For weeks, the mainstream media has contorted itself like a pretzel in a yoga class in order to avoid identifying racism as the key factor in Donald Trump‘s success, alternately attributing it to angst at Washington DC (even though 12 of the original 17 candidates are not Washington legislators) and ignoring direct evidence of it while they’re discussing that evidence. Finally, their golden boy has admitted why that is.
Nate Silver is the closest thing there is to a mainstream media avatar for “objectivity,” a polling whiz kid who is supposed to be an unflinching believer in data. On Friday night, Silver appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes to discuss the racist (possibly planted) Donald Trump supporter who asserted President Obama’s alleged Muslimhood and lack of American citizenship during a town hall meeting, and whom Trump failed to correct.
That incident naturally led to discussion of recent polls indicating that an overwhelming majority of Republicans (as much as 86%) wouldn’t have corrected that guy, either. Right off the bat, Silver revealed, point blank, that he automatically resists ascribing things to racism, and then demonstrated that he’s also willing to make stuff up in order to do that:
Silver: “This may be my editorial bias. I tend to prefer explanations for the vote that don’t, as a default, invoke race and Islamophobia and whatnot… ”
“…PPP, not my favorite pollster, but 2/3 of Trump supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim. That’s 54% of voters overall in the GOP primary electorate.”
Hayes: “You said PPP is a democratic-leaning firm, and I think they do poll sometimes, like, troll polls. But we’ve got other polling, CNN polling that shows 43% of Republicans…”
Silver: “It depends on how you ask the question. right? Some pollsters say ‘What do you really think deep down,’ so they ask in different ways.”
Here are two guys who sit suspensefully for years hoping they get to play the word “empirical” in a game of Scrabble, yet they each choose to ignore facts that lead them to an uncomfortable conclusion, and even make up a fake polling question to do it. They also neglected to mention that Silver’s non-favorite pollster was also the most accurate pollster during the 2012 election, and even according to Silver himself produced results that tended to favor Mitt Romney.
I confronted Hayes and Silver about this on Twitter Friday night, and only Hayes responded:
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) September 19, 2015
There’s no mystery to how PPP asked the question, because they printed it in their survey, and when Chuck Todd made the very same assertion that Silver did (and to which Hayes audibly agreed), I asked the pollster about it, just to be sure. While Hayes is correct that he did point to the CNN poll, discrediting the PPP poll has the effect of taking the Muslim assertion from a majority Republican view to a significant minority opinion, thus allowing the media, Silver, and Hayes to still consider that maybe this is all anger at Washington, and not what it plainly is: the crystallization of white male resentment.
But the poll questions actually are there for us to look at. PPP asked “Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, or are you not sure?” which gave Republicans, at worst, a 50/50 shot at guessing correctly, or saying they weren’t sure, like Scott Walker. CNN, on the other hand, gave voters seven choices, and did not offer them “not sure” as an option. They also didn’t ask voters what religion they “think” Obama belongs to, they asked “Do you happen to know what religion Barack Obama is? Is he Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, something else, or not religious?”
Therefore, you could easily interpret these polls to mean that while 28% of Republicans are willing to concede that President Obama professes to be a Christian, only 14% of them actually believe that. I’m not even saying you should discount the CNN poll, I’m saying you shouldn’t discount either of them, and certainly not by making something up or following a preconceived bias.
So why do it? I don’t know Nate Silver, but Chris Hayes is an extremely intelligent guy who suffers from Acute Chronic Good Faith Syndrome. Like Hayes, I have a lot of very good friends who are also prominent conservatives. He and I first met at a CPAC afterparty hosted by Michelle Malkin, and we both know a lot of conservatives who aren’t just nice, but are some of the most decent and wonderful people in the world. I understand how hard it would be to look a good friend in the eye, someone like Ed Morrissey or Matt Lewis or Ben Domenech, and say “Most of your party is racist.”
Unfortunately, that’s the fact, Jack, and it’s not crazy liberal Tommy Christopher saying that. These polls demonstrate, empirically, that the birther/secret Muslim view is held by a majority of Republicans, and tolerated by almost all of them, and several prominent Republicans have said that those views are racist, and science says it, too. I love my conservative friends, and it pains me that this is not a deal-breaker for them.
Having a bias against attributing things to racism is one thing if you’re a political commentator looking to engage with the other side, but for a renowned pollster like Nate Silver, it’s like a doctor announcing he’s got a diagnostic bias against attributing things to cancer. I don’t necessarily want a doctor who sees cancer everywhere, but I’m not going to the one who’s looking to ignore it.
But such a bias is also a luxury (or even a privilege, you might say) that only certain people can afford, like people who have benefited from it their entire lives. At the very least, racism will never harm Nate Silver, so he can afford not to see it in order to make his own world seem like a better place. When you’re the Muslim kid building a clock, or the black guy without a front license plate, you want someone to be staring extra-hard at those x-rays. Ignoring or resisting the existence of racism isn’t being nice, it’s being an accomplice.
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