So here's Wolff, opining on how The Media™ erred in the Time of Trump. “It was the day the data died,” he says of the electoral results. “All of the money poured by a financially challenged media industry into polls and polling analysis was for naught. It profoundly misinformed. It created a compelling and powerful narrative that was the opposite of what was actually happening.”
The subhead takes this idea to another level, echoing sentiment that's been pervasive in the wake of Trump's victory. “Ads don’t work, polls don’t work, celebrities don’t work, media endorsements don’t work and ground games don’t work,” it says.
This is not only premature, it's stupid.
On Tuesday, there were 10 times as many elections for the House of Representatives as there have been elections in the entire history of presidential politics. There were another few dozen Senate races, a bunch of gubernatorial races, hundreds of state legislature races and thousands of other things on the ballot from local candidacies to statewide ballot initiatives. Some huge proportion of those efforts relied on ads, polls, endorsements and ground games. (Few, we will admit, relied on celebrities — but no one serious ever argued that celebrities did a whole lot anyway.) They relied on those things through a mixture of experience and superstition. In some cases, incumbents were doing what they'd always done, whether or not it was ideal; in others, candidates were doing what's been shown, time and again, to work.
There's a lot of money spent in politics, as we readily admit in other contexts, and there's been a lot of research, both corporate and academic, into how that money can or should be best spent. Read The Monkey Cage every once in a while. There's some spaghetti-at-the-wall stuff, but there's also a lot of demonstrable positive effects for candidates who lack the immediate name recognition of a Hillary Clinton or a Trump.
Wolff's goal here is to complain about the media because that's unerringly what he does. Fine. He heard a thing about data and looped that in, but really the point is that the media is full of itself. But he's wrong about the data.
It is the case that national poll data consistently suggested that Clinton would be elected the next president of the United States. It is also the case that she was not. But it is not the case that the national polls missed widely.
All of the ballots haven't yet been counted, but it's nearly certain that Clinton's popular vote lead will grow. (There are a lot of ballots still to be counted in California, our biggest, bluest state.) As it does, the extent to which national polls got the result wrong will narrow. They showed Clinton with a lead of a little over three points. She'll probably end up winning by about two points. The problem for her is that her lead was built in states that were already solidly red or blue.
National polls will wind up being **more accurate** than they were in 2012:— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 9, 2016
2012: Obama up 1, won by 4
2014: Clinton up 3-4, will win by 1-2
Where polls were further from the mark was at the state level. This likely happened for a variety of reasons, including the fact that there simply weren't a lot of state polls for much of the election. I'm not ready to declare polling an unalloyed success, by any stretch, but late polls showed much closer races in swing states than President Obama saw in 2012. Thanks to an unbalanced voter turnout that worked to Trump's favor, those swing states swung his way. Our automated tool showed a near tie Tuesday afternoon; a Trump-favorable electorate flipped the math of the electoral college.
It's indisputable that Trump didn't spend much on television ads, didn't get many newspaper endorsements, lost the debates, didn't seem to care much about traditional get-out-the-vote efforts and seemed apathetic about polling. But that doesn't mean those things are useless. After all, Trump did advertise, spending millions on digital ads that were aimed at bolstering turnout efforts. We're going to be hearing about those ads for some time to come, no doubt, but he also spent on television late in the cycle. He didn't invest much in field efforts, but the Republican Party picked up some or most of that slack. He wasn't without a turnout operation. He may have been indifferent to polling, but he still polled, with reports on Tuesday night suggesting that his internal numbers also misread the electoral wave that was coming.
Over the next few months (years), people directly and tangentially related to Trump's effort will make the case that they've Cracked the Code of winning a modern campaign. Politicians, as I noted earlier, are both superstitious and often subject to snake-oil tactics. There will be a buyer's market on anyone peddling the idea that they helped Trump get over the finish line, just as there was for anyone with “Obama For America” on their résumé in 2009. Some of those folks will have deserved to make the case they cracked the code, to some extent. Most won't — but the narrative will spread.
And maybe they did crack the code! But we should come back to the original point: This was one weird, high-profile election out of thousands. It featured two exceptionally well-known and exceptionally disliked candidates facing off in the first national contest in an era of social media maturity. It very well could be the case that the new media landscape will undercut past practices for campaigns. This one contest doesn't prove that, though, especially given the extent to which Trump gleefully broke the established rules in a way that it's hard to see other politicians doing. The race wasn't necessarily sui generis, but we also don't know that Trump created a new way that will be effective for others.
It has been 12 hours. Twelve hours is a very short period of time during which to decide that all polling is bad and all data is bad and everything that Clinton did was wrong.
That is particularly the case if political campaigns are not your area of expertise.