Political polling took a big hit after 2016, when many polls seemed to get it wrong about the presidential election. But pollsters assured the public that kinks had been worked out, and this year would be different.
A landslide from Joe Biden was predicted, but that has not been the case. How are pollsters justifying the continued use of polls?
“I think we have to separate the preelection horse race polling from the discipline as a whole in terms of this is one facet of it that’s filled with even more uncertainty and ambiguity because of assessing an unknown population,” said Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University.
With this election, Koning said there’s been a knee-jerk reaction to blame someone and that’s fallen on polling. However, she added that there’s a bit more nuance around the polls that’s larger than just a predictive tool. It can be used to explain the why and how of behaviors of voters during an election.
But there’s still room for improvement, like in Florida, Koning said.
Biden was predicted to win in the state, according to FiveThirtyEight, with a projected 50.9% and Trump with 48.4%. In reality, Trump now holds the lead with 51.24% and Biden with 47.85%, according to the Associated Press.
Sample sizes in Florida, particularly in Miami-Dade County, were partly why pollsters projected Biden would win the state, Koning said.
“Specifically, the Cuban American vote going for Trump there in large numbers,” she said. “Florida has all of these different crucial voting blocs and when you have a sample size of 1,000, that may mean you have, you know, 40 Cuban Americans that you’re sampling and you’re trying to extrapolate the opinions of an entire group with 40 people.”
Now, pollsters don’t know all of the problems that happened with polling this election, but Koning says, once full results are in, they’ll have a better idea. However, as with 2016 and now, statewide polling needs to be improved.
“We need to focus on the perfection of statewide polling given how our elections are won,” she said. “They’re not won by something that resembles a national polling—they’re won by something that resembles the Electoral College.”