Polling Part Two: the Electability trap

This whole primary election cycle, I've been thinking a lot about how pollsters and the media have been forming (or attempting to form) self-fulfilling prophesies regarding the preferred primary candidate. With so much focus surrounding the importance of beating Donald Trump this election cycle, it seems the main question pollsters/the media have been asking is not who is the best/smartest/experienced candidate, but rather who is the most electable candidate.

Maggie Koerth's recent article in FiveThirtyEight very succinctly described exactly why this whole concept of "elect-ability" is, well, kind of floppy. At the base of it seems to be our inability to accurately gauge how other voters assess candidates. For example, "74 percent of Democrats and Independents said they’d be comfortable voting for a female president, but only 33 percent of those same people believed their neighbors would be as open-minded". So if we're trying to assess how "electable" a candidate is, we might automatically rule out a female candidate because we believe others won't support them, even if we find them appealing. We can see, then, how this quickly becomes a problematic cycle. My favorite passage in Koerth's piece is one that describes this phenomenon: "it’s fair to say that our notion of electability is, at some level, related to our individual knee-jerk social biases — things like the color of a person’s skin, or the way they present their gender to the world. We take those ingredients and we make assumptions about that person. We make assumptions about what other people might think about that person. We make assumptions about what researchers want us to say when they ask about our biases. We make a stew — reactions and reactions to reactions". In other words, we can't escape our own biases and error-prone ways when we attempt to determine electability--because the whole concept of electability relies on us assessing the preferences and thoughts of others.

Similar to my post regarding polling last week, I think it's important to be cautious about the ways in which we rely too heavily on a media/pollster narrative regarding the most electable candidate. Because at the end of the day, what's at stake is only our democracy.