INDIANAPOLIS — It’s that time of year again. With as many as four toss-up contests set to determine which party controls the U.S. Senate come January 2021, another 23 toss-ups poised to crown the next speaker of the House, and the possible impeachment of the president of the United States on the line, it might as well be Christmas for the no-accountability caucus of coastal political pundits and prognosticators who commentate with speculative certainty about too-close-to-call races and issues.

But while the Beltway intelligentsia attempts to draw black and white conclusions about what will happen, the data is hardly black and white. In fact, in what I call Margin of Error America, our political future is at best itself a toss-up, giving the pundit class license to write a new chapter of conventional wisdom about what’s to come by the hour and leaving our politics without a clear mandate for moving forward.

In the world of election polling, Margin of Error America goes something like this: One day someone is up, the next day someone is down, and on the third day one of them releases an internal poll, all within the tiny sliver of percentage points known by pollsters as the “margin of error.” There is no actual certainty. Of course, none of this really matters because when the votes are cast and the results announced, and a candidate wins by a razor-thin margin, they will invariably declare a mandate, a term that has been diluted over the years to mean simply winning. That’s exactly how Republicans messaged their 2016 wins and how Democrats declared themselves once again relevant in 2018. And by the time the next Congress is sworn in there will be no question as to mandate status; there won’t be one. The stand-off on Capitol Hill will likely continue and progress will slip through our fingers again.

But it goes beyond election polling. Even on a topic as seemingly cut and dry as the economy, the top-of-mind issue for most voters, margin of error comes into play and leaves us scratching our heads. Republicans, including President Donald J. Trump, are continually trying to convince voters economic conditions are much, much better than they once were. Democrats, on the other hand, contend that the situation remains bleak and that’s why voters should pick them. And on which side do Americans land? It’s clear as mud.

A recent survey conducted by Gallup found that “48% of Americans currently think the economy is getting worse while 46% think it is getting better.” And on the topic of whether they sense a recession is on the horizon, 50% said they were “not too” worried or “not at all” worried, while 49% claimed to be “very” or “fairly” worried. The margin of error for this particular poll? Three percent.

As if a hotly contested battle for congressional supremacy and the state of the American economy wasn’t enough, we also have an impeachment inquiry of Trump underway that is fueling rampant, and oftentimes unchecked, speculation in the Acela Corridor about the future of his presidency. But again, the populace is torn.

A CNN/SSRS poll conducted shortly after a whistleblower report became public showed 47% favoring impeachment and removal from office with 45% disagreeing. The margin of error on this poll was 3.5%. In another poll, Huffington Post/YouGov found that 39% of respondents believe the now public call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is grounds for impeachment while 38% disagree. The margin of error on this poll was 3.2%. And in a poll released late last week by ABC and the Washington Post, 49% said Trump should be impeached and removed from office while a nearly even 47% disagreed. The margin of error was 3.7%. There is no mandate for action, and yet the House of Representatives is proceeding as if there were.

The handful of battleground races, economic confusion and potential presidential impeachment aside, there is one question where Americans wholeheartedly agree: Their disapproval of Congress. A poll by Economist/YouGov put congressional approval rating at 16% in early October, with an equally abysmal disapproval of 62%, again reducing their base of support to “paid staffers and blood relatives,” as the late Sen. John McCain liked to say. On that one, there’s no need to speculate. There’s a mandate. Of that, the pundits can be certain. 

Pete Seat is a former White House spokesman for President George W. Bush and campaign spokesman for former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. Currently he is a vice president with Bose Public Affairs Group in Indianapolis.