Polls are supposed to be snapshots, not predictions

For this reason, pollsters “bridle at people such as Silver… using them to create forecasts” writes Graham.

One of Silver’s harshest critics is Nassim Taleb, a former options trader turned author (The Black Swan).

Taleb says Silver completely misunderstands probabilities and that his models fail to properly take in new information. To make matters worse, election data doesn’t stretch back very far.

Bad polling affects all types of political decisions

Here are 2 according to The Atlantic’s Graham:

  • Primary elections: Voters often pick candidates who look to be already popular (e.g., polling well)
  • Policy: Legislators are influenced by what issues they perceive the public supports or rejects

But if polling is no longer a trusted source, that’s one less source of common truth. And the real loser in such an environment isn’t Nate Silver — it’s everyone.

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Snippets
  • Tech stocks soared amid election uncertainty. Investors seem content to park money in Big Tech names and wait it out, mirroring the summer trading playbook.  
  • Voters approved the California Privacy Rights Act, which will stiffen data privacy rules and impose harsher penalties for those breaking them.
  • (Not) Socially distant: Tinder is on a roll during the pandemic, up to 10.8m subs on average vs. 9.6m last year.
  • Portland, Maine is banning use of facial recognition, following in the footsteps of Boston and San Francisco.
  • Jeff Bezos’ latest $AMZN stock sale = $3B… he’s sold over $10B in 2020, most probably to fund his space ambitions.
  • Bonus: A ranking of how social networks handled the election: 1) Twitter (clear labels),  2) Facebook (vague labels)… 100) YouTube (refused to take down false info).
 
Business Ballot
Spicoli gif

How businesses scored on the ballot

While the presidential election has probably occupied most of your headspace over the last 48 hours, voters also had their say on a slew of state laws and amendments.

In total, 124 state initiatives were up for grabs on Tuesday. Here were some of the most important that intersected businesses.

Weed won the day

Somewhere, Jeff Spicoli is smiling.

New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota all voted to legalize the recreational sale of marijuana to those 21 and older. Mississippi also gave the green light to medical marijuana.

Oregon voters took things a step further, allowing licensed service providers to administer psilocybin mushrooms. The use of ‘shrooms as a treatment for anxiety, PTSD, and depression has drawn a lot of interest from the scientific community.

Oregon took steps to combat a worsening opioid epidemic, becoming the first state to decriminalize possession of hard drugs.

Rideshare companies score a win

If you’ve been anywhere in the state of California in the last 6 months, you’ve probably heard of Prop-22 — a debate over whether ridesharing and delivery companies can treat drivers as contractors and not employees.

Voters sided with Uber and Lyft — a big win for both companies, which saw their stocks climb ~15% and 11%, respectively.

In Florida, a new law will see the minimum wage rise from $8.56/hr in 2020, to $10 in 2021, and increase $1 every year until 2026, topping at $15.

Check out related coverage:

  • Shroom IPOs
  • The challenges of Uber driving in a pandemic
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SPONSORED

Why do dentists sit in those strange chairs?

1) They’re not strange — they’re called saddle seats, and they’re sweet. 

2) They do it because it’s the best chair for their posture. Duh. 

See, due to all that hunching over while they scrape the plaque you swore you flossed away twice daily, dental professionals are at high risk for back issues. 

That means they need a chair that supports the ideal spinal posture (hips open + knees below the hips) without having to think about it.

But you don’t have to be a doctor to get these benefits. 

Pick up a Fully saddle seat chair, and watch the magic go to work:

  • It allows your spine to rest in the “neutral” position, maximizing support and minimizing stress on the lower back
  • It engages your core, so your body becomes strong enough to support itself
  • They’re even intentionally shaped to enable you to move throughout the day and increase blood flow

Check out this article from Fully for the full rundown on saddle chairs, ranging from subtle to pretty darn saddle-y. 

Saddle up, cowboys →
Medium Tech
Section 230 clipboard

The government is going after Big Tech — and ‘Medium Tech’ is bracing for impact

It’s among the rarest things on Earth.

An issue that both major US political parties can agree on: Big Tech should be regulated.

Fearful of what sweeping rule changes might bring, over a dozen medium-sized tech companies are looking to form their own lobbying coalition, The Information reports.

The biggest concern on the menu: the Section 230 rule

Part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230 has shielded internet companies from liability for what users say or post on their platforms.

Just last week, the Senate grilled the CEOs of Alphabet, Facebook, and Twitter (as well as Jack Dorsey’s beard) on their recent handling of various political posts being shared across their platforms.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was particularly keen to “update” Section 230, which would force many companies to devote more resources to speech moderation.

Sounds fair enough…

… until you realize that Facebook spent more on safety and security ($3.7B) in 2019 than Twitter’s entire 2019 revenue ($3.5B).

Now “Medium Tech” firms like Patreon, Nextdoor, Glassdoor, Etsy, Cloudflare, Reddit, Pinterest, Dropbox and, errr, Medium want to have a say in the legislation.

Regardless of how his election cycle shakes out — or if “Medium Tech” catches on as a phrase (you heard it here first) — it’s probably a smart move for them.

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Election Time Machine

Here’s what elections of yesteryear would look like on Twitter

Founded during George W. Bush’s second presidential term (2006), Twitter has firmly established itself as the heartbeat of political media.

Collectively, we’ve spent a comical number of human hours refreshing our Twitter timelines over the past 48 hours.

With this in mind, we wanted to apply the Twitter treatment to one of America’s most iconic cultural artifacts — the day-after-election newspaper front page.

Starting with Bush Jr.’s second presidential election win, here’s how elections of yesteryear may have been called on Twitter:

November 3, 2004: George W. Bush

November 7, 1984: Ronald Reagan

November 7, 1956: Dwight D. Eisenhower

November 4, 1936: Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Editing by: Zachary “Poll Soul” Crockett, Gustav Muffler, Bela Cartok (Staff Composers).

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