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And If the Polls are Dead Wrong

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Allow me to make a hypothetical assumption that to many will border on fantasy.

Suppose all the polls which predict one of the tightest races in presidential electoral history are dead wrong and one or another candidate wins in a landslide, both popular and electoral?

It happened in 1936 when the venerable magazine The Literary Digest had accurately called the presidential elections of 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928 and 1932. It predicted, in 1936, that Alfred Landon would win 57 percent of the popular vote and 370 electoral votes in his race against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Digest had relied on the results of two million returned postcards, which was their polling methodology at the time.

The actual outcome was that Roosevelt won 523 electoral votes to Landon's 8. Even Landon's home state of Kansas voted against him.

The debacle forced the Literary Digest, which had been founded in 1890, to lose all credibility and subsequently cease publication.

Since then, of course, polling has become far more scientific and has refined the processes to carefully categorize all poll recipients by age, gender, demographics, race, past history, and a huge menu of characteristics and carefully crafted questions which slice and dice recipients in every conceivable way.

In the recent past and now, professional pollsters can boast of being fairly on target in their predictability. And of course, they now have the advantage of sophisticated computer technology.

Many of these polls depend upon telephone communications for their surveys and have fashioned their questions to elicit the best possible opinions from their target recipients. But something has occurred in the last four years that might have changed the playing field.

Since many of these polls are carried out through land lines, the pollsters may not have quite yet found a way to accurately put the vast army of mobile phone owners into their mix of recipients. They may have figured out ways to compensate for this, but rapidly changing technology could be skewing the accuracy of the results.

Aside from the metrics in polling, there is the crucial question of media dissemination meaning exactly where and how the polling targets are getting their information about the candidates. As we all know, in the last four years the print media has been in free fall. Many print newspapers are losing circulation, some have suspended daily publication and others have gone out of business.

In terms of hard numbers, print media can no longer boast being a prime source of daily news and analysis for most people, especially that segment of the younger generation that has not acquired the daily newspaper reading habit.

Various surveys have revealed that younger people get their news and information in summary form from their smart phones, and for the most part, they get it on the run and without any in depth analysis to educate them in a neutral and unbiased way on issues of vital significance to them as citizens.

It is a fact that many news outlets have in the past four years opted for online editions, some free and some for paid subscriptions. Many online outlets are also aggregators of columns and blogs offering an infinite range of opinions. It is no secret that many of these online sites are clearly polarized, representing contradicting political opinions with little wiggle room for ideas that do not conform to one or another political ideology. The valley of difference is wide and deep, perhaps wider and deeper than any previous presidential contest.

Generally speaking, television is considered the most ubiquitous communication channel and is clearly receiving the bulk of political advertising, a boon for TV owners, but increasingly less effective in an environment where hundreds of channels compete for eyeballs. There are also doubts being raised on the effectiveness of these ads and their relentless repetition. Some say it is overkill and counterproductive.

One wonders, too, about the depth of concentration and knowledge obtained by the average voter beset by a myriad of anxieties that afflict the modern citizen in the face of a relentless push by both candidates to persuade them to cast their votes in favor of one or the other.

This is not to say that the voter is not paying attention but the cacophony and massive assault by both parties could contribute to responses from potential voters that are motivated by irritation and annoyance in the face of such a relentless sales pitch.

There might as well be a large number of people who opt to stay silent when a pollster makes a pitch for opinions and preferences.

Not to be ignored is the "push" tactic of pollsters to fashion a question to get a desired answer. I know this implies bias, but in today's toxic political environment, one does often come out on the side of cynicism and distrust. This is not meant to be an accusation of corruption in the polling process, but one cannot escape a lack of faith in the fidelity of the candidates in this most contentious of political campaigns.

In the end, the proof of the pudding will come on Election Day. If the polls are dead wrong and a landslide for one or another of the candidates comes about, one will be forced to reevaluate the real influence of the media in general and the accuracy of polling data in the modern age, and perhaps strike a blow for all those who resent being slotted, parsed, categorized, bracketed and pushed and pulled into corrals like mindless cattle.

Warren Adler has just released his 33rd book "The Serpent's Bite." Best known for "The War of the Roses," his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the dark comedy box office hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, Warren Adler quickly became the fountainhead of Hollywood screenplay adaptations, fueling an unprecedented bidding war in a Hollywood commission for his unpublished book "Private Lies". While "The War of the Roses" garnered outstanding box office and critical success with Golden Globe, BAFTA and multiple award nominations internationally, Adler went on to sell movie and film rights for 12 books, all noted for his character driven and masterful storytelling. Produced by Linda Lavin for PBS' American Playhouse series, Adler's "The Sunset Gang" was adapted into a trilogy starring Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Jerry Stiller, garnering Doris Roberts an Emmy nomination for 'Best Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series.' "The Serpent's Bite" is now available as an e-book and hardback.