Monday, November 28, 2016




          No high school exit exams have been administered in California over the last two years, but the test is due to return in 2018, by which time it is to be reconfigured to conform with the math and language arts skills now being taught in public schools under the federally-inspired Common Core curriculum system.

          This means that for at least the last two years, employers hiring new high school graduates haven’t known for sure what they were getting. What’s more, employers now considering adding to their payrolls folks who have graduated since the exam began in 2006 are in the same quandary, forced to hire blindly when it comes to knowing what applicants have learned.

          That’s because the same law that suspended the test while it’s being redone also allowed diplomas to everyone who ever failed it but met all other graduation requirements. At the time, one large newspaper featured a happy-talk story about a young woman who repeatedly failed the math portion of the exam. She was suddenly free to pursue a registered nurse degree. Would you want to take drug doses calculated by this young woman?

          Now the state’s two-term schools superintendent Tom Torlakson wants to make this sort of situation permanent.

          Torlakson told the state Board of Education in a memo that the exit exam long since outlived its usefulness as a performance screen. “California has embarked on a path toward preparing all students for college careers and life in the 21st Century through a focus on performance, equity and continuous improvement,” he said. “This is a path where (local school boards) take on an increased role in designing the kindergarten through 12th grade educational structures and supports for students to reach their full potential. Because of the comprehensive resources now available to identify students in academic need at lower grades, (the exam) is no longer necessary.”

          Come on, Tom. You know just because a third-grader might be identified as needing help in science or math or English doesn’t mean that kid will eventually learn anything in those subject areas. You know it doesn’t hurt to take the exam, which was passed in its heyday by 95 percent of high schoolers.

          Fortunately, Torlakson will not have the final say. It would take a vote of the Legislature and a signature from the governor to dump the exit exam for good. But in this politically correct era (at least in California), it’s just possible that the fact remediation is available to students will trump the fact that not all students identified with needs ever avail themselves of the help they are now offered.

          Testing remains the only way to weed out those who don’t and thus prevent them from essentially duping potential future employers into assuming they know things they don’t.

          Even the story of the putative nurse illustrates how well the exit exam filled its main purpose while it was in use. That purpose was as a kind of certification that any high school graduate in the state could safely be assumed to know things that could not be presumed during the era of social promotion preceding its adoption in 2005.

          Suspending the exam, as lawmakers did when they passed a bill by Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu of La Canada-Flintridge, unnecessarily ended that certainty. Even if the exam needed rewriting, there was no reason any rewrite required several years to perform. It easily could have been rewritten in less than a year, especially since the new Common Core curriculum was well-known and discussed for several years before California abandoned the exit exam.

          The bottom line: Torlakson is flat wrong on this one. The exam should not be abandoned just because a relative few kids couldn’t pass it. Rather, because students always had multiple chances at the test, those who fail on their first, second or even third try still can have plenty of time to study the subjects they failed and reverse their results.

          There’s no reason for other students not to get the benefits of passing the exam just because some are insufficiently motivated to improve.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states,” Barak Obama famously observed in 2004, several years before he ran for President. “But I’ve got news for them: There’s the United States of America.”

Twelve years later, Obama is about to depart the White House, and by now he has probably learned there are significant differences between so-called “red” states that tend to vote Republican in presidential elections and “blue” ones that usually support Democrats. The colors, of course, come from maps often used as television graphics during election coverage.

What are some of those differences? While campaigning – at least before Donald Trump – Republicans have tended to focus on values, claiming families and traditional marriages are stronger in red states than blue ones, while Democrats contend poor people, minorities and women are better off in blue ones.

California, of course, has been a consistently blue state since 1992, when Bill Clinton carried it with a plurality of the vote against the elder George Bush, not winning an actual majority here until 1996.

Republicans often say California Democrats have wrecked the Golden State over the last 25 years, citing what they insist is a declining quality of life and an expanded role for government.

It’s true Democrats have dominated the Legislature almost all that time, passing laws that regulate everything from cell phone use in cars to teaching about gay history in high schools. A “nanny state,” many Republicans call it, ignoring the fact Republican governors like Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger signed off on most of the new regulations Democrats passed in the last quarter century.

