Wednesday, June 1, 2016

jimjustselling . . .

(Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are. And they're now offering FREE SHIPPING IN THE CONTINENTAL U.S.

The book is also available at:


What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"Jim is obviously making a name for himself--Mr. Irrelevant!"--Don Rickles
--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett


By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Remember when you had to go to a carnival sideshow to see the tattooed lady?  Now she’s your kid’s third grade teacher!
  • Headline of the Month:  "Lady Gaga and Dalai Lama discuss compassion" (MSN.COM)
  • jimjustsaying's Supermarket Find of the Week:  Black Forest brand Organic  Gummy Bears and Gummy Worms.  Organic???  
  • Related Supermarket Find (in the New Apple Varieties I've Never Seen Before department): Kanzi, Kiku, Opal and Antares.
  • In Wisconsin, we're now in the latter part of what I call the “sweet spot season”:  Too warm for the furnace, cool enough not to need the air.  
  • Of course, at this time of year I'm usually watching a lot of baseball. Otherwise, I'm usually reading Homer in the original Greek!
  • Sorely needed:  Explanation of how 7 inches of rain can make a river rise 22 feet!  But you hear figures like that all the time on the Weather Channel.
  • A feature of the National Enquirer back in the day that I miss the most:  "The Wacky Way I Met My Mate."   Time to bring it back!
  • Not Making This Up Dept.: A Virginia woman’s obituary listed the upcoming presidential election as her cause of death.   The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch obit began:  “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland chose instead to pass into the eternal love of God.” (My take:  An Independent with a great sense of humor.)
  • Related thought:  If there had already been a female president (or two) in the U.S., would Hillary even be running?  
  • Don't know about you, but it seems that every other week or so I read about someone being elected (or a decedent who had been elected) to a "Hall of Fame" whose existence almost seems a joke.   Maybe there really is a Curtain Rod Installers Hall of Fame. 
  • More of jimjustsaying's Useful Words That Have No English equivalent: razliubit--Russian for "the emotion of falling out of love."   And then there is age-otori, Japanese for "the regret one feels after getting a bad haircut."
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Should Exist But Doesn't of the Month:  "Essoasso."  A person who cuts through a gas station to avoid a red light."--"Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall and Friends
  • jimjustsaying's Top Five Click Bait Topics of the Month: 
  • 7 things you didn't know about the real Col. Sanders
  • Surprising things that make you stink
  • 10 celebrities you forgot committed horrible crimes
  • 15 celebs who look hottest with a beard
  • Shocking photos of history's most evil people when they were kids.
  • French Novelist Quote of the Month:  "To make anything interesting you simply have to look at it long enough."--Gustave Flaubert
  • Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg on the city's huge population loss (and its "leader"):  "That leaves the city with 2,720,546 people, if you count Rahm Emanuel as being both a person and alive and not some kind of strange animate corpse lurching around town trying to find a safe, sunless place to reveal himself and feed on the popularity of the living."  
  • I was in a restaurant not long ago that had the television tuned to a Stanley Cup game between the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers.  Really?  How can there be a hockey team in a state that has never had a sheet of natural ice in its history? 
  • Upon further investigation, I learn that there is even another team in that state (Tampa Bay Lightning) and even an Arizona Coyotes team. What's next, a beach volley ball team in Antarctica?
  • Pastime Imponderable of the Month:  Men (and I know a few of them) who hunt, fish, do carpentry and other so-called "manly things" yet profess no interest whatsoever in baseball or football or basketball and sometimes have wives who do.  Strange.
  • I shudder to think how many times I'm going to hear the words "presumptive nominee" between now and the political conventions.  (Especially painful when you don't like either of the persons to whom that term applies.)
  • “When my wife and I argue, we’re like a band in concert: we start with some new stuff, and then we roll out our greatest hits.”--Frank Skinner, British comedian
  • Why you're running late:  According to a study cited in the Wall Street Journal, traffic can slow even without heavy volume because of driver reaction time. Even when the number of vehicles shouldn't tax a road, "a small perturbation--such as a slight deceleration by one car--can ripple through the cars behind them, as they brake in reaction." 
  • Japanese researchers assigned roughly two dozen drivers to cruise along a closed circular track at about 20 miles per hour. After some time, a jam developed, and the cars within it ground to a halt--even though no one ahead of them actually stopped!
  • The global village hits home:  The thumb drive I just bought came with instructions in--count ’em--18 languages. 
  • Seventy-second Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Green Bay Press-Gazette Obituary: Pequot Lakes, Wis.. (R.I.P., Charles L. Wall, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, Sept. 3, 2015).  Previous entries: Athelstane, Walhain, Duck Creek, Breed, Anston, Sobieski, Amberg, Osseo, Angelica, Brazeau, Waukechon, Sugar Camp, Kossuth, Lessor, Kunesh, Pulcifer, Cato, Florence, Greenleaf, Eaton, Poygan, Hofa Park, Hilbert, Hollandtown, Beaufort, Glennie, Harshaw, Bessemer, Crooked Lake, Tigerton, Goodman, Readstown, Dousman, Butternut, Montpelier, Cecil, Red River, Gillet, King, Laona, Kelly Lake, Glenmore, Tonet, Stiles, Morrison, Dunbar, Askeaton, Wild Rose, Neopit, Ellisville, Pickett, Flintville,  Forest Junction, Thiry Daems, Black Creek,  Mountain, Ledgeview, Lunds, Suring, Lakewood, Beaver, Cloverleaf Lakes, Krakow, Pella, Townsend, Vandenbroek, Coleman,  Spruce, Armstrong Creek, Lake Gogebic and North Chase.
  • Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  Boo-Boo.  As in Cheryl A. "Boo-Boo" Buss,  Green Bay Press-Gazette, April 15, 2016.  R.I.P., Ms. Buss.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Quid quemlibet hominem ad suffragium?  ("How could anybody vote for that man?")


