Opinion

Why the punditocracy underestimated Donald Trump

In the aftermath of the presidential election results, I’ve been amazed at the coverage from mainstream media outlets. There has been a disproportionate focus on Donald Trump’s message and the fact that he was outspent 3 to 1 but still took the Electoral College, and little soul-searching from the experts that got it wrong.

Indeed, they did get it wrong. Nearly everyone in the punditocracy (pollsters, pundits, commentators, columnists, newspaper editorial boards, activists, politicians, party leaders and many in the organized labor movement) predicted either a Hillary Clinton landslide or a narrow Clinton victory. Watching these “experts” on the Sunday public affairs shows the weekend before the election was an exercise in futility if you were looking for a glimmer of hope vis-à-vis a Trump victory. So why were they off the mark?

While so many voters were glued to pre-election forecasts in the days, weeks and months leading up to the election, public polling methods deserve further scrutiny. In spite of advances in technology and changes in the way people communicate, political polling still relies heavily on antiquated models of calling voters at home and asking them whom they’re voting for. This doesn’t give proper weight to the increasing population of voters who don’t have a traditional landline phone and rely primarily on their mobile phones for communication.

The poor prognostication also overlooked something I’m calling “the Trump effect,” similar to “the Bradley effect,” named for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Bradley. The Bradley theory hypothesizes that white voters are more likely to tell pollsters that they’re voting for a minority candidate so as to not appear racist or bigoted, when instead they’re planning to cast a vote for a white candidate. The Trump effect is real, and refers to voters telling pollsters that they were either undecided or leaning toward Hillary Clinton, when in actuality, they were always voting for Trump. Voters didn’t want to tell a stranger over the phone that they were leaning toward Trump for fear of being labeled racist, Islamophobic, sexist or dumb. This misguided perception of Trump supporters was a direct result of how the mainstream press covered this election – lacking complete diversity, but not in terms of race or gender, but rather life experience.

So much of Trump’s appeal resonated with regular people. I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve met in different walks of life who were enthusiastic Trump supporters: plumbers, electricians, teachers, construction workers, homemakers, auto mechanics, restaurant workers and police officers (of all ethnicities, by the way). Unfortunately, so many of the media outlets that cover politics have no idea what these people are thinking because they’ve created a bubble in which these voices are marginalized. The folks that comment on politics on MSNBC and Fox News may have different party affiliations, genders and ethnic origins, but the one thing that the overwhelming majority of them have in common is that they’re all millionaires.

The New York Times is very comfortable using politicians as sources, or lawyers, bankers, bond salesmen, Wall Street executives, and other financial-sector bigwigs, but completely avoids the nearly 50 percent of the population that don’t have college degrees. How can the Times be expected to adequately cover a race in which the outcome is going to be determined by people it doesn’t understand or interface with? The only reason the silent majority is muted is that no one in the press cares to talk to them.

This tone deafness on the part of the nation’s leading opinion makers has led some, including John Banzhaf, a George Washington University Law School professor, to suggest that perhaps colleges should start offering courses in “blue-collar studies,” just as they do with women’s studies or African-American studies. Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, has written an open letter to the Times’ readership, pledging that the paper will rededicate itself to representing all readers. This is a good start.

Donald Trump has referred to himself as a “blue-collar billionaire.” Is it any wonder that he turned out to be right when he said that no one in the public cared about his tax returns? When will the mainstream press learn its lesson? If it fails to adapt and grow, its slide to obsolescence will only hasten.

Frank Morano is the host of “Morano in the Morning” on AM 970 “The Answer.”

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