For the next week following the first presidential debate, America will ask and answer the wrong question: “Who won?”
Answering this question demands that we first define “winning” in this context, which is only rhetorically possible. Like watching any other major sporting event, the teams already had wide groups of loyal fans, and most people came in Team Trump or Team Hillary or Team Anyone Else. There’s actually a group that claims they would rather vote for the sweet meteor of death than vote for either candidate.
Polls are supposedly reliable data to measure success (whatever we presuppose “success” means), and “scientific” polling generally takes a random sampling of a population to obtain statistically significant results. But stats are only as reliable as the sampling group, and I’ve seen 30+ polls claiming Trump won by a wide margin, and others claiming Hillary the victor.
So naturally, the discussion after centers on each camp claiming they “won” by a wide margin, and without any measurability of accurate scoring–no one gained physical yardage to score observable touchdowns–we don’t really know any more than we did before the debate.
Still, the talking heads will parse every word and phrase and draw out the rhetorical analysis. And at the end of this nightmarishly long day, we’ll just be left where we really should have started, assessing the debate using Drew Carey’s tagline remarks on Whose Line is it Anyway?, that “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” (But seriously, someone call Sean Hannity and fact check!)
I realize I’m scoffing generally at the wide swath of professional pollsters. You might wish to draw some comfort in your favorite poll or predictor or tea-leaf reader. Go for it. But statistically, you still actually have only a 50/50 chance of being right. Here are several recent opinions, including the LA Times and the NY Times, that show why polling has become increasingly unreliable and statistically insignificant.
The right question that America should be asking is, “Who will win?” And the answer is that we simply don’t know, and that’s why every vote counts and every American who cares about this country needs to turn out on Election Day. The only truly measurable definition of “winning” anything will come November 8. Predicting or claiming a win any earlier is much like assessing a jury verdict–you just never know while the jury is still out.
Jenna Ellis is an attorney, professor of law at Colorado Christian University, and international speaker.
Email Jenna at firstname.lastname@example.org