Wanting to let the dust settle after last week’s big events, I decided to let a few days synch in between Trump’s win and when I put pen to paper or fingers to keys. The week was an amazing one. First Samsung announces its phones are not only dangerous, but so are their washing machines. My sister is the beneficiary of a recall notice and apparently the thing runs amok on the bedding cycle. Some poor guy had his jaw broken and there have been other injuries too. The hilarious thing (or maybe not so) is that this machine was a replacement she insisted on when two prior GE washers kept going AWOL and she invoked the lemon-law for washers and got a Samsung. I asked her what karma she is burning off with washing machines. Alas, what karma was going on between Trump and Clinton? And what does it say when the Dow ended the week on a 5-year high? The things we used to depend on just aren’t so. And when our washing machines commit injury you know the world’s not safe.
We also used to depend on our media and the leaders in the polling industry. These two stalwarts of the information industry have taken a battering this past week and deservedly. They are no longer safe.
First, what surprises me about Trump’s win is that people are surprised. I thought Hillary would win but was not surprised when Trump turned out the victor. What surprised me more was all the hand wringing and shock. The sending of west and east coast kids to shrinks, the need to postpone college exams because students are traumatized. Techies in Silicon Valley vowing succession. To that, I say buck up.
Does anyone remember our elders heading off to World War II at the mere age of 18 or 19? I remember listening to vivid stories from my son’s great grandmother who traveled with her sisters at age 13, 15, and 17 from Italy thru to Ellis Island unattended. They were stuck there for a period when one sister got sick, then made their way by train to San Francisco, alone, not speaking English, and ultimately settling where they lived happily ever after. My college roommate’s family runs one of the biggest farms in California’s Central Valley. My aunt was a librarian at the VA in Sheridan Wyoming, my uncle a contractor there. Another relative is from Shenandoah, Iowa and raised cattle. My grandfather also a Greek immigrant was a railroad engineer. They know tough. Born and raised in the Bay Area I am a native Californian. My mom was born here. One parent was college educated the other not. My Dad was part of the 44th Troop Carrier that ran logistics for D-Day. I have team members who harken from Ohio, Wisconsin and Tennessee. In other words, I do my best to be both/and when it comes to understanding both our coasts and heartland. It’s time for the forces of either/or to stop.
It’s time our coastal populations took more time to understand that their America isn’t the only America. How about spending time in said flyover states and getting a bit of reality? Land those planes people. Our America is more than Silicon Valley tech and New York fashion and high finance. This is a vast country, with lots of people with lots of values. Our industry’s media and polling companies did the world a real disservice when they listened to their own biases, drank their own bathwater, and then got blinded by thinking their way is the American way. They couldn’t connect the dots that were staring them in the face.
Even SurveyMonkey, a darling of the valley, got spanked when an article about them in the SF Chronicle a few days before the election touted their prowess. Not so. You see our world is much bigger than big data. Real people make decision and in order to understand which way things might go, it’s important to keep it real, to go out and actually talk to people. On the ground. And there is a lot of ground to cover in our country.
Just this weekend a favorite columnist of mine, Carl Nolte, of the San Francisco Chronicle made two unfortunate statements in his Sunday article: “…we are not South Dakota or Arkansas. We have to be taken seriously,” and later “…we have the smartest people in the world here.” Does he even realize the arrogance of his words?
Anyone with half a brain could see bias strewn into the vitriol on both sides of the media aisle this past year. My job is to study these things. And if we listened critically to quotes taken out of context, it was easy to see built in bias, that Outsell’s Randy Giusto cited when he wrote to me: "Fox is an echo chamber for the right, MSNBC for the left, and CNN might have been perceived as the middle but it had so many embarrassing things happen with its “experts” this cycle, who were little more than mouthpieces for both candidates.”
The Wall Street Journal and New York Times run right and left. In Silicon Valley, they talk about eating your own dog food. But if you eat the same diet day in and day out it’s not a good thing. Read left, read right. Watch left, watch right. Read blogs, read Facebook (minus the fake news) and keep the news diet balanced. Anyone with a willingness to stand back and watch the news objectively could see it was anything but these past 18 months and the hubris in Mr. Nolte’s article is precisely what contributed to so much getting missed this time around. One can’t see what they are blind to.
And those pollsters… they forgot a few key things. Like sometimes demographics isn’t what matters, but values and psychographic profiles do. One of my favorite classics is the Cultural Creatives written in 2001. To really poll fairly, Outsell’s Harry Henry, our Data Whisperer and I agree. You have to have a TAM. A total addressable market. And where in the heck do you get a TAM for the types of cuts you need to predict an election like this and make sure your sampling is valid? You need age, gender, education, income, by state and region. It’s not enough to say I’ll get 385 +/- each. You might need psychographics and not just demographics. It’s not just about pure reach. Survey Monkey touted in SF Gate: "SurveyMonkey says it has been able to overcome these problems through sheer scale — big data, in Silicon Valley parlance. A typical poll’s sample size can include anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people. SurveyMonkey reaches tens or even hundreds of thousands of people for a typical political poll.”
A Bloomberg article - SurveyMonkey: Election Polls Point to a Clinton Win
Or this by the International Business Times - Clinton vs Trump: Latest Polls, SurveyMonkey Shows Hillary To Win, Tough Road For GOP With Black, Hispanic Voters
In an era where the media is big-time challenged the last thing it needed was this enormous credibility gap. That the press was stunned election night is what’s stunning. If this election and how media outlets behaved aren’t the final nail in the coffin, print declines be darned, then it’s going to be an even longer, slower agonizing death for established news and polling businesses. Personally, I think it’s time to start the Good News Gazette, and one that is bi-partisan – how about socially liberal and fiscally conservative while looking after both our country and planet? Wouldn’t that be amazing.