Ethnically speaking, California became blue when its Latinos began to get politically active. But in many other ways, this is statistically a pretty standard blue state, and there are major differences between those states and their red rivals. Here are some (based on U.S. Census data):

-- Blue states tend to have a more educated populace; California is fairly typical with 37.4 percent of adults holding college degrees. Deeply blue Massachusetts (despite its Republican governor) ranks first in this category with 53.4 percent of adults holding at least a bachelor’s degree. At the bottom in this category is a corps of red states including Alaska at 26.6 percent, Texas at 32.2 percent and Arizona with 33 percent.

     -- Red states tend to have a far higher percentage of people abusing drugs, led by West Virginia with 25.8 persons out of every 100,000 dying of drug overdoses each year, Utah with 18.4 and Alaska 18.1 in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available.

          Red states like Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee all topped 14 per 100,000 in this sad category. California, again in drug abuse a fairly normal blue state, saw only 10.4 persons out of every 100,000 take fatal overdoses, both from illegal drugs and prescription ones. (Statistics from the Policy Impact Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

     -- A little counterintuitive, the map of state with the highest
Census-reported divorce rates is also almost all red, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, Kentucky, Nevada (the only blue state here, but also the only state with an active quickie divorce industry), Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Arizona.

     --Unemployment, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. In the latest Department of Labor statistics, three red states (Alaska, Louisiana and West Virginia) are among the top six, with Alaska leading the unfortunate way at 6.7 percent, but they are joined by three usually blue states (Illinois, New Mexico and the District of Columbia).

     --  Red state citizens tend to be more charitable, with the eight states donating the highest share of their personal income to charity – Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia – all pretty reliably Republican (data from the Chronicle of Philanthrophy).

          All of which raises some questions: Do Republican “family values” equate to higher divorce rates and lower college education. Does going Democratic make people less charitable? Or are none of these things linked to politics at all?


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, November 21, 2016




          There was considerable irony when a California parole review panel late on Oct. 27 – just 12 days before the fall election – denied parole for the 17th time to Charles (Tex) Watson, self-described “right hand man” of Charles Manson, participant in at least seven of the Manson “Family” murders and leader of some of those murders.

          Watson’s parole denial came even as early voters were overwhelmingly backing the idea of eased paroles for “non-violent” convicts, on the ballot as Proposition 57, even though some clearly violent crimes are not legally classified as that. These include things like soliciting murder and rape of an unconscious or dead person.

          The Watson decision made it clear that paroles mostly likely will continue to be anything but automatic, even if past parole boards have tried to free several of Watson’s fellow Mansonites, including the likes of knife-and-sword wielding Bruce Davis and Leslie van Houten, who stabbed and held down some of the gang’s victims and then used their blood to scrawl race-baiting slogans on walls.

          Gov. Jerry Brown, who did more than anyone else to push through Prop. 57, has repeatedly vetoed their proposed paroles, saying at one point that “In rare circumstances, a murder is so heinous that it provides evidence of current dangerousness by itself.” The Manson gang’s murders, he said, fit into that category.

          So even though Brown advocates strongly for easing paroles and giving convicts incentives in the form of early releases for good behavior and academic achievement while in prison, it’s clear he makes exceptions for the most virulent murderers.

          You can, therefore, expect the Grim Sleeper (Lonnie Franklin Jr.), who killed at least 10 women between 1987 and 2002, to stay in jail a long, long time, even if he somehow evades the death penalty recently ratified by voters who rejected the fall’s Proposition 62. The same for former Arcata trucker Wayne Adam Ford, who killed four women and dumped their body parts all around the state. And for onetime Yosemite-area motel handyman Cary Stayner, who killed four persons, one of them a nature guide whom he beheaded.

          It’s a pretty sure bet Brown would veto all their paroles, if they somehow escape execution and review boards ever approve parole, because of the purely heinous quality of their crimes.

          The real question, now that Prop. 57 is in place, will be whether governors coming after Brown, who leaves office in just over two years, continue to understand the importance of making sure prominent murderers and rapists remain behind bars for life, even if they somehow evade the death sentences originally handed them, as many Manson Family members managed. (Their sentences were commuted when the state Supreme Court ruled executions unconstitutional in the 1970s, a stance later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

          Brown remembers the Manson murders well, as some of them (actress Sharon Tate and others killed and mutilated by Watson and friends) occurred only two canyons over from where he then lived in Laurel Canyon among the Santa Monica Mountains near Hollywood.

