Polling in the US

In this article, Leonhardt considers where the polls got it wrong for the 2020 US election.

He begins by outlining the polling errors in 2020, notably that Joe Biden was forecast to win by a landslide and instead won by less than two percentage points in crucial states. The author argues that the presence of errors is especially important in this election, as pollsters had been working to fix large errors that occurred in 2016—when the polls predicted Hillary Clinton would win over Donald Trump.

Leonhardt then suggests some reasons for this year’s errors, including:

  • There has been a considerable drop in citizens willing to respond to polls; about 6% of Americans respond to polls today, compared to over 50% in the 1980s. This makes it more difficult to obtain diverse opinions.
  • Some voters are less likely to respond to polls because they are less trusting of the media, and this group tends to lean Republican.
  • The pandemic may have deterred more voters from going to polling places, where exit polls are conducted.

The article then gives a brief history of how political polls have been conducted since 1916. Leonhardt notes that methods established in 1936 by George Gallup—for example, ensuring that respondents to a survey reflect the demographics of society—have “shaped the industry” today. He also states that mistakes apparent in that era, such as an overestimation of one group over another, can also be found in current polling methods.

Leonhardt states that, historically, polls have tended to underestimate Democratic support. Evidence from recent elections suggests this has flipped, with Republican voters now being overlooked by pollsters.

Overall, the author asks whether the US public puts too much weight on polls. He also argues that pollsters themselves should emphasise to the public more strongly that “polling can be misleading”.

Read the full article: David Leonhardt, ‘A black eye: Why political polling missed the mark. Again’, New York Times, 12 November 2020.

A Precarious Four Years?

Writing before the US presidential election had been projected for Biden, Posner predicted that Joe Biden “will most likely enter the White House”, but will have “little to look forward to”.

The author lists a series of internal and external problems the president-elect will face very early on in his term of office. He states that the US is facing economic distress, the Covid-19 pandemic and “a brutal international environment”, whilst the Biden administration will also be facing:

  • a divided government;
  • a hostile judiciary;
  • a weakened federal bureaucracy; and
  • lingering Trumpian populism among the public.

The article takes each of the points in turn and considers what affect they will have on the presidency. Posner argues that a divided government—which will be decided in January by the Georgia Senate race—will likely result in “sporadic government shutdowns” and will prevent Biden and the Democrats from passing “sorely needed” reforms of the electoral college, voting laws and the office of the presidency.

The author states that even if progressive legislation is passed in a divided government, Biden faces another “formidable obstacle” in the form of the conservative Supreme Court. For example, Posner argues that the court could strike down the Affordable Care Act, passed under the Obama-Biden administration in 2010.

Coupled with these strategic pressures, the article goes on to say that Biden is leading a “deeply divided” America. On the right, Trump supporters who believe the current president’s claims of fraud will not support a Democratic administration, and neither will their elected representatives. And on the left, there is a “fractious Democratic coalition” of leftists, moderates and anti-Trump independents.

Ultimately, Posner argues that Biden will not have a “honeymoon period” when he takes office.

Read the full article: Eric Posner, ‘Biden’s precarious victory’, Project Syndicate, 6 November 2020.

Protests in Nigeria

In early October 2020, protests broke out in Nigeria against police brutality by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protests continued throughout the month, until a “crackdown” on protestors by Nigerian police.

The author gives some background on SARS. The group was first established in the 1990s to “combat incidences of armed robbery”, but since that time citizens have associated it with instances of harassment, extortion and extra-judicial killings.

The article then discusses the current protests. He links the young demographic of the SARS protestors with those that started Nigeria’s independence protests, stating that the country has a “rich history” of youthful protestors. He believes this demographic is important to note, as young people (15 to 34-year olds) make up 35% of the total unemployed population in Nigeria and 28% of the underemployed citizens, but half of the registered electorate. He argues that the main message of the demonstrators is that “young Nigerians want to take back their country from the entrenched political order”.

Focusing more on the protestors’ demands, Ojewale states that the initial demands of the movement, including the abolition of SARS, justice for victims of police brutality and reform of the police, have since evolved to encompass more democratic aims. This includes calls for greater respect for human rights and for the rule of law within police agencies.

The author considers what could come next for the protestors. He fears the movement could be undermined by fake news shared on social media or hijacked by self-serving politicians. However, he argues that the creativity and passion displayed by the protestors suggests that demonstrators could once again organise themselves quickly to demand change, either through voting or further street protest.

Read the full article: Oluwole Ojewale, ‘Youth protests for police reform in Nigeria: What lies ahead for #EndSARS’, Brookings Institute, 29 October 2020.