They considered and miscalculated: why election sociology in the USA did not work
Analytics

They considered and miscalculated: why election sociology in the USA did not work

9 November , 09:15Photo: bloomberg.com
For the second presidential election in a row, American sociologists predict incorrect results. In 2016, sociologists did not guess the new president. In 2020, they assured the nation that Joe Biden would win by 8%.

Biden is gnawing his victory state after state with his teeth, and there is no sign of a democratic wave.

Yelena Ivanova, Natalia Seibil

In human nature, there is a desire to know what the future will be like. Fortune telling on cards and seances in political life was replaced, in a sense, by sociology. They, modern oracles who know how to look into the future, are listened to by politicians who want to rise to the top of power. Political strategists who construct roads to power go to them for advice. The ratings of candidates are closely watched by all those who gave them money for the election campaign. Joe Biden raised an unprecedented $ 1 billion this year. Donald Trump's electoral fund was $ 600 million. Nobody has spent so much money on elections, nowhere and never. The money for the elections comes not only from companies, but also from universities and individual citizens. Therefore, every election cycle, society observes how political gladiators fight to raise their thumb up or down on election day. In our country, these games ended in the second term of Vladimir Putin, but in free America the work of sociologists, at least every four years, becomes a “buzz of the town” - this is what everyone is talking about.

And now, at least for the second cycle in a row, sociology is wrong. In 2016, only one sociologist predicted that the most influential person on earth would not be the former first lady, former senator, secretary of state, and the "old warhorse" of Hillary Clinton's political battles, but a populist without a political biography with a campaign headquarters consisting, for the most part, from political rogues, children and households, Trump. Everyone else was wrong. This season, Biden has been given a 10% advantage at times, while Trump and the Republican Party will be swept away by the so-called Blue Wave. It meant that the Democratic candidate would win not only in the states that traditionally support the Democratic Party, but also in strongholds of the Republicans, such as Ohio, and, scary to say, Texas. As a result, Democratic candidate Joe Biden lost in Florida, predicted to fall first, with state after state battling for every vote in its favor. At first, Trump was in the lead in each of them, and only with the appearance of ballots sent by mail, Biden began to bypass the president. The gap ranges from 30,000 votes in Arizona to 7,000 in Georgia. "Convincing victory" looks different.

Russian sociological services are scolded for servility and a desire to please the presidential administration, which oversees all elections in the country. But what happened to the American pollsters? Experts say that such an unreliable result of the work of sociologists has both objective reasons and changes in the work of the sociological services themselves.

Sampling problems

If humanity already lived in a beautiful digital world, people could be randomly selected and they would form an ideal sample, sociologists say. So far, unfortunately or fortunately, this situation has not come, and therefore a representative sample is used. But the resulting number is not a forecast. The numbers collected go through a mathematical adjustment phase based on previous surveys and assumptions.

Sociologist, founder of the independent research group Belanovsky's Group Sergey Belanovsky says:

- We had such a situation. In the 90s, in the 2000s, it was known that our polls overestimate the ratings of the authorities by about 10%. Then the elections were still more or less free, the administrative resource was not used so much. Therefore, forecasts from our sociological organizations were needed. Sociological services then came up with an algorithm for correcting the data obtained from the field, by means of the so-called weighting of the parts of the array based on the results of previous elections.

For example, there is a turnout problem. The person in the poll says he will vote for Republicans or Democrats - and does not come to the polls. The turnout in the elections is extremely poorly predicted. If the turnout is too high or too low, it affects the actual result and its discrepancy with the survey.

Another survey problem that affects the results is the coefficient of falsehood in different social groups. Sociologists say that pensioners have a smaller gap between words and deeds than students, in particular, or young people, in general.

The time when citizens readily answered the questions of sociologists has passed not only in Russia, but everywhere, experts say. In Russia, the reachability of respondents - this is the name of the indicator of the number of people who agreed to answer the questions of sociologists - is 20-25%. In America this figure is higher - 40%.

Sergey Belanovsky calls another factor distorting forecasts in America - the factor of "bashful Trumpists." People refused to say they wanted to elect Trump:

Why does Trump's result deviate from the statistical one? He is systematic. At least in many states. Personally, I have no other explanation, except that a significant number of people did not want to tell the interviewer about it. They didn't have to lie, they might just refuse to answer.

In America, forecasts have changed over the past 10-15 years, sociologists say. They began to give probabilistic predictions, how much, as a percentage, the probability of victory of a particular candidate. This has never happened before, and it brings confusion. The Pollsters say that the announced results will come true with varying degrees of probability, but how it was calculated is a big question. Sociologist , deputy director of the Levada Center, Denis Volkov, draws attention to the general availability of forecasts:

- As the average man understands, this is also another question. They said that he would win by a large margin, that means he would win. Nobody goes into details.

Society problems

Society has changed over the past two electoral cycles. It is not as stable as it used to be, and it is highly polarized. Political scientist and historian Alexey Makarkin in an interview with Novy Izvestia says that the bipartisan consensus in the United States has collapsed and polarization has reached its maximum. If earlier a candidate from the third party could get 19% of the vote, as it was in 1992 with Ross Perot, now such a situation is unthinkable. Nobody is interested in the third parties, and the struggle takes on fierce forms. And the pandemic has nothing to do with it. Denis Volkov believes:

- When there is an election campaign, the frame changes, and everything is not so easy in a new situation to predict how everything will develop. The pandemic could be present as a factor, but it seems to me that this is not the case. There was no such polarization before, there was no such fierce struggle. Therefore, usually, when everything developed within the framework of normal logic, it was possible to predict everything well. Now society has changed and hardened.

Grigory Yudin, senior researcher at the laboratory for economic and sociological research at the Higher School of Economics, professor at the Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences, says that polls are not a flying saucer from which you look at the political system, it is a key part of the political system. “Those who do not trust the system, who are annoyed with it, hate it - they (more likely) do not participate in polls. And then he goes and votes out of spite - although, perhaps, he himself does not realize that he will do this, even a few days before the elections. And if such people really eluded the "Trump Amendment" and brought polls a 5-7% gap in many states, then this means that the gap between the political system with its polls and the people of the United States has become even greater in four years".

"Bad Predictions" show that conventional polls reflect reality during "normal politics", but it is over, and not only in America.

End of Sociology?

Now experts are arguing about whether pre-election sociology is dead. Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov believes that such a turn of events will finally give freedom to political strategists who will be able to turn around during the election campaigns. As a result, elections will turn into pure art:

- Imagine a candidate and his campaign headquarters who have lost the main feedback tool - polls. Whose assessments will they rely on, whose opinion will they trust? Apart from the political consultant, with his experience and intuition, no one is left. Until the end of the campaign, you will have to trust him and wait for the result in the hope that, choosing a campaign strategy and organizing campaigning, he was not mistaken.

Denis Volkov strongly disagrees with this. Rumors of the demise of sociology are greatly exaggerated, he says. What then will political strategists do without sociology? In addition, the Biden forecast, if not accurate, was actually correct:

- In Russia the situation is not the same as in America. New methods are not used very often in our country, although we are moving in this direction. But the very situation in the elections themselves is more predictable in our country. Therefore, all this works better for us so that people do not talk. Therefore, one should not bury election sociology for now. It is necessary to work on errors, take into account and correctly build samples.

In America, pollsters also have to fix their mistakes. Maybe big date will help them. Or maybe Joe Biden will be able to do what he promises now - to become the president of all Americans so that the trenches are not so deep.

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