The "What, Me Worry" response to crises
There are very legitimate arguments about the appropriate role and scope of the federal government.  But few except nihilists and the most extreme libertarians would argue that protecting public safety in the face of catastrophe or epidemic should be off the government’s books or sharply constrained in scope.  And right now, there are three such examples: the horrible Flint water debacle, a man-made disaster; the Zika crisis, a classic disease epidemic; and the opioid crisis.  All are crying out for a sharp and focused response from the federal government. Congress’s response?  Go on recess without dealing with them. It may be no exaggeration to call the current, 114th Congress the worst ever.
--Norm Ornstein,

Bill Clinton is no economic savior
The most enduring and destructive superstition about American politics is that the president is "in charge of" the economy.   But since this "poppycock" is so widely believed, Hillary Clinton has announced that she will put her husband in charge of revitalizing the economy.  Now, it is true that the U.S. economy performed to general satisfaction during Bill Clinton’s presidency, with GDP growth averaging 3.8 percent over eight years.  But the boom that fueled this growth was largely driven by factors out of Clinton’s control, particularly the emergence of the Internet and a dot-com stock bubble.  By the end of his term, that stock bubble was bursting and GDP growth was plunging.  Clinton was also helped by congressional Republicans, who vigorously fought tax increases and imposed spending controls over his objections. Economists can argue from here to doomsday over what tax and regulatory policies were linked to the various upturns and downturns of recent decades, but the truth is that so many factors are involved that to credit or blame any president is nothing but "voodoo." If Bill Clinton had some magic formula for revitalizing the economy, as Hillary would like us to believe, why didn’t he tell Barack Obama?
--Kevin Williamson,

Clinton vs. Trump:  The Rich view
The Trump-versus-Clinton game is on for November.  As for what kind of changes we can expect from Trump, I guess we’re to believe he’ll act more "presidential" (as he keeps putting it).  But of course he won’t. His last much-remarked-upon attempt at that, in which he unexpectedly referred to Ted Cruz as "Senator Cruz," didn’t last a week before he reverted to "Lyin’ Ted."  The shelf life of today’s "presidential" Trump stunt, a foreign-policy speech in Washington presumably delivered from a teleprompter, won’t last much past the moment he hops back on Twitter at Trump Tower tonight.