          Some academics and others who oppose the death penalty as inhumane contend the prospect of executions does not deter crime. But no one knows what some prospective killers might do if they come to understand they can eventually be freed again, while their victims remain dead.

          One Manson Family juror (now deceased) told this column in 1995 (more than 20 years after that trial) that he never regretted voting for the death penalty. “I can still see the gruesome pictures of the Manson victims like Sharon Tate and Shorty Shea and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca; they come into my mind. It’s like I can still see their wounds.”

          For that juror, family members of the victims and others who visited the Manson crime scenes, it’s important that Manson and his minions never get the freedom they denied their bloodied victims. It’s the same for victims of other vicious criminals who may now appear benign after years in prison.

          Not even Prop. 57 and its eased paroles currently threatens to loose such convicts upon the public. But keeping the feet of each new governor to the fire remains important, for the victims and what they and their families and friends lost should never be forgotten.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          If you voted this fall in a neighborhood garage or the clubhouse of a park or a school auditorium, remember the experience well. It may not be repeated anytime soon. If you saw American flags flying at your precinct polling place, that sight may also disappear.

          A whole new election system is about to begin in California, complete with “vote centers” and a big expansion of early balloting. The new system will start phasing in 2018 in 14 counties and should be operative by 2020 everywhere in the state.

          One thing for sure, losing candidates and those who expect to lose will have new fodder for the “rigged election” cry taken up so vocally this fall by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. With more mail-in ballots involved than ever before, same-day voter registration and personnel in place to provide language assistance, charges of fraud will be common at least while the new system is being broken in.

          The hope behind the new system, pushed hard by Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, is to increase voter turnout drastically.

          After low-turnout disappointed officials in 2014 and the off-year-elections of 2013 and 2015, they began casting about for changes. The new system will deliver mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the 28 days before the actual Election Day, aiming to end any need to vote in a single place on just one day.

          “We’ve got to…implement a new voting model,” said Democratic state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica, who sponsored the new system in the Legislature. “Our current system has failed, as our voter turnout rates continued to decline toward record lows.”

          Turnout in both the 2014 primary (25 per cent of registered voters) and that year’s November general election (42 per cent) was at record lows, making Padilla and the Legislature a bit desperate to push numbers up.

          So instead of voters needing to sign up to receive mail-in ballots for every election, from now they will go to everyone automatically. Never mind the tradition of the secret ballot; everyone from labor unions to employers to neighborhood groups is now free to hold ballot-marking parties before Election Day. This has actually been true since mail-in voting became common in the late 1970s, and there have never been charges it led to mass fraud or coerced voting for particular candidates or causes. But such outcries may arise now.

          The guinea pigs for the new system will be voters in Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter and Tuolumne counties, with in-person voting at centers spotted around each county weeks before Election Day. Voters will also be able to drop off ballots at those centers, rather than mailing them in.

          Counties pushed for this, partly as a cost-cutting measure. The fewer polling places, the lower the cost of an election. But counties moving to the new system will all have to adopt detailed plans through a system involving public hearings and input. Community groups, advocates for the disabled and other individuals will all be able to express preferences for vote center locations. But expect them to be placed in public buildings where there’s either no rent or low rent.

          The politicians behind this system claim it will provide far greater flexibility than longstanding precinct polling places. “It’s time to modernize the voting process,” said Democratic state Sen. Robert Hertzberg of Los Angeles, a co-sponsor. “We need to provide the same convenience and flexibility (people) have in other areas of their lives. You can stream a movie or deposit a check with your phone any time, but without this (change), people still have to arrange their busy schedules to get to a polling place on a single day and that has hurt turnout.”

          Only time will tell whether all this actually spurs more people to vote. And no one knows whether the inevitable charges of fraud or vote-fixing will have any merit. But the people behind the change are certainly correct about one thing: Turnout had become far too low in recent years, often allowing a small minority of eligible voters to choose the people who make key decisions for everyone.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, November 14, 2016




The last time the Republican Party had a win like the surprise pulled off by President-elect Donald Trump, it came in California and it quickly turned the nation’s largest state from a consistent tossup political battleground to a solid Democratic bastion.

