The votes might not be wholly counted until Friday. Major swing states like Pennsylvania are still left to be claimed as a victory ground for the Blues or the Reds. By the time you read this, perhaps there would be more clarity about who wins, without any weight being given to premature declarations of the same. Nevertheless, one thing that we can say for sure is that the national polls or opinion surveys haven’t quite predicted what is actually happening. Many projected a win for Biden with Trump trailing well behind. As of now, without a solid confirmation, we cannot attest to this prediction nor disagree with it. But Donald Trump is, for sure, not trailing as far behind as we believed he would. This is a neck-to-neck contest between the Democrats and the Republicans – this holds for the Congressional results as well. One should be looking into this contradiction that has stepped in with the actual results cutting across the predictions.
I’ve come to a conclusion of my own, set against the backdrop of twists and turns in political events. It’s always wishful or ‘hopeful’ thinking that sets in when we analyse opinion surveys. Amidst this, we leave out an essential aspect of us, as human beings. There are two faces to all of us. Now, this isn’t the traditional assumption of a dichotomous good and bad side to everybody. As a matter of fact, the two faces aren’t always in contradiction with one another. The first is representative of our actual thoughts and inclinations – thoughts about what we want, where we desire to go, and who we want around us. The second is a face that we’d like to present to the public eye – we think before we lay this out for scrutiny. Political correctness, politeness, some inherent desire to think differently: these act together and mould a second face for us to reveal. Often, the two are the same. There wouldn’t be too many guises. But, a small fraction deviates from this convergence.
The national opinion polls, despite assuring respondents of anonymity, isn’t quite devoid of secrecy that comes with ballots when you cast your vote. Without that extent of secrecy or privacy to envelop one, some think before answering and give out a response that is unlike their preferences. It’s the first face of thoughts that you reserve for the election and the second, for opinion surveys. One of the most explanatory instances of this contrast was the Brexit. David Cameron was so certain that people would overwhelmingly opt against Britain leaving the EU and therefore, he had no problem in letting the referendum happen. The government thought it well to have a settlement once and for all. But by a margin – though not the landslide that Brexit advocates would have wanted – the country voted to leave. The entanglements that
ensued from that point still hits at the British governance. Cameron’s certainty was rooted in many factors – one of these was what he had heard and felt from the pulse of the public. However, some tweaks surfaced later on.
Today, the results in America have unveiled a mirror to 2016. The difference between the projections of opinion polls and electoral results is evident. It may not appear to be of that great a consequence right now. But, in this, we’re making an assumption that undermines the value of opinion polls and surveys. It needn’t always be about the elections – these surveys could ask for your opinion on policies, decisions, and other governmental matters. Surveys offer us a path for active public participation and this does not have to be once every four years. It gives the public voice a chance to be heard. I wouldn’t say that differences like those that have come up today should be a reason to not believe in the polls or wholly give up the idea of holding them in good regard. Rather, it shows us that we ought to be more transparent in our participation. We demand transparency from the government all the time, but when it’s our turn to be so, there’s hesitation and an unnecessary disguising of beliefs.
Opinion surveys should play a greater role in the four years to come, irrespective of who wins or loses – it should serve as an instrument to augment political voice and hold the government accountable. But we must also put our best foot forward and reduce the gap between our real thoughts and the ones we ornament for public view. The two must align.