As a matter of cold political calculation, Trump shouldn’t change his act in any case.  He’s been constantly told to tone it down by Republican potentates and pundits throughout his primary run, but he has won by completely ignoring their advice.  His voters don’t want another "presidential" Romney or Bush. Quite the reverse: The more unpresidential Trump has behaved, the more voters he has amassed.

His assault on Clinton, however, is likely to shift into a 2.0 phase.  His repetitive rhetoric accusing her of lacking "stamina" and of being a "disaster" have devolved into white noise.  His misogyny is a disaster in its own right, and it’s likely his wife and daughter Ivanka will get him to tone it down.  (Though it must be said that Trump has won a majority of women in some Republican primaries.)  Meanwhile, we can look forward to watching an avalanche of opposition research rain down on Clinton when the time is ripe-- especially after Labor Day and especially involving the donor ranks of the Clinton Foundation.  Bernie Sanders’s demands for the transcripts of Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches were a mere warm-up act for what Roger Stone and the other thugs in the extended Trump circle have in store.
--Frank Rich, New York magazine

The Libertarian alternative
Get over it, #Never​Trumpers .The quixotic campaign to draft a conservative third-party alternative to Donald Trump has failed to get off the ground.Yet all is not lost.  For the many voters who can stomach neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton, an alternative already exists: the Libertarian Party.The organization’s presumptive nominee, former two-term New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, last week named another former Republican governor, Bill Weld of Massachusetts, as his running mate.  They will likely be on the ballot in all 50 states, and with millions of voters disgusted with their choices this year, Johnson already garners an eye-popping 10 percent in a Fox News poll.  In a political year that has broken one precedent after another, the Libertarian Party may well shatter its previous record of 1.1 percent of the vote.
--Matt Welch, Los Angeles Times

Could Trump actually win?  Three  views
--Forget the old electoral map .  Unlike the patrician Mitt Romney, Trump is campaigning as an economic populist.  If he hammers home his pledge to bring jobs back from overseas, painting Clinton as a "pro-NAFTA free-trader," Trump could sweep the traditionally Democratic Rust Belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio, as well as Iowa and Missouri.  If he pulls that off, he wins the election.  Remember: Pundits and political analysts were just as certain that Trump couldn’t win the Republican nomination, said Keith Burris in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  What they don’t understand is that Trump is not leading a typical campaign, but "a movement" of Americans who are desperately unhappy with the direction of the country.  Like Ronald Reagan--once dismissed as an "amiable dunce"--Trump viscerally connects with voters.  We dismiss him at the risk of missing what is happening in America.
--Ben Geier in

--Trump will not only lose, he will turn some red states blue and get crushed in a historic rout.  Utah, for example, hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since 1964, but thanks to Trump’s vulgarity and marital history, which play poorly with the large Mormon population, state polls show him trailing Clinton.  No Republican who loses Utah is going to get anywhere near the White House.
--Anthony Gaughan,

--I hope I’m wrong, but I think Trump is still being underestimated.  His message of "Make America Great Again" is the clearest, most easily digestible of any we’ve seen in a long time in presidential politics.   And in politics, a simple message is better.  Unlike Clinton, Trump is compelling, funny, and larger than life, and Americans have a long history of choosing  the candidate who is more comfortable in his or her own skin.   Say what you will about Donald Trump, he is supremely comfortable playing himself and in November, he might actually pull this off.
--Matthew Tully, Indianapolis Star

How voters actually make choices
Science can tell us lots about how voters will make their decisions in 2016.  What it tells us, unfortunately, is that subterranean, unconscious forces are constantly percolating up to influence our decision making.  In evaluating political candidates, studies show, voters place an outsize emphasis on appearances and gut feelings. One study found that candidates judged to look more "competent"--regardless of their positions--won elections 68 percent of the time.