          That “victory” came when then-Gov. Pete Wilson won reelection – on Nov. 8, also the date of Trump’s triumph – by a large margin in 1994 on the strength of a campaign directed largely against Latino illegal immigrants.

          Its benchmark was a television commercial showing dozens of the undocumented running across the Mexican border at San Ysidro unimpeded by Border Patrol officers. “They keep coming…,” a basso voice intoned. Wilson strongly supported the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, which shared the ballot with him that year. The measure aimed to throw children of the undocumented out of public schools and health clinics, deprive illegals of all government-paid health care and make life so unpleasant they would return to their homelands.

          Trump’s campaign over the last 20 months wasn’t a carbon copy of Wilson’s. But both defeated women from prominent political families – Trump whipping former First Lady Hillary Clinton and Wilson beating former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, the daughter of one governor and sister of another. Both aroused strong fear among Latinos legally in America who hadn’t yet bothered to become U.S. citizens.

          After the 1994 vote, these green-card holders lined up by the thousands in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno and San Francisco to obtain citizenship applications. Many feared that with their illegal-immigrant compatriots under threat of deportation, they could be next. Citizenship, they concluded, would be their best protection.

          They were motivated by the racial slurs and hateful incidents many of encountered everywhere from bus stops and gasoline stations to coffee shops and ballparks.

          Within 30 months, more than 2.5 million had become citizens in California, the vast majority registering as Democratic voters. Muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only Republican to win a major state office in California since. Republican presidential candidates haven’t bothered campaigning here in years; they just stop by to raise money, but most don’t even venture out in public. Trump also did that once the state’s primary election was over in June.

          The national implications are clear: All over America, Latinos this fall began experiencing more racist incidents and many came to feel much as their California counterparts did 22 years ago.

          They started applying for citizenship in significant numbers in states like Texas and Florida, Georgia and Illinois. By Election Day, they had already had some impact: Where Republicans have won in Texas by margins of about 20 percent for the last two decades, Trump’s win there was by less than 10 percent. Clinton was competitive in Georgia, too, losing there by less than 5 percent. Illinois, meanwhile, has become almost as reliably Democratic as California.

          But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In Texas, almost 2 million legal Hispanic immigrants have never applied for citizenship. In Georgia, it’s more than 450,000; in South Carolina, it’s about 300,000.

          If the majority of them become citizens and then begin to vote Democratic, as they did here, the political map of America will change radically. The potential for change is enormous, but only one major Republican (South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham) has openly admitted it. He warned last year that with Trump, the GOP could become as irrelevant nationally as it has been for a generation in California.

          But Trump and his backers paid no heed. They banked on winning with angry Anglo voters, just like Wilson. Trump did win this year, at least in the Electoral College, but now could usher the Republican Party into a disastrous era. This might take four years to take its full effect because the naturalization process takes time.

          But the odds are high that Trump’s win will have a similar effect nationally to Wilson’s big 1994 victory in California, with the strong possibility that the GOP will eventually come to look on him as its most self-destructive figure in generations.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          In the hullabaloo over Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, it was easy to miss the fact that in the preliminary vote count, the winner was Democrat Hillary Clinton – by a margin of over 600,000 votes.

          Her plurality came mostly from California, where Clinton won by more than 2.7 million votes – exponentially more than the leads Trump eked out in places like Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, combined.

          It quickly became clear that a vote in California was worth a whole bunch less than one in dozens of other states. This was because of the Electoral College, an antiquated relic of the epic four-year political battle that ended when the Constitution was fully ratified in 1791.

          The college gives tiny (in population) states like Montana, Vermont and Alaska a minimum of three electoral votes, cheapening votes in larger states, as if some Americans are more American than others. It flies in the face of the one person, one vote principle established more than 55 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. President is the only office affected, and it has happened twice in the last five presidential elections: George W. Bush won in 2000 despite losing the popular vote by more than 500,000. It’s happened four times overall, Republicans benefitting every time.

          Yes, as President-elect Trump often claimed during the campaign, the system was rigged – in his favor.

          As things stand, states like California, New York and Illinois may never end their inferior electoral status because small states still feel the fears of 225 years ago. They know a one person, one vote system would see presidential candidates ignoring them, caring only about big-population areas with larger troves of votes.

