News & Politics

Democratic Pollsters Acknowledge Getting It Spectacularly Wrong in 2020

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

There have been a lot of stories about the death of the Republican Party since the end of the 2020 election. Republicans lost the presidency and ended up losing the Senate.

But since 2012 — including 2020 — Republicans have outperformed the polls in countless races. Democrats, despite some big wins in 2020, failed miserably to live up to the high expectations promised by their pollsters.

The five biggest Democratic pollsters got together, “put their egos aside, said one anonymous participant, and tried to figure out why up and down the ballot they got so many races so wrong.”

More than that, they want to know what they’ve been doing wrong since 2012.

“Twenty-twenty was an ‘Oh, s—‘ moment for all of us,” said one pollster, who was granted anonymity. “And I think that we all kinda quickly came to the point that we need to set our egos aside. We need to get this right.”

Politico:

According to Democrats involved with the internal review, Tuesday’s statement marks the beginning of a years-long process to examine why, since 2012, most major elections have tilted against the party, despite favorable polling data before the vote. Up and down the ballot, Democrats have been, more often than not, shell-shocked by defeats in races they thought to be competitive, or narrower-than-expected, victories in contests they thought they led comfortably.

Democrats are not alone in reviewing what went wrong last year. The polling industry is engaged in multiple reviews of its 2020 performance, including a forthcoming report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s task force that is expected to address the overestimation of Democrats’ performance, from the presidential race down to races for Congress and state offices.

The oft-cited reason by conservatives is that Republicans and conservatives refuse to participate in polling surveys. And it appears that there will finally be an acknowledgment that this is a primary factor in dubious polling.

There’s no simple answer for why the polls have missed the mark in recent elections. But one likely culprit for some of the errors is the deteriorating public trust in institutions, like government and the news media — and the correlation between that wariness and voting for Trump. Between his public statements and Twitter account, the former president cast doubt on polling specifically, which the Democratic consultants suggested led to his supporters refusing to participate in surveys.

But rather than blame the institution of polling and its sometimes overt biases, it appears that the culprit to be blamed is Donald Trump.

“Trump went after the polls,” said another Democratic pollster involved in the partnership. “He was really pretty overt to those that were listening about some of his distrust of polls or media.”

The fact is, pollsters don’t want to take the time to reach a fair number of Republicans. Part of that is financial. It costs money to reach out to people for their opinion and the longer it takes the more it costs.

Times is also a factor in the data gathered. In today’s political climate, events can impact a race every few hours. Data gathered during the first few days of polling would become obsolete if pollsters had to spend more time looking for Republicans to survey.

Polling is statistics analysis and there are ways to “weight” responses from certain groups so that even if you can’t get a decent number of responses, pollsters will assign a certain weight. It’s not a number drawn out of a hat, of course, but the process of weighting is part science, part creative.

Polling companies depend on accuracy to build a reputation and gain profits. They don’t want to get it wrong. But human beings — especially human beings the pollster doesn’t understand — don’t think the way they are projected to think. It seems clear that Trump has flummoxed the polling industry and may have changed it forever.