Other studies have found that voters tend to choose the candidate independently rated to be better-looking.  In a study of Australian elections, the winner 80 percent of the time was the candidate who used more collective pronouns--"we" and "us."  Perhaps the most striking study was one in which kids ages 5 through 13 were shown photos of candidates from obscure elections and asked which one they would pick to serve as captain on a long sea voyage.  The kids picked the real-world winner of the elections a boggling 71 percent of the time--just based on their feelings about the would-be captain’s appearance.  Who will win this year?  To make an educated guess, just remember to free yourself of the idea that humans are rational beings.
--Robert Sapolsky, Los Angeles Times

Deadly medical mistakes
According to a worrying new report, your doctor's more likely to kill you than chronic respiratory disease.  In fact, medical errors--whether that's a surgical complication or the wrong dose of medication--are now the third leading cause of death in the United States.

After analyzing eight years of official cause-of-death data, researchers have found that more than 250,000 people are killed each year in the U.S. by medical mistakes. That's 9.7 percent of all deaths in the country.
To be clear, that doesn't mean health-care practitioners are out to get you or are intentionally harming patients. Mistakes included in the report ranged from poor communication to simple, honest-to-god accidents. But despite everyone's best intentions, the fact of the matter is that the only conditions more deadly than human error at the moment are cancer and heart disease, according to the new study.

"It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeing care," lead researcher Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post.

The most alarming part of all this is that, even though we've all heard the occasional horror story about someone waking up during surgery or being diagnosed with the wrong condition, by and large, most of us assume medical care is generally pretty safe.

Makary and his team believe this is a symptom of the way the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collect health statistics each year.  Although medical errors can be detailed on a death certificate, the annual mortality stats only take into account the underlying cause of death, not the potential medical failures that led to it.

For example, if a surgeon nicks a woman's liver during surgery and she dies of hemorrhage the cause of death goes down as cardiovascular, rather than a surgical error.

"Incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven't been recognized in any standardized method for collecting national statistics," Makary said.
--Science Alert

. . . and how to fix them
Despite the generally positive trend, death by medical error remains too common. Five reforms could change that.
  • Adopt structured handoffs
  • Bring in the pharmacists
  • Get serious about infection
  • Fight diagnostic errors
  • Make electronic health records interoperable. 
Death from medical error won’t go away overnight, but embracing these reforms will help ensure that doctors first do no harm. Thousands of lives are on the line.
--James B. Lieber, a Pittsburgh attorney, is the author of "Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America’s Third Largest Cause of Death and What Can Be Done About It" (OR Books, 2015)

The end of anonymity?
Anonymity in public could soon be a thing of the past.   FindFace, a Russian facial recognition app, allows users to photograph strangers in a crowd and discover their identity with 70 per­cent accuracy. The app, which has amassed 500,000 users in two months, works by comparing photographs with profile pictures on Vkontakte, a Facebook-like social network popular in Russia. Its creators envision the app being used for everything from dating--users could surreptitiously photograph someone and then send them a friend request--to targeted advertisements to law enforcement. FindFace’s founders, already in talks with Moscow’s city government to work with 150,000 closed-­circuit cameras, also say they’d be open to working with Russia’s FSB security service.
--Shaun Walker, The Guardian (U.K.)