          Since a constitutional amendment requires two-thirds majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, plus ratification by 38 states, the idea of ending the Electoral College has never flown.

          But what if small states blocking this shift to full equality were to feel threatened? Enter the California sovereignty movement, often called Calexit, that’s had a sudden burst of interest since Trump’s triumph.

          The rest of America might take notice if it suddenly became plausible for California to leave the United States, taking 12 percent of the populace with it and imposing high tariffs on all its myriad products, from movies and TV shows to computers, smartphones, cars and car parts, plus airplane components, not to mention agricultural products from cotton to almonds, rice and peaches. That could alter the longtime “anywhere but California” attitude in Congress, the main reason less than 80 cents of every dollar Californians pay in federal taxes comes back to the state.

          How serious is the sovereign California movement? Its nominal leader, Louis Marinelli, an English as a second language teacher from San Diego who is now teaching English for a few months in Russia, says he fielded more than 4,000 messages in the eight hours after Trump’s victory.

          On Election Night, venture capitalist Shervin Pishavar – an original investor in companies like Uber, Airbnb and Hyperloop One, tweeted that “If Trump wins, I am announcing a legitimate campaign for California to become its own nation.” The hyper-wealthy investor did not return queries asking if he’s serious, but fellow plutocrat Dave Morin, who reportedly rejected a $100 million offer for his relatively new social network Path, tweeted back that “I’m in and will partner with you on it.”

          Marinelli, whose Sovereign California group has changed its name to Yes California, loved this. “Whoever can push a movement to have us be an independent country, we’ll be with them,” he said. Marinelli last year submitted nine versions of a ballot initiative advocating secession from the Union, but pulled them back saying he would concentrate on a 2018 effort. That year, he wants to run an initiative demanding a special election in 2019 to consider secession.

          The USA, of course, has no procedure for secession and no one has tried to leave since the Civil War.

          But a serious movement here might provide the leverage needed to get smaller states to accede in changing the patently unfair Electoral College.

          All this may seem far-fetched, but so was the idea that yet another president could be elected with far less than a popular vote majority.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Wednesday, November 9, 2016




          With more than 8,400 donors giving record amounts of money totaling more than half a billion dollars to campaigns for and against the 17 propositions on this month’s state ballot, one thing has become very clear: As the Beatles came close to saying in their classic song, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” money alone can’t buy you votes for or against an initiative.

          Sure, it’s always nice to have money, but you need a good idea and the advertisements you buy must be at least partially truthful, or you just won’t win.

Example A this month was what happened to Big Tobacco on Proposition 56, which won by close to a 60-40 percent margin despite its advocates being outspent more than 5-1.

          Part of the problem was that the moment voters looked at both the anti-56 ads and the actual proposition, they could see there was little evidence for oft-repeated tobacco company claims that adding $2 to the cost of a pack of cigarettes would somehow cheat schools out of $600 million. They don’t get that money now and won’t get it under Prop. 56, so it was hard to see how they could be cheated out of anything.

          Then there were voters simply offended by the fact tobacco companies like Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds were – oddly enough – the big bankrollers of the campaign to fight off a big tax on their sometimes deadly products. The No side on this one spent more than $90 million.

          “I saw the tobacco companies were against 56 and Big Pharma against Proposition 61 and voted yes for both,” said one Torrance voter aged in his mid-‘70s. His views were apparently not unique.

          Money did win for big pharmaceutical companies, whose no-on-61 campaign wasn’t as totally groundless as the tobacco industry effort against Prop. 56. Big Pharma spent even more than Big Tobacco – more than $120 million by the time all reports are in. That money came from companies like Pfizer, Amgen and two dozen others, often in chunks of well over $1 million and it was enough for a narrow victory.

          In fact, self-serving donors like these abounded in this election season, as they often do, and their results were mixed at best.

          There were, for example, big plastic bag makers headquartered in Texas, New Jersey and South Carolina who put up more than $20 million trying to preserve what was left of their California market by defeating Proposition 67. They lost on that one by a narrow 52-48 percent margin, but saw their Proposition 65 swipe at grocers go down by a larger margin.

