The beauty of a democratic election in the era of social media is that everyone can and does weigh in. You can read whatever articles you want, and you can argue about their contents, and you can form and defend your opinions, and it's all a lot of fun, save those times when it isn't. It's part of why I enjoy my job: I get to do all of that and they pay me to. As a result, I feel confident in saying that I probably read more and dive deeper into what's been happening than most others do. This doesn't mean that I'm always right, by any stretch. But it does mean that I've come to recognize certain ways in which a lot of people are wrong.
As a public service, here are ways in which people are often and continually wrong about what's been happening in the 2016 race.
The polls are wrong and can't be trusted
It is true that polls are rarely 100 percent correct, yes. There are a lot of reasons for this, including that there are a lot of polls. So the odds that each arrives at the same, perfectly accurate result despite the margins of error are about zero.
What's not true is that polls don't offer accurate insights into the state of a political race or public opinion -- much less that they should be dismissed out of hand. Pollsters got the results of this month's Michigan primary very wrong -- in part because the 2008 primary was so goofy. But for the most part, polling has accurately predicted the winner of each primary contest, especially once those polls are aggregated into a polling average.
Why do people think polls are wrong? Three reasons. First, it's easy to cherry-pick times when they were obviously wrong, as in the Michigan example. It's squeaky poll that gets the online abuse, as the old saying goes. Second, close contests get a lot more attention and are, by definition, close. So people pay more attention to what the polls say and notice more that they may be off by a critical few points.
Third, people like to cherry-pick any misses for the purposes of casting doubt on polls that show something they don't want to see. As voting in Florida approached, Marco Rubio's campaign kept insisting that he'd win, that the polls showing him down double digits were iffy, and so on. This is of a genre I call "the polls are wrong." In 2014, I looked at how often candidates said the polls were wrong versus how often the polls actually were wrong. As in Florida, the polls were right.
A corollary to this statement: "Polls don't include cell phones, so they're useless." Most major polling firms do use cell phones. The Post and its partner ABC News do, for example. We wrote about this last year.
Donald Trump is only winning because of independents
Another version of this: Trump loses when primaries are closed to independents and only real Republicans can vote.
This is just simply wrong, and has been wrong from the outset. Earlier this month, I looked at this issue, noting that Trump had lost both open and closed primaries or caucuses and that in nearly every state he'd seen more support from Republicans than independents, according to exit polls.
Since I wrote that, there have been 12 more closed primaries and caucuses. Trump won six of them; Ted Cruz won five.
The subtext to this is that parts of the Republican Party would like to pin the blame for a candidate they don't like on a wave of non-Republicans coming in and fouling things up. Interestingly, Democratic opponents of Bernie Sanders would have a much stronger claim to that end.
A corollary to this statement: "Democrats are throwing primary elections to Trump." There's no evidence of this, either.
Bernie Sanders is poised to win a bunch of states, so it's too early to say he won't win
Bernie Sanders's campaign has been pushing this line of attack. "The primary calendar is shifting in our favor," the campaign said in an email on Mar. 19, "with many states coming up where we can win – or win big."
As I have said in the past, Sanders has a very strong campaign that is doing very well in a lot of ways -- except in the delegate count. On Wednesday morning, I noted that the problem for Sanders isn't that he isn't winning; it's that he isn't winning enough big states by enough to make up the delegate deficit he faces.
And even when Sanders has won states big, as his campaign puts it, they aren't usually states with a lot of delegates at play. Winning Utah by 60 points, as he did Tuesday, means he gets 24 delegates to Hillary Clinton's 5. Winning Arizona by only 17, as Clinton did, means getting 44 delegates to Sanders's 30. So Sanders won big -- and barely made up the delegate gap.
The proportional split in Democratic contests means Sanders has to win big states big -- which is why it's nearly impossible for him to win, no matter how many states themselves he wins over the next few weeks.
You can't call a race as soon as the polls close
You very well can. Sometimes.
Experts at media outlets like the AP look at a number of factors -- early voting, exit polls, the location and composition of the vote -- to call a race. The stakes for this are very high: No outlet wants to make a wrong call. It's a much higher stake than pollsters getting a poll wrong, for example, because there's no margin of error. It's yes or no, and that better be correct.
What's at the heart of this is the weird general skepticism that math is somehow mystical and gauzy. This isn't throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping you hit triple-20. It's punching numbers into a reliable calculator and seeing what adds up.
In fact, skepticism about math underpins a lot of this. Statistics and random samples and so on are very vague concepts, and in a country where most people live and work with people who share their general cultural and political views, there's often little evidence that there is as much diversity as statistical analysis suggests. What suggests that the math is right is that the math keeps being right. As is the case with calling a race.
An example of how this can work. If polls before a race show, say, Sanders winning Utah by 60 points, and exit polls show Sanders winning by 60 points, and a tally of the early votes shows Sanders winning by 60 points, and those early votes are in places that Clinton should do well? Guess what: Sanders is going to win once all of the votes are counted. That's pretty easy to see, even at a glance.
The less easy-to-see examples are that ones that experts at the AP and CNN and so on train for. A lot of people who've spent a lot of time looking at a lot of numbers and who have a lot at stake are the ones making these calls. If they call a race the instant polls close, there's a reason.
Donald Trump will never run for president
Those guys, amirite?