When will I ever learn? All I can say in my defence is that I’m not alone. In common with pretty well every pundit on both sides of the Atlantic, I assumed Joe Biden would trounce Donald Trump.
The polls uniformly predicted a Biden landslide. On the eve of the election, a ten-point lead for the Democratic Party candidate was the consensus. Trump was supposedly heading for a wipe-out in Florida. Yet he won there.
If a fortune-teller at a village fair produced hopeless prophecies year after year, we would sooner or later realise we were being taken for a ride. But we go on trusting in polls even though they have recently, repeatedly been so very wide of the mark.
They predicted a Trump defeat in the 2016 election. Wrong. They said Remain would win the 2016 referendum. Also wrong.
The US President Donald Trump speaks to crowds as the results begin to pour in during the presidential election
They failed to foresee the Tories’ massive victory in last December’s general election. Wrong again. Incidentally, that election seems about a century ago, but it has only been 11 months.
Why do we go on believing in the polls even though they are usually up the spout? I think it is because they confirm the prejudices of the liberal elite, and even those of us who are not paid-up members are often taken in.
For example, it seemed obvious to enlightened liberals that a majority would never vote for Brexit, which in the view of these high-minded people would be a bone-headed thing to do.
Polls confirming the impossibility of a Leave vote were readily believed.
A similar self-deception has been evident during the American presidential campaign. Trump is an unpleasant man.
It’s difficult to quarrel with the judgment that he is what psychologists call a ‘malignant narcissist’. He’s a self-serving braggart and a liar.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, this awful creature preposterously claimed victory. He also declared that voter ‘fraud’ had occurred without producing the slightest piece of evidence.
Pollsters and the mainstream media have assumed that such a ghastly person could not be re-elected President of the United States, particularly after his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic had been added to his long charge-sheet of failures.
So pollsters were not surprised when, time and again, their researches suggested that Trump was heading for annihilation. It was what they expected. How could the American people possibly elect such a monster again?
As I write, it is still not clear whether or not Trump will be staying in the White House for a further four years, though the odds against him are lengthening.
What is undeniable is that he did far better than pollsters predicted or pundits imagined. They didn’t take account of the ‘shy’ voters who did what to them was unthinkable — and supported Trump.
It’s not only pollsters and pundits who are scratching their heads in disbelief. Millions of Democrat voters will be aghast, Meghan Markle among them.
After Trump’s victory in 2016, she branded him ‘misogynistic’ and ‘divisive’, while in September she and Prince Harry hinted they would be backing Biden.
I suspect many Democrats believe that the people who came out in larger numbers than expected on Tuesday to vote for Trump are all racist, fascist or generally idiotic. I doubt they are any of these things.
One shouldn’t confuse noisy militants — like those at a Trump rally in North Carolina last year who chanted ‘send her back’, in reference to an elected U.S. Congresswoman of Somali origin — with the tens of millions of ordinary voters who voted for him.
Most Trump supporters are probably perfectly aware of his shortcomings.
Some of them may not like him. They nonetheless plumped for him because some of his policies, or at any rate some of his attitudes, appeal to them.
You wouldn’t think that Trump was very popular among Hispanics. Yet he won Florida because of their support. They apparently feared that Joe Biden, and in particular his running mate Kamala Harris, were too Left-wing.
Members of staff count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the NRG Stadium in Harris County, Texas
And although I hesitate to cite any polls, having just denounced them, support for Trump is said to have been consistently running about 10 percentage points higher with African Americans than in 2016, and 14 percentage points higher with Hispanics.
They may not like him any more than I do, but they see something in his ideas that attracts them. Who can doubt that millions of Trump voters, white, black and Hispanic, are partly drawn to him for patriotic reasons?
These voters like the fact that he speaks up for the interests of American workers over Chinese or Mexican ones, even if he has done much less for them in practical terms than he said he would.
His undertaking to ‘make America great again’, which caused such embarrassment if not actual hostility in polite society, resonated with millions of Americans who are not ashamed to love their country.
Maybe, too, many Americans are grateful that he has not involved their country in futile wars — although he is forever lashing the Chinese and accusing them of exporting coronavirus to the United States.
And, dare one say it, his opposition to immigration — though sometimes expressed in terms that seem racist — found favour with many voters who are worried about losing their jobs, or having their neighbourhoods suddenly transformed.
Similar fears, so difficult for metropolitan liberals to understand — and so easily dismissed by them as racist —explained much of the support for Brexit.
Getting back our borders meant that immigration, which had in the minds of many run out of control over the previous decade, could be curbed.
How much better it would be if there were a respectable right-of-centre politician — a Ronald Reagan, perhaps — to champion these causes rather than the bully, misogynist and arch manipulator that is Donald Trump. Such a person might have done better.
The fact that Trump can attract so much support despite his horrible character speaks volumes. He acts as a lightning rod for fears and anxieties which tend to be dismissed by the bien pensant folk who dominate the media.
Supporters of President Trump take to the streets in Miami, Florida on November 4
Incidentally, these same people often excoriate Right-wing Fox News for its readiness to twist the facts.
It certainly is biased. But so, with no less vehemence, is CNN in the opposite direction, though it is lauded as the source of all truth in fashionable circles.
Let me say that if I were American I would have voted for Biden, even though he is a pretty clueless character who displays signs of senility. I couldn’t bring myself to support a man like Trump.
Nevertheless, it’s plain that he connects with millions of decent Americans. To dismiss these people as extremists, or to decry them as simply stupid, is a piece of monumental arrogance.
And it is equally misguided, in the manner of some pollsters and pundits, to minimise their importance, or turn a deaf ear to their concerns. That is a way of saying their preoccupations don’t count very much.
These people — socially conservative, patriotic, and often religious — are not the shaven-headed thugs we see on our television screens.
In America, as in Britain, the concerns of these silent voters are often ignored by the ruling class. Trump, however vile, appears to them to listen.