The texts kept dinging in, most of them one word long: “fuck.” But also, “how could this be happening?” and “what do we do now?” It was November 8, 2016, and America was stunned. Around water coolers, at dinner tables, in bars, and throughout the media, one question echoed: how could the pollsters have gotten the outcome of this election so wrong?
You know the rest, no need to belabor it. One of the less-significant (in the short term, anyway) outcomes of the polling disaster that was the 2016 US Presidential Election was Democrats’ new mantra of never again. Determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2016, Democrats have been repeating the same refrain throughout a spate of elections in 2017, the Blue Wave elections in 2018, and again in this presidential election year: ignore the polls.
Obviously, that’s good advice. Don’t get cocky. Don’t get caught flat-footed. Never stop working. It’s an ethos that has served Democrats well, electorally, in the years since 2016.
However, ignoring the polls isn’t the same thing as assuming the polls are wrong. Right now, all polling shows a steady, consistent lead for Biden. About 10 percentage points nationally, and upwards of seven points in key swing states, PA, WI, and MI. Even in NC and FL, he’s polling ahead of Trump.
While Democrats would certainly be foolish to let their foot off the gas, this persistent polling advantage should not be overlooked. Here’s why: the Republicans are currently engaged in stealing this election from the American people. Voter suppression tactics ranging from limiting the availability of drop boxes, to kicking people off the voter rolls, to sabotaging the United States Postal Service in order to deter ballots from arriving at election commissions, to spurious new rules that will all but ensure vast numbers of votes are rejected are roiling this election. Right-wing propaganda coming from Fox News and the White House is casting doubt on the quality of our election systems and the legality of the outcome. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have both famously refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Any question as to the outcome of the election will play into their hands. They will point to their surprising upset in 2016 as proof that they command a “silent majority” of voters whose votes are more valuable and legitimate than Democratic constituents are.
And here’s where we come back to polling. The current polling that shows — consistently, unquestionably — a large Biden lead has created a remarkably fixed narrative. As the narrative sets in, it is harder and harder for pundits, elected officials, the media, and your cousin on Facebook to deny the validity of a Biden win. If this double-digit lead keeps up for three more weeks, no one will be able to claim in good faith that a Biden win is proof of a “rigged system.” If we wake up on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd to a polling average of 10–12 points for Biden, most voters will take his win as a foregone conclusion. That doesn’t mean Democrats should let up, or relax, or take it easy, but it does mean that Republicans’ dirty tricks become a lot harder to pull off.
So, it’s in Democrats’ best interest not to “ignore the polls.” They must read them and dig deep into the internals, share them far and wide and make sure every voter is primed for a new President-Elect (whether it happens on Nov. 4th or two weeks later, after the mail-in votes are counted). That will provide a strong deterrent to Republican efforts to steamroll the Constitution and throw the outcome into disarray. It’s clear that a majority of Americans prefer Biden to Trump, and voters must demand that elected officials honor the electoral system.