Five questions for experts who say they can predict election results

By Bill Heltzel

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Just five questions are crucial if you want to predict who will become president on Nov. 8.

Newsday columnist Lane Filler is skeptical about the ability of pundits and pollsters to predict elections. These are the same experts who said Jeb Bush would be the Republican nominee and Bernie Sanders would get only 2 percent of the Democratic vote.

“They clearly didn’t’ understand the year,” Filler told about 80 people at the “Road to the White House” forum presented by The Business Council of Westchester.

Filler spoke on Oct. 28, when some pollsters were giving Hillary Clinton an 85 percent probability of becoming president and there were only eleven days left in the campaign.

Most likely the polls are right, Filler said. Most likely Hillary Clinton wins.

Hours later, word was spreading that the FBI was inquiring about emails on the laptop computer of Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, that possibly contained classified information that had passed through Clinton’s private email server when she was secretary of state.

The polls tightened.

Even before that political bombshell dropped, Filler said, “I’d be very wary about making these kinds of predictions.”

Revelations that would have destroyed candidates in any other election season have become ho-hum, he said. So political observers have to wonder what issues are being overestimated and underestimated now.

When experts declare who is going to win, Filler wants to know if they can answer these questions:

  • What will be the turnout by African-Americans in urban areas?
  • What will be turnout by African-Americans in the South?
  • What will be the turnout among Republicans with more than an undergraduate education?
  • What percentage of people who vote for Donald Trump will go no further on the ballot because they came out only to make an anti-establishment vote?
  • What percentage of Republicans will not go to the polls because they cannot bring themselves to vote for Trump?

Turnout is the key.

Unless you know how many people and which people are voting, predictions are unreliable.

Filler also talked about the state of political journalism, the impact of technology on politics and the future of the Republican Party.

There is something maddening about thousands of credentialed journalists covering the party conventions and presidential debates by watching the events on TV in nearby rooms.

“The misappropriation of resources is nothing short of extraordinary,” he said.

Most of those journalists should have stayed home and explained to their audiences how the race is going to affect their lives.

He noted that The Journal News in White Plains had just laid off columnist Phil Reisman. And some editor, he said, is going to tell the kids in the newsroom that they are still serious about putting out a great newspaper.

Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch and an Uber subsidiary teamed up last month for a 120-mile beer run in a self-driving tractor-trailer.

“Four million Americans lost their jobs,” with that demonstration, Filler said. They haven’t gotten the pink slip yet, and it’s going to take a while, but that is how many Americans make a living driving trucks.

From 1945 to 1995, semiskilled workers could make a good living, achieve the American dream, by assisting machines in making things. Robot labor will displace those human hands. Incomes will continue to accrete to wealthy landowners and factory owners.

“What is our morality, what is our philosophy, what are our politics going to look like,” Filler asked, “in a time, when because of automation, the only shortage that exists is a shortage of jobs?”

Meanwhile, Americans have become increasingly dependent on social programs, like Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits and food stamps.

This presents a problem to the Republican Party, insofar as it wants to re-establish traditional conservative principles and moral philosophy.

“We do have to have a viable conservative party in this country that understands the power of free markets, that understands the power of individual liberty,” he said, and “that understands the role of religion in this country for believers.”

Establishment Republicans are mistaken, Filler said, if they think they can gut social programs to cut taxes.

If the Republican Party is to be viable nationally, “It is not going to promise to hollow out the social safety net that people are going to increasingly depend upon in this economy as automation takes over the industrial process.”


About the author

Bill Heltzel
Bill Heltzel has covered criminal justice, courts, government and sports – as a beat reporter and investigative reporter – for daily newspapers in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He worked for Bloomberg LP in training and sales. He joined The Business Journal in 2016.

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