It is not a good time to be a pollster.
Up until Tuesday, November 8, the presidential election felt less like an expression of democracy and more like a sporting event, complete with quarter by quarter updates on who was “up” and by how much. We even had a probability percentage on the likelihood of a Clinton victory. The New York Times said prior to the election that Hillary had an 85% chance at winning the election and that the odds of her losing were “about the same as the probability that an NFL kicker misses a field goal.” Other pollsters had her chances even higher.
And they were all wrong.
One of the many things we saw this election is it is hard to categorize people. Pollsters made assumptions and put people in a box that either unfairly or inaccurately predicted their voting behavior. Clearly, their models missed some key data and made some bad choices.
What the Polls (and We) Got Wrong
While most everyone is fairly criticizing these polls today, many of us are making the same mistake too – we are unfairly lumping people into boxes and making assumptions about motivations and behaviors based on only a few data points.
Personally, I have felt unfairly categorized throughout this election cycle. I’m sure a pollster (and many of my Facebook friends) made assumptions about who I voted for and the motivations behind my political beliefs based simply on the fact that I am a white, church-going male. Worse yet, pollsters and most of my Facebook friends don’t know my story – what hurts, challenges, successes, and convictions speak to me as I attempt to pull a lever between a small selection of choices at the ballot box. To many, I am simply a number – a percentage point in a statistical game.
Have you felt like a statistic instead of a story this election season? You’re not alone. I think we all feel this way when we read an article shared on social media or on the news that makes broad claims about a category we fit into.
This past week, I’ve read articles posted by friends from older generations about how “all” Millennials are lazy, entitled, and sore losers.
I’ve seen many of my millennial friends talk about the stupidity of the arcane, out of touch, and ignorant older generation.
I’ve observed friends on the left claim those on the right are “all” homophobic, racist, and stupid if they voted a certain way.
I’ve encountered friends on the right who think the left are “all” godless, immoral, and okay with illegal behavior because of who they supported.
This type of broad categorization is dangerous and hurtful. And, all too often, our labels lie.
I know hard-working Millennials and wise friends from an older generation who are both equally informed, passionate, and thoughtful, even when they disagree. The church I attend is diverse – people from different races, backgrounds, and, yes, with different voting behavior come to worship God and experience His grace together. And, I have friends from the LGBTQ community (as well as those who are not) who span the political spectrum – some are fiscally conservative, others are not. One label doesn’t tell the whole story behind a person… and we need to stop acting like it does.
When Labels Fail Us
If we want to heal after this divisive election, we need to re-evaluate the way we see each other. Some of our labels are outdated. Other labels are too broad. Even categories like Republican and Democrat don’t seem to matter that much anymore – they can’t communicate the complexity of how a person thinks.
Am I the only one who feels like I don’t fit neatly into a box others try to put me into?Tweet
Am I the only one who feels like I don’t fit neatly into a box others try to put me into? In fact, the label that really only completely makes sense to me right now is one that applies to all of us – human. And, since we are all human, all of us, no matter our race, gender, sexual orientation, or political party, have great worth, value, and dignity, given to us by our Creator. We are worth listening to and we are so much more than just a simple statistic.
So, I have one request. Let’s listen instead of label.
If we really want to be agents of change in this country, the first step is listening to one another. But, this step is not as easy as we might think.
It’s easy to share an article or post that zings another category different from us. Something about this type of content initially feels good – it is always easier to simplify people even though we hate it when others simplify us.
It’s easy to stay at a distance from people who are different than us. However, instead of unfriending someone who is different or threatening to move to another country, what would happen if we actually tried to understand one another? Listening requires proximity, not distance.
Don’t be a pollster who looks only at statistics. When we discover our labels lie, let’s listen. Chances are, there is a deeper story waiting to be discovered and common ground to come together on if we’re willing to have the courage to go beyond simple categorizations.