Democrats and Republicans Criticize Pollsters’ Failures

November 4, 2020 Updated: November 5, 2020

When pollsters doing The New York Times/Siena College Poll completed their final tabulations before Election Day, they said former Vice President Joe Biden enjoyed big leads over President Donald Trump in four key battleground states.

“Joseph R. Biden Jr. holds a clear advantage over President Trump across four of the most important presidential swing states, a new poll shows, bolstered by the support of voters who did not participate in the 2016 election and who now appear to be turning out in large numbers to cast their ballots, mainly for the Democrat,” the NY Times reported two days before voters went to the polls on Nov. 3.

Biden “is ahead of Mr. Trump in the Northern battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, as well as in the Sun Belt states of Florida and Arizona, according to a poll of likely voters conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.

“His strength is most pronounced in Wisconsin, where he has an outright majority of the vote and leads Mr. Trump by 11 points, 52 percent to 41 percent,” the NY Times said. Biden also had leads in the poll of 6 points in Pennsylvania and Arizona, and 3 points in Florida.

Twenty-four hours later, those predictions were blown away by voters. As of press time on Nov. 4, Trump, not Biden, won in Florida and Pennsylvania, while Wisconsin is so close, with Biden leading by less than 1 percent, that the Trump campaign has requested a recount. Only the Arizona prediction proved accurate, with the Trump campaign remaining hopeful of ultimately winning there, as Biden leads there, though only by 3 points, not 6.

The Times survey was far from unique among major national pollsters in getting it wrong in the four states in the final hours before voting. The ABC/Washington Post survey, for example, put Biden ahead of Trump by 17 points in Wisconsin just before the voting.

As for the national-level polling, the RealClearPolitics average of 13 major surveys taken during the final week of the campaign gave Biden a 7.5 point lead over Trump, pointing to a decisive win for the Democrat.

The problem is not unique to the United States, as pollsters in Great Britain predicted citizens there in 2016 would overwhelmingly vote to remain in the European Union; instead they were 52-48 percent in favor of leaving.

Pollsters there also reported the Conservatives would win a slim majority in Parliament last year. In fact, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party won its biggest majority since 1987 in the Margaret Thatcher era.

Democrats Criticize

Noting that the same problems happened four years ago in the U.S. presidential contest, campaign strategists and advocates from both major political parties strongly criticized pollsters in interviews Wednesday with The Epoch Times, accusing them of over-sampling Democrats and failing to account for “shy” Trump voters who hesitate to discuss their views.

Kevin Chavous, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist, said “the biggest loser last night, in my opinion, was the entire polling industry, especially when it comes to state-specific polls.

“They were just way off, even more so than in 2016.  Many major polls had Joe Biden winning by double digits as recent as five days prior to the election.”

Chavous pointed to shy Trump supporters as prominent among multiple factors in the pollsters’ inaccuracies, but he cautioned that it “could account for some of the polling misses, but not all of them.”

Cristina Antelo, a Democratic strategist who founded Ferox Strategies, also pointed to the “shy” Trump supporters.

“Pollsters just don’t know how to take Trumpism into account. They will come up with some analysis that says they weren’t as wrong as it seems they are now, but they are missing an entire sentiment and block of folks and just don’t know how to correct for it,” Antelo said.

“And if Trumpism sticks around, that will be continue to be an issue going forward,” she warned.

Republicans Criticize

Republicans and conservatives were no less sparing to the pollsters, with Potomac Strategy Group’s Matt Mackowiak declaring that 2020’s “polling was laughably bad, with very few exceptions. Public polling is cheap, poorly done, and regularly oversamples Democrats. The entire industry should be razed and go back to statistics class.”

And Seton Motley, founder and president of Less Government explained that, “we distrust the pollsters because they begin with their desired result, and then poll to reach it.”

Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz told The Epoch Times that “there are some pollsters who did get it right, or at least closer to the final outcome, including Rasmussen and Trafalgar,” but he said most “undercounted Republicans by at least 4-5 percentage points.”

Similarly, Taxpayers Protection Alliance President David Williams observed that “the methods the pollster are using are outdated and not indicative of what people really think. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that spending on political pollsters is a waste of money. If I made as many mistakes as the pollsters, I would be out of a job.”

Of “shy” Trump voters, Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commissioner (FEC) who now heads the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative, said they exist because “folks who put Biden signs in their lawns don’t worry about being vandalized. Folks who put out Trump signs do.”

Brian Darling, former senior counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), suggested that shy Trump voters from 2016 should have been found by 2020 but weren’t because pollsters “seemed to make no effort to poll the masses of Americans who show up at Trump rallies and participate in Trump boat parades.”

Zach Friend, a former Battleground State Press Secretary for Obama for America, cautioned that “the greater challenge here isn’t whether individual or even aggregated polls were inaccurate, but that the faith in these methods will continue to erode.”

Polls should be viewed as snapshots “of a sample of people that is believed to be representative of the greater population” at a given moment,” he said.

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc