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Annals of Polling

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November 8, 2022 3:20 p.m.

Twice in recent history the President’s party has gained seats in a midterm election. The last time was 20 years ago. For years, I was unreasonably pleased with myself that I was one of the few people I knew who predicted Democrats would gain House seats in the 1998 midterm — the Lewinsky scandal/impeachment midterm. It wasn’t any great insight. That was what the polls actually said. They said it very clearly. But the political class had convinced themselves that the polls were not accounting for the intensity of evangelical Republicans who would swamp the Democrats at the polls. That didn’t happen. The polls had said as much.

I learned a lesson from this that, for a political observer, polls are something like a pilot’s control panel when flying in stormy weather. What pilots are taught is in stormy weather you watch the instrument panel and absolutely disregard everything else. Your sense of direction — your feel for up and down — will fool you, and then you crash. The instrument panel is right.

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