Giving miners false hope about coal
Technological change has shattered the newspaper industry, costing thousands of people their jobs.   But neither I nor any of my journalist colleagues ever thought to ask a politician to save us, prop up a dying industry, and guarantee we’d not have to reinvent ourselves.   Yet that’s what coal miners are demanding of presidential candidates this year.  Democrat Hillary Clinton recently enraged people connected to the coal industry in West Virginia by addressing a hard economic truth:  Coal is in irreversible decline, losing its market to cheap, cleaner natural gas and renewables.  She offered a $30 million plan to retrain miners for jobs in the growing alternative-energy sector--but they much preferred the pandering of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. He told miners that as president, he’ll get rid of environmental regulations, their industry will thrive, and their jobs will come back.  This is nonsensical.  Coal is dirty, unhealthy, dangerous, and anachronistic--a prime driver of climate change, air pollution, and toxic mercury levels in fish.  Coal miners need to reinvent themselves for the 21st Century, instead of wishing someone would roll back the clock to the 19th.
--David Horsey, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Clinton might not be the nominee
A Sanders win in California would turbocharge the mounting Democratic unease about her viability

Feel the math
Basic rules of prognostication are being violated right and left

Hillary's premeditated lies
IG report underscores her carefully calculated violation of the rules

Romney has no more excuses
This time around, his resume makes a lot more sense

The plague of things that are too long
Movies, baseball games, root canals are part of a society that doesn’t know when to stop

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Three things I don't pretend to understand:  Bitcoins, Snapchat and RSS feeds.  (Close behind:  Instagram, Buzzfeed and Prince, all due respect.)
  • Let's see if I've got this right:  Our government is dysfunctional, our Supreme Court is paralyzed, our infrastructure is crumbling, our climate concerns are largely ignored, yet the premier issue these days seems to be where the minuscule percentage of the population that is transgender can go to the bathroom.   Whatta country!
  • In other words, you could say that the body politic has become the shoddy politic.
  • "It’s useless to hold a person to anything he says while he’s in love, drunk, or running for office."--Shirley MacLaine
  • I had quite a few medical tests (colonoscopy, etc., etc.) performed lately and passed all of them "with flying colors," I was told.  Hmmm.  Red is a color,isn't it?  Flags fly, don't they?  But apparently there were none of those.
  • News you probably missed:   California nuts have become so lucrative that an organized band of thieves has stolen 31 shipments of almonds and pistachios worth $9 mil­lion, the Los Angeles Times reports.  "Nuts don’t have serial numbers," an insurance company executive said.  "The product is easy to move, and the evidence is consumed."
  • I think I've finally put my finger on what Hillary Clinton's clothing  reminds me of:  Indoor-outdoor carpeting!
  • Piling on:  Remember when people called Illinois native and former Arkansas resident Hillary Clinton a "carpetbagger" when she ran for the senate in New York?   Carpetbagger?  That's not what she was, that's what she wears! That's one look.  As for the other, who ever thought a tarpaulin would be a good fashion look?
  • Grisly courtroom action (or, bad writing/editing, Chicago Sun-Times, April 29): "Daisy Gutierrez, 21, pleaded guilty to dismembering a body before Judge William Hooks, according to Cook County court records."
  • jimjustsaying's edited version:  Daisy Gutierrez, 21, pleaded guilty before Judge William Hooks to dismembering a body, according to Cook County court records.
  • How much would Major League Baseball attendance decline if beer sales were outlawed?  25 percent?  50 percent?  I'mjustsayin'.
  • Speaking of sports:  This ever happen to you?  You turn on a game and don't recognize either of the teams?
  • Remember when your favorite baseball team had two uniforms:  White for home games and those "gray traveling uniforms," as announcers used to call them?   Now they've got 5 or 6 sets, from "throwback unis" to camouflage outfits (for all you veterans out there) to this and that and whatever.   You turn on a game and are a bit puzzled about who really is playing.  This being an election year, perhaps the World Series teams will be wearing  American Flags or something suitably patriotic.
  • And then there's April 15, when every player on every team wears No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.   What they should have been wearing:  Number  9.2, to reflect the appallingly low actual percentage of black players on Opening Day rosters this season (69 out of 750, if you do the math).
  • "Most rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read. "--Frank Zappa
  • jimjustsaying's As Seen on TV Product Name of the Week:  Angry-Mama microwave cleaner.  ($9.98)   ("Turn on the microwave and watch angry steam flow out of her head. . . .")
  • Radio News Redundancy of the Week:  "Violent extremists."  As in "Villagers in the town square were attacked by a group of violent extremists."   Um, aren't all extremists essentially violent?  As opposed to those placid, Milquetoasty extremists; you know, the kind who help little old ladies across the street and volunteer at the food pantry?  
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Should Exist But Doesn't of the Week:  "Oopzama":  The sudden scratching of the face or scalp upon realization that the person you were waving at isn't who you thought it was.--"More Sniglets," Rich Hall & Friends.
  • Seventy-first Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Green Bay Press-Gazette Obituary: North Chase, Wis.. (R.I.P., Gladys Saindon, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, Nov. 12, 2015).  Previous entries: Athelstane, Walhain, Duck Creek, Breed, Anston, Sobieski, Amberg, Osseo, Angelica, Brazeau, Waukechon, Sugar Camp, Kossuth, Lessor, Kunesh, Pulcifer, Cato, Florence, Greenleaf, Eaton, Poygan, Hofa Park, Hilbert, Hollandtown, Beaufort, Glennie, Harshaw, Bessemer, Crooked Lake, Tigerton, Goodman, Readstown, Dousman, Butternut, Montpelier, Cecil, Red River, Gillet, King, Laona, Kelly Lake, Glenmore, Tonet, Stiles, Morrison, Dunbar, Askeaton, Wild Rose. Neopit, Ellisville, Pickett, Flintville,  Forest Junction, Thiry Daems, Black Creek,  Mountain, Ledgeview, Lunds, Suring, Lakewood, Beaver, Cloverleaf Lakes, Krakow,  Pella, Townsend, Vandenbroek, Coleman,  Spruce, Armstrong Creek and Lake Gogebic.
  • Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  Big Papa.  As in Shaun "Big Papa" Hurning,  Green Bay Press-Gazette, April 5, 2016.  R.I.P., Mr. Hurning .
  • Old sayings that have  passed their expiration dates:  “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”  "Don’t take any wooden nickels."  "A penny for your thoughts."
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that it takes 63,000 people to operate Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport?  That includes airline, ground transportation, concessionaire, security, federal government, city and airport tenant employees."  (On duty are two art department coordinators, a full-time wildlife biologist, engineers for the airport's Plane Train and Sky Train and a mobile medical response team that includes EMTs who jump on bicycles to cut down on the time it takes to respond to a medical emergency.)  
  • I consider myself the poor man's Joe Piscopo.  My best impression is Frank Sinatra Jr!
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Nihil hic, mi placet moveri. ("Nothing to see here, folks, please move along.")


Are polls really less accurate?
There’s no doubt about it.  In recent years, polls have been egregiously wrong in several high-profile elections.  In the months before the 2012 presidential election, an average of leading polls showed a virtual tie between Obama and Mitt Romney, and some--notably Gallup--predicted a narrow Romney victory. Instead, the president easily won re-election, by 5 million votes and a 51.1 percent to 47.2 percent margin.  Pollsters vastly underestimated a Republican wave in the 2014 midterms, and had an epic fail in the Michigan Democratic primary, with the poll average predicting Hillary Clinton would crush Bernie Sanders by 21 points.   When Sanders upset Clinton by 1.5 percent, polling aggregator Nate Silver of had given the Vermont senator just a 1 percent chance of winning--deemed it "among the greatest polling errors in primary history.”  And it’s not just an American problem.  Pollsters totally misread the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, which was resoundingly rejected, and missed decisive victories last year for Britain’s Conservatives and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party.

What’s gone wrong with polls?
Pollsters primarily blame recent failures on two factors: "the growth of cellphones and the decline in people willing to answer surveys,” says political scientist Cliff Zukin, former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.  Ten years ago, about 6 percent of Americans relied primarily on cellphones; by 2014 that figure had jumped to 60 percent.  That caused problems for opinion researchers, who typically polled by making automated "robocalls” to random landline exchanges and then, when people picked up, passing them to a live interviewer.  "To complete a 1,000-person survey, it’s not unusual to have to dial more than 20,000 random numbers,” Zukin says.  Federal law, however, prohibits autodialing cellphones--which means paid interviewers have to make calls manually, which can be prohibitively time-consuming and expensive. As a result, some organizations make compromises, such as leaning too heavily on landline surveys, which can skew results.

Population oversights
The poll can end up ignoring large segments of the population. "Guess who answers the [landline] phone now? It’s all people over 50," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who helps conduct the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.  That can make for a more affluent and conservative sampling.  In addition to overlooking younger voters, landline polling also gives short shrift to minorities and the poor, sectors most likely to rely on cellphones. Under-representing those groups, McInturff explains, "means you are systematically under-counting Democrats." Since people take their cellphone numbers with them when they move, it’s also harder to use area codes to target specific regions. One of the ways pollsters try to compensate for these problems is by "weighting" their results.

What’s weighting?
If a polling sample includes 3 percent African-Americans, but African-Americans account for 12 percent of the population, the pollster will "weight" the preferences of the black respondents four times as much. "The goal is noble," says pollster Jeanne Zaino, but weighting "is fraught with challenges and uncertainties.  How do we know if the African-Americans sampled represent the views and attitudes of all African-Americans?"  Besides race, polls also weight by party, cellphone use, gender, and other factors--but the formula for doing so varies from pollster to pollster, and is subject to error and partisan bias. Rasmussen Reports, for example, is known to skew Republican, while Public Policy Polling (PPP) leans Democratic.  Weighting can lead to another phenomenon that affects polling firms’ accuracy: "herding." If most polls show a candidate with a 10-point lead, and Poll X finds that the race is much closer, Poll X often finds an excuse to cook its numbers to avoid being an outlier.  And no matter how polls are weighted, they really can’t compensate for declining response rates.

How far have those rates fallen?
A lot. "In the late 1970s, we considered an 80 percent response rate acceptable," says Zukin. "By 2014, the response rate had fallen to 8 percent."  For more than a century, people answered their landline phones faithfully, but they’ve grown much warier. "Telemarketing poisoned the well," says Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University survey. Scott Keeter, who runs the respected Pew Research poll, says people can now use voice mail and caller ID to ignore calls from unknown numbers.  Online polls are becoming more prevalent, but since they’re voluntary, people who choose to answer them may be unusually ideological, skewing the results.

Is there hope for polling?
The most accurate technique appears to be the kind of poll averaging conducted by and Silver’s  Silver weights polls according to historical accuracy and factors in demographics and other data to create election models. Despite his miss in Michigan this year, he’s scored spectacular successes, correctly calling the outcomes of 49 states during the 2008 presidential election and a perfect 50 in 2012.  Still, as Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics​.com, points out, even these data-savvy methods can fail if they’re based on flawed samplings of voters. "Electoral modelers have a nerdy little secret," he says. "We aren’t oracles."

Gallup’s missed call in 2012
Mitt Romney was so sure he would be elected the nation’s 45th president in 2012 that he ordered a fireworks display to be unleashed over Boston Harbor the moment he notched his 270th electoral vote.  Internal surveys gave him a consistent lead over President Obama, and so did several outside pollsters, including venerable Gallup.  But skies over Boston remained dark that Election Night, as Obama cruised to a second term.  What went wrong?  Gallup’s post-mortem found it had misidentified likely voters, under-counted Democratic-leaning regions, over-counted whites,  and when calling landlines dialed only listed numbers, which skewed older and Republican.  Gallup has tweaked its model for 2016.  "When the next presidential election rolls around," promises Gallup’s Frank Newport, "we think we’ll certainly be in a position to be at the accurate end of the spectrum."
--The Week