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Darragh McManus on radio: We must tread carefully through polling minefield

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Tara Immen of Happy Valley, Arizona, wears decorative glasses while waiting in the queue for a Donald Trump campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport on Wednesday

Tara Immen of Happy Valley, Arizona, wears decorative glasses while waiting in the queue for a Donald Trump campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport on Wednesday

Tara Immen of Happy Valley, Arizona, wears decorative glasses while waiting in the queue for a Donald Trump campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport on Wednesday

Mere days remain to the US presidential election, and Newstalk has been running a fairly good podcast, Race to the White House, that covers a swathe of issues. This week Simon Tierney looked at, among other things, polling: that most derided yet important aspect of elections. The host reminded us how badly the polls got it wrong in 2016, when almost all the pre-vote data suggested a win for Hillary Clinton. “Are pollsters sleepwalking into another massive screw-up?” he asked. “Polling is extremely tricky… we need to tread carefully.” The Trafalgar Group is an interesting case study. They were the only pollsters to accurately predict key swing states going in favour of Donald Trump in 2016, due to “a social desirability bias” that “assumes a lot of Trump voters feel stigmatised and suspicious of pollsters, and are therefore unlikely to accurately say who they intend to vote for.” They predict a Trump win this time. Greg Swenson, of Republicans Overseas UK, reckoned we should trust mainstream pollsters “to the point where they seem like they’re identifying a pretty strong trend, but also pay attention to those on the fringes [like Trafalgar]”, and companies that aggregate polls. Dr Graham Finlay, from UCD’s School of Politics and International Relations, added: “Anecdotally, the risk of admitting that you support Trump is a lot greater now.” Ultimately, though this one will be all about turnout, he predicted. Liveline (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 1.45pm) heard from supporters of both candidates. Trump fan Tom had already voted “for the best man for the job. Since he’s been elected, he’s actually kept his promises… It’s refreshing to see a politician not working for the ruling class, but the working class”. Meanwhile, Phil O’Dwyer voted for Joe Biden “because he is an honest, decent, truthful person — all of which contrast starkly with the present incumbent. In every respect, over the last few years, President Trump has damaged the pillars of that country.” I’m not sure about the value of this sort of vox-pop: in general people have their positions and dig in to defend them. The end result is probably more heat than light, but they provide an interesting snapshot all the same. Back in Ireland, Independent TD Verona Murphy has cut her salary to the pandemic unemployment payment rate for the duration of lockdown. She told Mark Cagney on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 4pm): “We’re all in this together and this is a show of solidarity with people who’ve lost their jobs.” There may be a smidgeon of politicking mixed in with her good intentions but, still, it’s nice to see someone put their money where their mouth is. Banal statements are easy; giving up hard cash is, well, hard.

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