Joe Henderson: Assault on polling begins in ShameFest 2016

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As we approach the home stretch of ShameFest 2016 — otherwise known as the election — we should take a moment to ponder one of the great moments the last time the nation chose a president.

It was election night in 2012 and Fox News, accurately as it turned out, declared President Barack Obama had won Ohio and, thus, a second term as commander in chief.

But GOP operative Karl Rove didn’t agree. He argued live on camera that his own network was wrong. He argued that his numbers told a different story, and that Mitt Romney would win. So anchor Megyn Kelly was dispatched to the Fox number-crunching room, where the people charged with making that call patiently explained why they were 99.5 percent correct on their projection.

When Rove persisted, saying his calculations told a different story, Kelly asked, “Is that math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”

It was the runaway best quote of the election season.

We are seeing an assault on polling again, particularly by the Donald Trump camp. At every rally, he tells the faithful that the polls are wrong and it always gets big cheers.

I’ll admit this morning I did a double-take Friday morning when Rasmussen Polling showed Trump with a 43-41 percent lead nationally. Where in the world did that come from, especially when even News shows Hillary Clinton with a 7-point advantage?

There are too many polls for the average voter (or, I hate to admit, the average journalist) to keep up with. And since polls show only a snapshot of the moment, no one can say with certainty who will or won’t win until all the votes are counted.

So it’s really a case of which ones you trust most.

I tend to believe Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com site is on the mark way more often than not. In case you’re curious, his site has a section devoted to grading the accuracy of all the polls. The ranking is based on several criteria, including the percentage of races it has called correctly.

He has the Monmouth University poll at the top of a lengthy list of polls. It was one of six polls, including the ABC/Washington Post poll, to get an A-plus rating.

For what it’s worth, he gives the Rasmussen poll a C-plus.

Silver’s own forecast has Hillary Clinton with an 84.4 percent chance of winning the election. He gives her a 72 percent chance of winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes.

Remember, though, that’s just a snapshot. The site advises it will be updating its forecasts every time new data is available until the election, because things do change.

In the end, though, numbers never lie even when politicians do.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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