Show an ad over header. AMP

We're not as smart as the polls make us think we are

Four years after Donald Trump defied expectations set by pollsters and news organizations, the public should have even less confidence that public opinion data can accurately point to the winner.

Why it matters: This election could be deja vu all over again but worse, with polls setting false expectations amidst voting complicated by the pandemic and a president who has warned of a "rigged" proces, the outcome of which he won't accept.

There are three big reasons for this year’s hand-wringing.

1) The problems identified with state polling in 2016 remain. There aren’t enough large sample, quality polls that account for key demographics of voters who tended to vote for Trump, like people without college educations.

  • Many polls done so far this year in swing states like Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, are “alarmingly” not improved, said Courtney Kennedy, director of survey research at Pew Research Center, who served on an industry panel that published a post-mortem after Trump’s election. "The structural challenges we had in 2016 are still with us."

2) The coronavirus pandemic will make actual voting more volatile.

  • The nightmare matrix includes: the unprecedented surge in mail-in ballots; the U.S. Postal Service’s lack of experience in delivering them on time; the states’ ability to process them; and access to in-person voting on Election Day.
  • For people whose business is to draw a line between asking people who they will vote for and what actually happens, there’s no statistical modeling that can adjust for any one of these, let alone all of them at once.
  • The larger volume of mail ballots could make the vote counts stretch out longer — like the New York Democratic congressional primaries that took six weeks to resolve, said GOP pollster David Winston, who polls for congressional Republicans. “This is going to be happening in a context that we’ve never dealt with before.”

3) We’re still in early innings. Conventions are wrapped up and the campaigns seem like they’ve been going on for years, but there’s a long way to go.

  • There are the unforeseeable, late-breaking events that can change the momentum of the race. Remember then-FBI director James Comey’s letter announcing he was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails?
  • “If ever there has been a year where unforeseeable things can happen, it’s 2020,” said J. Ann Selzer, an Iowa pollster who works with the Des Moines Register. Anybody that’s not wary this time is kind of kidding themselves.”

The big picture: What the polls can tell us now is that Joe Biden has a large national lead over Trump at the moment — possibly large enough that the outcomes in individual swing states could matter less than they did in 2016.

  • What they can’t tell us is whether that lead will hold up between now and November, with all of the unpredictable events that could happen between now and then. This week’s polls are likely to see a bump for President Trump after the Republican National Convention.
  • “What is clear is, Biden is ahead at the moment, and his lead is about twice as big as Clinton’s was at this time in 2016,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “There’s no pollster who’s going to say, Oh, it’s over.”

Between the lines: Biden’s lead in most national polls is anywhere from 7 to 9 points — outside the 3-point margin of past presidential elections that have been close enough to become a state-to-state contest, said Winston, who polls for congressional Republicans.

  • “That puts it right at the cusp of getting it out of state by state. The first challenge for the Trump campaign is to get it back within state by state.”

The bottom line: Pollsters agree that this year there are fewer undecided voters than recent elections. But for some of the most important public opinion gold — swing state voters — there’s the least confidence in getting an accurate reading.

Biden: The next president should decide on Ginsburg’s replacement

Joe Biden is calling for the winner of November's presidential election to select Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the Supreme Court.

What he's saying: "[L]et me be clear: The voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider," Biden said. "This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today, and the election's only 46 days off.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden: "Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for the law"

Joe Biden said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "never failed, she was fierce and unflinching in her pursuit of civil and legal right and civil rights of everyone," after learning of her death Friday night.

What he's saying: Biden gave a statement after traveling to Delaware from Minnesota, where, earlier Friday, he gave a campaign speech at a carpenters’ training center in Hermantown, a suburb of Duluth. She was "not only a giant in the legal profession, but a beloved figure, and my heart goes out to all those who cared for her and cared about her."

Keep reading... Show less

Trump: Ruth Bader Ginsburg "led an amazing life"

President Trump said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "led an amazing life," after he finished a campaign rally in Bemidji, Minnesota, and learned of her death.

What he's saying: "I’m sad to hear,” Trump told the press pool before boarding Air Force One. "She was an amazing woman, whether you agree or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life."

Keep reading... Show less

Trump to move fast to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

President Trump will move within days to nominate his third Supreme Court justice in just three-plus short years — and shape the court for literally decades to come, top Republican sources tell Axios.

Driving the news: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are ready to move to confirm Trump's nominee before Election Day, just 46 days away, setting up one of the most consequential periods of our lifetimes, the sources say.

Keep reading... Show less

What they're saying: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a "tireless and resolute champion of justice"

Democratic and Republican lawmakers along with other leading figures paid tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday night at age 87.

What they're saying: “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

Keep reading... Show less

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at 87.

Why it matters: Ginsburg had suffered from serious health issues over the past few years, including cancer. Her death sets up a fight over filling a Supreme Court seat with less than 50 days until the election.

Keep reading... Show less

NYT: White House drug price negotiations between broke down over $100 "Trump Cards"

Negotiations on a deal between the White House and pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices broke down last month after Mark Meadows, the president's chief of staff, insisted that drugmakers pay for $100 cash cards to be mailed to seniors before the election, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: Some of the drug companies feared that in agreeing to the prescription cards — reportedly dubbed "Trump Cards" by some in the pharmaceutical industry — they would boost Trump's political standing weeks ahead of Election Day with voters over 65, a group that is crucial to the president's reelection bid, per the Times.

Keep reading... Show less

In photos: Virginians line up for hours on first day of early voting

In some parts of Virginia, people waited in line up to four hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting, according to the Washington Post.

The big picture: The COVID-19 pandemic seems to already have an impact on how people cast their votes this election season. As many as 80 million Americans are expected to vote early, by mail or in person, Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, told Axios in August.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories