The Problem With Polling — And How To Fix It

Nov 24, 2020

Election 2020 again proved there’s a problem with polling. But when it comes to understanding the electorate, are there any better options? We discuss the problems with polling, and how to fix it.  


Natalie Jackson, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). (@nataliemj10)

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Scott Keeter, senior survey advisor at the Pew Research Center.

W. Joseph Campbell, professor of communication studies at American University. Author of “Lost in a Gallup.”

From The Reading List

Nieman Lab: “Did the polls fail again? It’s complicated.” — “Four years ago, polls indicated that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would handily beat her Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump. Based on those polls, one prominent election forecaster, Princeton University neuroscience professor Sam Wang, even called the race for Clinton several weeks before Election Day, promising to eat an insect if he was wrong.”

Wall Street Journal: “What Went Wrong With the Polls This Year?” — “Tuesday’s election results delivered a second black eye for the nation’s pollsters in as many presidential contests as well as the unmistakable message that they have misjudged their ability to measure political opinion in an era of cellphones, polarization and Donald Trump.”

The Conversation: “In its troubled hour, polling could use an irreverent figure to reset expectations” — “Polling is hardly a flamboyant field that attracts a lot of colorful characters. It is a rather reserved profession that now finds itself under siege in the aftermath of yet another polling surprise in a national election.”

Undark: “In Fallout Over Polls, ‘Margin of Error’ Gets New Scrutiny” — “When pollsters, journalists, and pundits want to signal that an opinion poll may not be right on target, they often turn to a familiar metric: the margin of error.”

New York Times: “What Went Wrong With Polling? Some Early Theories” — “Asking for a polling post-mortem at this stage is a little bit like asking a coroner for the cause of death while the body is still at the crime scene. You’re going to have to wait to conduct a full autopsy.”

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