Polling the Polls


The polls are not wrong. I know many people think polls are wrong, because the polls say things people do not believe. Sure, there are bad pollsters, but polling averages do a pretty good job. Take 2016, the example that comes to mind for a lot of people who say polls are wrong.

Hillary Clinton did, in fact, win the popular vote. The final polling average had her winning by 3%. She won by 2%. The polls were right. The problem is that we elect the President with an Electoral College, not a popular vote. The individual polls of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were far more instructive. But individual state polling is hard to do, and it’s more expensive.

As a general rule, if a poll has the candidates with a gap of 5% or more, those numbers tend to trickle down proportionally at the state level. When polls show candidates with margins of less than 5%, go to individual state polling to get a more accurate reading of a presidential race.

The methodology matters, too. Let me give you the methodology of the Emerson College poll. According to their latest national poll, which has Sen. Bernie Sanders with a 7-point lead, “Data was collected using both an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines only … and online panels provided by (Amazon) Turk.”

In other words, the poll only called landlines, not cellphones. It used a robocall, not a live operator. It also used an online voting system that involved Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon describes its Turk system as “a crowdsourcing marketplace that makes it easier for individuals and businesses to outsource their processes and jobs to a distributed workforce who can perform these tasks virtually.”


That is not a good method of polling. There were no live operators and no cellphones. Compare Emerson to the ABC News-Washington Post poll, which describes its methodology as, "conducted by landline and cellular telephone Feb. 14-17, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,066 adults." That poll has Sanders with a 15-point national lead.

The ABC News-Washington Post poll uses a good methodology. They used landlines and cellphones. They polled randomly. They also did it in Spanish. That's pretty comprehensive.

Pew Research has out a report on bogus respondents in online polling. They found "that online polls conducted with widely-used opt-in sources contain small but measurable shares of bogus respondents (about 4% to 7%, depending on the source). Critically, these bogus respondents are not just answering at random, but rather they tend to select positive answer choices -- introducing a small, systematic bias into estimates like presidential approval."

In other words, beware of pollsters using online groups to participate in polls.
Polling really is a combination of art and science. There are great pollsters out there. The media overly relies on polling to help shape news coverage, but it can be helpful. We can, for example, see the rise of Michael Bloomberg in the polling.

He has not yet been on the ballot, but we can tell his spending on ads is helping him. This, in turn, tells us that major ad-buying actually does help by boosting name identification.

But Sanders is now leading in the polls. Joe Biden has what can best be described as electile dysfunction. Biden led the polling nationally for more than 52 weeks. Before Biden even formally declared, he held about 28% in the polling averages. But his numbers are starting to plummet as Sanders surges and Bloomberg takes off.

It is an open question if Bloomberg can compensate for the fact that he has not been on the ballot yet and now has had a terrible debate performance. Super Tuesday is on March 3, and Bloomberg will finally be on a ballot. In the meantime, don't dismiss the polls. Just check the methodology. Also, for all the horror stories about President Donald Trump losing to everyone in the national polls, go check out the swing states. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina and beyond, Trump actually does far better than national polls suggest. That could make for an interesting election.


When you sign up to comment you'll also receive our regular newsletter. You can find more about how we use your information here.

11 thoughts on “Polling the Polls”

  1. The 2016 election should have been the tip-off that there is a strong liberal bias in the polls, reflecting a probable liberal bias in the pollsters just as there is in the media. FOX News is the prime example: as soon as Paul Ryan joined the Board of FOX, the polls took a decided liberal slant, which was traced to a shift in the population polled. Probably in every polling organization, there is a cadre of busy-bee liberals working to slant the numbers by any trick they can think of. A second source of bias is that Trump supporters tend to be serious, hardworking types who either don’t let out their phone numbers or don’t answer random calls. I would urge President Trump to Twitter out to all his followers, to always answer polls in favor of liberal candidates or points of view. When it becomes apparent that liberals constitute 115% of the polled population, the extent of the bias will be obvious.

  2. Polls aside…2020 is a “pure” ideological choice…Trump and the Constitutional Republic…or ??? ALL the democrats/rinos are dyed in the wool NWO – communists


  4. The article states “The problem is that we elect the President with an Electoral College, not a popular vote.” I hope the article alludes to it as problem for the popular vote, the Electoral College itself is NOT a problem.

  5. Many poll results do not specify the profile of those interviewed and this is critical info to judge the quality of the results. When I get this type of information, I know how to judge the quality of the poll. Otherwise, I throw the results in the trashcan.

  6. First, I’m not sure Hillary won the honest popular vote. Her “margin of victory” might have been entirely due to fraudulent votes. Beside the voting by the dead and those that have moved, ballot harvesting, “found” ballots and all that, we know there are thousands of precincts that over 100% of adult voters registered to vote.

    As for the President’s poll ratings, I think that the nonstop and intense/frenzied anti-Trump message in the media is worth at least 15 points. To me, if his approval rating is 48%, it’s really at least 63%. I think that a lot of those that “disapprove” don’t tell the pollster the truth, because the message is “what kind of idiot supports Trump?” Also, I think a whole lot of people are turned off by the nonstop Trump hatred. And context and how the questions are asked is key.

  7. This is a joke, poles use the people they want to get the answers they want. Obviously this pomp ass ass thinks Clinton won the popular vote. I suggest prove it, take voter fraud. Really get into voter fraud and see what the real truth is. This is a liar and a cheat. An old fashioned medicine man. He/she, we don’t know gender anymore because of these people, has an agenda.

Comments are closed.