What they’re saying about polls and pollsters

There are people who are calling for investigations of the pollsters who had Joe Biden winning by 10 points, 12 points. The biggest one of all is The Washington Post poll that had – as we’re watching Wisconsin a one-point lead, The Washington Post poll just a few days ago had Joe Biden winning by 17 points. That’s not a mistake. That’s not an error. That’s polling malpractice.

And you have to go to tremendous lengths to be able to get something that wrong so close to the election, and there’s significant review by all the media outlets of the work that they were doing. The fact is the published polling was so wrong, and not just for presidents but for House races, for the Senate races, that the American people really had no idea that this was going to happen, and you know what? Actually Donald Trump was correct.

Donald Trump’s pollsters were correct that this was much closer than anybody realized, and we are going through the ramifications of that.
GOP pollster Frank Luntz

Pollsters are always adjusting their methodologies to avoid making the same mistake twice. From 2016 to 2020, this was supposed to ensure that white voters without college degrees — a hard-to-reach but disproportionately pro-Trump demographic — would be better represented in their surveys. The shortfall was supposed to be fixed.

But the troubling thing about 2020 is not just that the polls missed again. It’s that they missed again in the exact same places they missed in 2016 — and they missed by even more. This suggests that whatever went awry in 2016 has only worsened over the last four years, and that “weighting for education” or other methodological tweaks can’t correct for it.

For two elections in a row now, Trump has drawn on unanticipated wells of support to perform better on Election Day than the polls predicted — and despite the best efforts of the best pollsters in the business to get better at measuring his vote, they seem to have gotten less accurate, not more.
Andrew Romano, West Coast Correspondent, Yahoo News

Journalists, supposedly chastened by a 2016 Trump win that they did not see coming, were going to be very cautious this time around. No more flailing New York Times needle. No more decimal places on FiveThirtyEight’s homepage – instead, a cartoon fox in glasses explaining to you what voters might do. And yet countless articles were still written over the past few months predicting that a Biden win was more likely than a Trump win, and so a lot of people are shouting online and offline because they have been caught by surprise. Because yet again, somehow, they trusted the polls.

Biden was so far out in front, according to the pollsters’ questionnaires with strangers, that even if they were as wrong in 2020 as they were four years ago, Biden would still probably win comfortably.

It’s possible, however, that they were actually more wrong this time around – either because they found it even harder to track down and speak to 1,000 adults who accurately represented 240 million voters, or because Trump voters were even more reluctant this time to tell a stranger their preferred candidate. Or both.

Avoid predicting the behavior of 240 million people, avoid reading those predictions, avoid complacency.

Journalists will continue to create charts predicting future presidents as long as readers continue to demand them. I do not know how many times polls have to be wrong or how wrong they have to be for us to finally walk away from the dangerous seduction of predicting political outcomes.
Mona Chalabi is data editor at Guardian US

The polls were off. There’s no doubt about that. If you look across the competitive states – it doesn’t matter whether it was a Democratic-controlled state or a Republican-controlled state… ultimately, it seemed that they were all biased against Trump by about 4 points on average. Ultimately, we’re OK with random error, because random error cancels out. Systemic error is a problem. And that’s what I think pollsters are going to be spending the next few days, weeks and months trying to uncover.
Joshua Blank is manager of Polling and Research at the Texas Politics Project

The most basic question the polls raise: Is this a free country? If you’re afraid to express a political view in public — you could be fired for it, banished for it — is that a free society? The answer is, of course not.

I can name some of the people that should be fired immediately, and I think I will. I just need to calm enough to get their names on paper. The first way to fix it is by holding the people who screwed up accountable. And that’s just by firing them. And they can go do something useful like hang drywall or learn to paint or do something else. But they cannot keep discrediting the work of the rest of us by screwing up in the way they have. I think that is a fair ask.

Tucker Carlson, FOX News

Modern American polling is dead and modern American pollsters should find another vocation so they stop wasting all of our collective time and helping to gaslight the media and American public.
John McCain’s daughter Meghan, a conservative commentator

A lot of pollsters are s***. Thanks. That’s all.
Conservative commentator Dan Bongino

One thing we DO know for certain, however, is that pollsters are a bunch of monkeys – ridiculous, biased, utterly inept, poop-flinging monkeys.
Once Upon a Time in America star James Woods

One of the big problems is that pollsters make it sound like the election is over today. You can talk about a five-point or an eight-point lead, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the poll on Election Day. When we all say there is no possible way that anyone can win under these circumstances, we’re right, except for one problem: Trump has the highest negatives from any candidate I have ever seen in history, and he figured out how to win in 2016.

With Trump, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about him, it’s that you can never, never say he is completely dead. He is the quintessential political zombie; you simply cannot kill him. If there’s anything we’ve learned from 2016, it’s to take every piece of good news from a Democratic perspective with a grain of salt.

He truly believes that. Trump thinks (rightly so) that all the polling was wrong in 2016, so why should it be right now, in 2020? He thinks there’s a silent Trump majority out there, a percentage of voters waiting to rise up like a phoenix from the ashes to save him from losing. He thinks there is a media deep state that is obsessed with hiding the truth. He will always paint a series of political delusions to reinforce his own mindset, and in that mindset there is a path for him to win.

National polls are absolutely, utterly useless and worthless. They will consistently show a Biden lead, by a small amount or a large amount, because all of the blue states, like California and New York, are going to go overwhelmingly to Biden. There’s no question that Biden will win the popular vote. But what national polls ignore is battleground states where you’re talking about leads of a few percentage points. In my opinion, national polls should be banned from existence in the last month of an election. We don’t elect the president nationally. Why are we doing national polls? It’s ridiculous. It puts out a false narrative that gives people either a false sense of security or a false sense of dread.
Chris Kofinis is a Democratic strategist and the head of messaging at research firm Park Street Strategies. His remarks came in an interview published on October 6, 2020.

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