Longtime Fox News viewers will of course remember Dick Morris. The former pollster and advisor to Bill Clinton was a mainstay on the network for a number of years, offering an abundance of insight on both Clinton and electoral politics.
Morris had a pretty good thing going at Fox, appearing regularly on shows in the prime-time lineup (most notably the O’Reilly Factor), where he’d use his expertise to confidentially predict election outcomes, as well as political and cultural trends. Though his forecasts often deviated from what the other analysts were saying, Morris’s explained methodologies typically made sense — in layman’s terms, anyway.
The only problem was that it became apparent, over time, that Morris’s unconventional predictions — as logical as they sounded at the time — rarely came true.
Sure, he got the easy ones right, but his overall track record was pretty poor. Regardless, Fox held him in high enough regard to keep him on as a contributor, where he never wasted an opportunity to pitch his latest book.
When the 2012 election came around, Morris received a lot of attention for his impassioned insistence that Mitt Romney would not simply defeat Barack Obama for the presidency, but defeat him in a landslide.
Yes, a “landslide” (his words).
Again, there wasn’t tangible evidence to back him up. The national polls showed a tight race — a race where Obama held the lead. Still, Morris offered reasonable explanations for why the polls were all wrong: they were skewed, they didn’t reflect recent voting habits, they didn’t take into account the shift from landlines to cellphones, etc. Morris went all-in with his 2012 forecast, and never flinched.
A lot of people put faith in what Morris was saying — not just viewers, but politicians and Fox personalities (including show hosts and contributors). They often cited his analysis in their commentary, and the truth is that if Morris had been right, he would now be recognized as one of the leading authorities on electoral politics (similar to how Nate Silver is viewed today).
Of course, Morris wasn’t right. He wasn’t even close. Obama won by the roughly the same margin the polls had suggested. As a result, Morris was so discredited that Fox let him go just a few weeks later. And he wasn’t the only fatality. Having lost the audience’s trust, Fox News shows, that had relied on his analysis, took a big ratings hit.
The network learned its lesson from the debacle (as evidenced by the removal of Morris), but it’s clear that not everyone who works for it did. Proof of this played itself out on yesterday’s The Five.
Self-proclaimed “numbers guy” (and Donald Trump enthusiast) Eric Bolling, who touted and obsessed over Trump’s poll numbers throughout the Republican primary, has suddenly decided that the polls no longer have meaning, now that they show Hillary Clinton winning handily.
“These polls Dana… honestly, we have to stop with these polls!” he told co-host Dana Perino. “They’re insane with the polls!”
What was Bolling’s reasoning for why the poll numbers weren’t worth discussing? Because a lot of people show up at Trump’s campaign rallies.
No, I’m not joking.
“Look at a Trump rally… There’s 12…15…10 thousand people!” he said, before pointing out that Hillary Clinton typically brings in less than two thousand at her rallies.
According to Bolling, crowd sizes are the important determinant. Not those silly national polls. Trump himself has been using this same argument, on the campaign trail, in recent weeks…which I’m sure is purely a coincidence.
The rest of the table would have none of the narrative, most notably Perino.
“That’s a real disservice to his [Trump’s] supporters to lie to them that those polls don’t matter,” she said. “You can not take 12 thousand people at a rally, that are your definite supporters — that are going to show up and campaign — and then say the polls are wrong.”
Co-host Greg Gutfeld added, “One person sitting at home still cancels out somebody at a rally.”
Bolling stuck to his guns.
“Here’s why polls shouldn’t really matter, or shouldn’t ever matter…” he began. “You pick up the phone and say, who are you going to vote for? That person on the other end of the phone says, Well, I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton. They’re not out there voting! Those getting out into the street and going to a rally…those are the people who get up off the couch and go hear something, and go say something. And that’s why I think the size of crowds is what is more indicative of a following than polling.”
At that point, Perino evoked the Ghost of Dick Morris.
“That’s exactly what we said in 2012,” she pointed out. “The people that supported Romney were told that the polls are wrong…Romney’s going to win. And they were so mad and disappointed.”
“They stopped watching because they said we lied to them,” added Gutfeld. “And we deserved it.”
Of course Bolling, who’s been part of The Five since the show’s inception, had to have already known this. And if he truly believes that the polls don’t matter, why did he believe they mattered so much during the primary, when he was using them as an argument for why the other GOP candidates should drop out of the race?
Bolling is among several media-conservatives that have really really really wanted Trump to be the next President of the United States for the better part of a year, and their political analysis has clearly reflected that. But why on earth would anyone want to stand in line to be the next Dick Morris?
It’s a valid argument to point out that polls are a “snapshot” in history, and don’t necessarily reflect the outcome of an election that’s couple of months away (as Bolling did later in the segment). After all, while things are looking quite terrible for Trump at the moment, unforeseen events could always change the dynamics of this race, and perhaps result in Trump winning. That’s not very likely to happen, but it’s certainly possible.
It’s an entirely different undertaking, however, to try and convince a candidate’s supporters that the conventional means used to measure the success of a candidacy are absolutely meaningless, and should simply be ignored. It’s even worse to insist that a factor as arbitrary as crowd size is a truer gauge of national support than scientific polling.
Who does such a theme benefit, exactly? And what does it say about the credibility of the person putting forth the narrative?
My hope is that pundits will heed Dana Perino’s warning, and that there won’t be another Dick Morris this time around. My hope is that those in the media, who are flirting with Morris’s 2012 act, will think twice before they fully embrace it — for the sake of both their audience and their own careers.
Then again, it might be too late for some.