Failure is the Best Teacher

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I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit more listening to this than any other.

But only if you listen to your teacher.

In 2016 only a small handful of people knew that Donald J Trump would win the Presidency. Pollsters, media, newspaper, television stations, local leaders, even Christian preachers predicted Hillary Clinton’s win, either glumly or with enthusiasm. But she did not. Did they learn?

First, let me tell you a true story from 2014. A journalist approached me about subscribing to his Big City newspaper. He was an intelligent guy in his 30s. I told him that the newspapers were largely fake news and there was no reason for me to pay for it. (I was not snarky, just certain in my position.)

I said, “I know more about what is going on than the papers. “

“Like what?” He said.

“Like Benghazhi,” I replied.

He said, “Who is Ben Ghazi?”

I rest my case. And that is why media and pollsters fail.

But failure only teaches you if you know why you failed. First you must realize you failed. Millions of these shocked individuals did not believe they had failed. For three long years we suffered imploded impeachments, rumors, slanders, and books written about how wrong someone else was.

How wrong someone else was?

That is called blame. The public was blamed for voting for the wrong person. That is the political equivalent of saying you are a failure in life because your father was so terrible or your mother, or your teacher hated you. Come on now! And it has not stopped.

Blame worked for a while then finally the statistics began to show. Newspaper were failing in large numbers, and viewership of many news outlets deteriorating. (See TV by the Numbers for online statistics.)

Bleeding President Trump

We can excuse the media giants; they need ad revenue and they took the route that would generate the most advertising. As the saying goes in the news biz, “If it bleeds, it leads.” So they had Trump bleeding all over the place and the public fell for it.

But pollsters had no excuse. The false polls started in the 1930s when the prediction that Herbert Hoover would win over Franklin D Roosevelt was their solid conclusion. Why?

Because they used the telephone to make the poll. Telephones were expensive then, and not everyone had one – only the people who were not suffering from the Great Depression. That was supposed to teach pollsters a lesson. Get out of the office, off the phone and find out what people really think. But 2016, again they got it wrong.

The reasons for failure were many.

Some men are confirmed chauvinists. They hide their bias from women if they are smart.

Respondents do not want to be grilled about why they are for or against someone. It does not seem fair. So they give the answer they think the person on the other end wants.

Americans wanted to believe that electing a woman president would be a giant leap forward. But, many quietly did not want that woman.

Some poll questions are yes/no answers. That does not give the respondents a chance to be unsure. A sample bad question is, do you plan to vote in this election? Yes or no. Yes, you plan to vote but no, maybe you really have some doubts about the candidate and stay home. Many Republicans stayed home when Mitt Romney was running for President and he lost. Some opined that it was anti-Mormon sentiment, but there was no proof. And furthermore, would you actually tell a pollster, “No, I don’t like Mormons?” Probably not. People will hide their biases from strangers especially.

In the 1966 election for our Congressman, I was chairman of the telephone committee. We made thousands of calls. Many times people would not respond to the question about their vote. They were state employees hired by a Democrat Governor. The person I was calling about was a Republican candidate. They feared any information about their voting would get back and get them fired. Some said so; many did not. My candidate won by 62% of the vote, the first Republican since Reconstruction to fill that post and a figure so high no pollster could have ever predicted it.

Candidates use polls to determine how to spend their advertising money. If I tell a pollster my vote preference my TV may be loaded down with ads for the opponent, and ruin my day!

In many homes the woman is a registered Democrat, her husband is a registered Republican The respondent may not want his/her answer being heard inside the home.

The respondent on the phone may not be the person the pollster is calling.

People will say one thing, but do something different. All the 2016 pollsters needed to do was attend one of Trump’s wildly popular rallies where thousands lined up outside many hours ahead because all the seats were filled. That was evidence of who was going to win that election.

Tribal doctrine

Finally pollsters are like everyone else. They are members of tribes that talk to each other either in business or as friends. Their friends agree with them and they base their conclusions on that. And, most importantly they base their questions on their conclusions and assumptions too.


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The Ministry of the Watchman – An observer on the wall sharing a report of what God is seeing and doing in the world at large and also in the congregations of His people. Cornelia Scott Cree, Watchman, Change Agent, Essayist.

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The Ministry of the Watchman – An observer on the wall sharing a report of what God is seeing and doing in the world at large and also in the congregations of His people. Cornelia Scott Cree, Watchman, Change Agent, Essayist.

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