          A contrarian example of relatively big money winning came with Proposition 57, Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to ease parole of convicts guilty of non-violent felonies, as defined in the criminal code. He spent almost $6 million from his personal political war chest on that one, and it won handily as Californians continued to recoil from their onetime proclivity to vote for almost any tough-on-criminals measure.

          Californians also went against what they perceived as censorship, voting down the Prop. 60 requirement that performers in hard sex movies use condoms on camera. Not much was spent for or against this measure, so it ended up as a referendum on what voters want in their off-color movies.

          There was also Proposition 64, which will bring major change to California by legalizing recreational marijuana use, whether the federal government likes it or not. Federal agents might still conduct raids on pot-growing plots, but most likely they now won’t get much help from local law enforcement.

          Then there was the death penalty, apparently still a popular cause in this state. Voters handily turned down Proposition 62, which would have ended the ultimate punishment and then approved Proposition 66, which speeds up the process.

          The bottom line on all these results: Money’s effects turned out to be largely unpredictable, as the bigger spenders lost about as many campaigns as they won. That’s something political consultants, who often get a cut of whatever their clients spend, won’t want anyone to remember two years from now.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          It just may be that life has caught up with political polling. Just as they have shaken up industries and activities from newspapers to taxicabs, from telephones to shopping, some relatively new technologies are making old reliable survey research techniques and tactics obsolete or inaccurate.

          That was never more evident than in this fall’s presidential polling, which overall consistently predicted a huge Electoral College victory for Democrat Hillary Clinton, along with a slim victory in the popular vote. The result was barely half correct.

          Here’s what pollsters used to do:

          The first task was to formulate a stratified random sample. This meant dividing the population into major categories, or strata, like Democrats, Republicans, males, females, various income levels, with racial, age, ethnic and religious factors also tossed in.

          Then, within each stratum, there would be random sampling, usually by telephone. Most folks who got those phone calls from the likes of Gallup or the Field Institute were happy to take a few minutes to answer questions.

          Much of that has changed. For one thing, only about half of households in California and the rest of America now have land telephone lines, the rest using exclusively cell phones or opting out entirely. Even where land lines exist, increased use of caller ID service makes it more difficult than before to get phone calls answered. Meanwhile, mobile phone users are far less likely to pick up a call from any number unknown to them, in some cases because their phone plans carry limited minutes they don’t want to waste on strange numbers.

          So just calling people is no longer simple. One report this fall indicated polling firms were having to make 300 calls to Hispanic males in order to get a single response. This may be an exaggeration, but it’s emblematic of a new reality.

          One question that arises: Since political polling is often a loss leader, with companies like Gallup, Field and Ipsos using those surveys to enhance their reputations, how much will they be willing to spend on getting that one elusive Hispanic male needed to round out some surveys? It plainly costs more to make 300 phone calls than the average of 1.5 the same study showed was needed to get a response from a 60-year-old white female.

          Enter the Internet. Some firms are now joining the Palo Alto-based Survey Monkey in using computer polling. That kind of polling has always had a reputation for unreliability, mainly because polling a population with access to computers is not the same as polling the general public. Computer users generally are wealthier than people who are not. Plus, it’s difficult to divide users into age groups, when they can lie about that just as people frequently do in their computer dating profiles.

          NBC News this fall partnered with the Wall Street Journal in one poll and with Survey Monkey in another. The results were sometimes startlingly different.

          In some ways, outfits that do no commercial polling might be considered more reliable. That’s one reason it behooves political junkies who follow websites like RealClearPolitics, which provides daily updates on the polls during election seasons, to compare the accuracy of results from varying kinds of polling outfits.

          Polls done by colleges have the same problems as those done by commercial outfits, but their labor costs might be less. Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University, for whom polling replaces football as a name-recognition devise, uses a reported 160 student interviewers, aside from its 10 fulltime staffers. That many pollers can make a lot of phone calls.

          Then there are questions of weight, which worked out better than anyone expected this fall for the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. This survey tried to measure intensity of support for candidates this year and was usually higher on Republican Donald Trump than any other survey, in part because his supporters were more enthusiastic than others.

          The bottom line is that if polls were less accurate than usual this year, it may have been because they have not yet fully adjusted to the new world of smartphones, social media and more.

Or a lot of people lied to the pollsters. Which is just one reason why actual voting is so important.

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is