The @POTUS elections are absolutely fascinating to follow. It is beautifully poised even as @realdonaldtrump is ‘fighting against the odds’. Most polls, all across the US of A, national in particular, reveal that @joebiden is in the lead. It has been so ever since Joe Biden, 78 years old, became the official Democratic Party nominee, aspiring to become the oldest ever @POTUS to come to office, in the 244 year old country’s history.
Yet the Mainstream media and the psephologists are holding out a lot of ‘caveats unlike most times in the past’ as a Havard Professor is amused. They are not so sure to predict a winner this time, despite the wind in the sails of Joe. Why? Why are they hesitating unlike in the past? They always claim Psehpology is a science. They have ‘evolved tools which are sturdy’, they always claim. What has gone wrong with their ‘chiseled models beaten by the weather’?
It all harks back to their and our experience in the Nov, 2016 elections. At this point of time, in the Nov, 2016 elections Hillary Rodham Clinton was virtually declared a winner bar the shouting, as even Republicans had given up on Donald J Trump. Yes, it is true that Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes and it was Trump’s triumph by just 77,000 votes in three critical swing vote states, which made the difference. But, it has always been so in the US.
It needs to be noted, appreciated and understood that @POTUS elections, which take place once in 4 years, on the first Tuesday of November, 3rd it is, this year, and the Presidential inauguration takes place on Jan,20, the following year, are not of the ‘first past the post kind’. The popular vote may go to one candidate. But the winner could be another who gets to win the votes in the Electoral College, an ‘ indescribable animal which needs to be caught and consigned to the dustbin of history’ as a Yale law professor calls it.
When the 13 states joined in to morph the Confederation into a Union of States, thanks to the persuasive skills of the Founders of the US Constitution, the smaller States had their way ‘to assert their status in the union’, by insisting on a creature dubbed the Electoral College. Each State got allotted an agreed number of electors and the winner in the State took all the Electoral College votes- skewing the entire popular vote out of shape and size . In fact, only in 2020, we had the @SCOTUS ruling that the electors in the Electoral College cannot vote against the popular mandate in the State. Until then, it seemed as though they could, making a mockery of the precept and practice of popular votes in the hustings at both state and national horizons. Donald J Trump trumped Hillary in 3/5 swing states taking him over the hump, in the Electoral College, beyond the 270 magic number.
It was against the run of play. More than Hillary and Clinton and Democrats, it was the Main Stream Media and the ‘trained professional psephologists’ who were stunned into silence. They have been dissecting and analysing the ‘results’ since, and beyond suggesting that ‘the silent Trump voter killed them with their silence and misrepresentations’ there has been no worthwhile research results. Tomes have been penned and Seminar Circuit calendars full, but no credible answers. Yes, the MSM and psephologists shamefully conceded that they were trumped by the Trump voters as they failed to have their ears to the ground and ‘lost touch with the reality’.
It is this once in a life time experience that is holding back the MSM and Psephologists from pronouncing big on the polls and poll numbers in 2020. They are forced to admit that it is after all not a science or a precision tool. There is an inevitable and inexorable element of guesswork and estimation which makes mincemeat of their projections. And the voters who matter cannot be reduced to prognosis or projections, on samples and models, no matter the size, they handle with the huge margin of errors.
The Trump candidacy has been a revelation. He has had a 40% approval ratings since he began in June, 2015, throwing his hat into the ring. Despite the chaotic administration and his despicable handling of the Pandemic virus, defying and demeaning scientists and doctors, his base is not budging. They are stead fast. They know who he is. They knew him when they voted him in. As an elderly white female voter proudly exclaimed, “You took him literally. We took him seriously. He is our kind of politically incorrect rascal you elites hate”. And that base has remained unswerving in its devotion as if ‘Trump Presidency was a cult phenomenon’ as Tom Friedman remarked. Whatever, MSM and psephologists have learnt their lessons well.
No matter how smart they claim themselves to be or the tools and models they employ, ultimately, it is the little man with the little finger visiting the booth or mailing in his vote, who shall have the last word. It is not unique to US of A, but it is equally applicable to all democracies. MSM and psephologists would do well to be humbled by this experience, lest they are rudely humbled, again and again, by the little man or woman with the little vote.
( Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)