‘Bisram did not get it wrong’

Dear Editor,

Dr Joey Jagan was incorrect to pen ‘Bisram got it wrong’ (SN, Nov 10). In fact, the opposite is true – Bisram and the pollsters got it right (calling the US election, that is). They were spot on. It is Dr Joey Jagan who got it all wrong for not understanding the polls and not offering a tested explanation why he felt Obama would win re-election. Dr Joey Jagan described my writings on American polling as “ramblings.” On the contrary, all of my writings on American polls or any subject matter were and are usually very focused and support the topic. Rambling is when one’s writing is disjointed, diffused and digresses all over the place, is disconnected, includes  unrelated material, is unfocused, long-winded, redundant, etc. It is Dr Joey Jagan’s letter that is rambling because it focuses on unrelated subjects and not on the crux of my critique – ie, his failure to provide a scientific explanation as to why he thought Obama would win.

Dr Jagan said he “predicted twice in SN, long before the US election day, that Mr Obama would win a comfortable victory, and that is exactly what happened,” and chided me and the pollsters for not being able “to predict” with certainty that Obama would win.  Anyone can say Obama would win or Romney would win.  The explanation is what matters – whether it is reasonable and holds up to scrutiny.

Dr Jagan’s comment is no different from that of my students and people in rum shops who told me post election, “I told you Obama would win.”  It is an opinionated statement based on emotion and not on any scientific basis or reasoned, tested evidence. Pollsters and analysts make assessments based on social science models, theories, field work, etc – logical deductions and not personal views.

Dr Joey Jagan stated I got “it all wrong.” What exactly did I get wrong? That the election would be close? If I got it wrong, then all the pollsters and analysts got it wrong as well because I obtained my information from them. All the pollsters and reputable pundits said the election was too close to call. Should I have disagreed with them?  And if so on what basis should I have disagreed with them?  Commentaries must be evidentiary. The pollsters did field work to form their conclusions. I could not dismiss their work without offering alternatives.

Since August, I wrote in SN and other dailies that the polls on whether Obama or Romney was in the lead would swing back and forth until they settled towards the end of October as a dead heat.  That is exactly what happened.

I also penned in September (in SN and elsewhere) and repeated numerous times up until a few days before the election that Mitt Romney had no chance of winning unless he won the majority of Hispanics, Asians and Indian Americans and significant white seniors. And I also stated that in order for him to win over these minority groups, he must propose some kind of amnesty as well as social security to win over seniors.  I also stated that I expected him to move to the centre away from the right and he did exactly that. Although Romney addressed Medicare and social security winning a majority of seniors, he did not win over minorities because he was unwilling to deal with the relevant issue of immigration. Asians (4% of population and 3% of voters) went three to one for Obama; ditto Indian and South Asian Americans, including Indo-Guyanese (Indians being 1% of population and voters); and Hispanics (14% of population and 11% of voters). One area in which the pollsters were wrong was their failure to project the record numbers of minorities who showed up to vote.  More African-Americans voted in this election than in 2008 and in the history of America. Had the minority vote been down as in earlier elections, Romney might have been able to pull off an upset. Unless Republicans address the issue of minority voters, they will lose presidential elections. Minorities constitute a significant percentage of the voters who will make the difference in key swing states like Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Florida.  Much of the Republican white conservative base stayed away from the polls because they don’t like Romney – it was a problem for pollsters who were not certain about the turnout and the Republican base for a Mormon who was heading what is essentially a WASP party. Just about half the electorate voted – a turnout that was smaller in this election than in 2008 and that contributed to Romney’s defeat. Obama got 50% (down from over 53% in 2008) of a substantially reduced turnout.

I volunteered for Obama in this and the last election and have been a volunteer in every election for the last 30 years, as my union would attest.

My teachers‘ union facilitated phone calls in swing states.  In Florida, based on phone calls Jewish voters indicated they would go for Romney.  But Obama smartly rounded up prominent Jews days before the election to endorse him and was able to pull off Florida (where many Jewish retirees are settled) by a squeaker. Where I erred was I had expected Romney to do better in swing states with significant Mormon populations but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was able rally the votes and neutralize Mormon turnout for Obama in Nevada and Colorado.

Minorities came out in record numbers to allow Obama to retain the states – ditto Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Dr Joey Jagan took my response personally when it was not intended on my part and I express regret if my response came across as personal. I admire several of Dr Joey Jagan’s critiques of our politics.  His comments on PPP neglect of its base are spot on.  He and brilliant minds like Dr Ravi Dev and Speaker Ralph Ramkarran, etc, have the capacity to change our politics.

Contrary to what Joey penned, I have never promoted my academic background and teaching credentials.  I was very reluctant to discuss my education and job description because it is wide varying and extensive. It was the SN Sunday editor, who at the insistence of Freddie Kissoon, wanted to know and published my job and educational background.  Although I have several undergraduate and graduate degrees in varied disciplines, I never publicized them except when Mr Kissoon and others demanded to know them.

In closing, on polling, the record would show that the pollsters (and Bisram) called the 2012 election correctly. The pre-election polls and the exit polls all conformed to the actual outcome of the elections (within the margin of sampling errors).  And Dr Joey Jagan got it wrong for not understanding what the “polls” were saying and how polls are conducted.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

Editor’s note

Neither the Sunday editor not any other editor of Stabroek News has been in contact with Mr Freddie Kissoon on the matter of Mr Bisram’s polls, and this newspaper has never published Mr Bisram’s academic credentials and teaching experience on its own account, let alone at Mr Kissoon’s insistence. We have published letters from Mr Bisram himself on this subject, as well as from a correspondent who said he had joined Mr Bisram in undertaking one of his early polls.   

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