Donald Trump

Why Were Polls So Wrong in the 2020 Election? We Asked Some Pollsters.

The vast majority of polls leading up to the presidential election showed the Democrat ahead in almost every battleground, and not for the first time

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Ask most people how they feel about polling this week, as the future presidency remains in the balance, and you’ll get an earful.

“We need a rehabilitation of the entire system,” said Sumaira Ahmed of Brookline.

“I just think they’re too unpredictable,” said Tracy Bindel of Jamaica Plain.

That’s because the vast majority of polls leading up to Tuesday’s presidential election showed Joe Biden ahead in almost every battleground. 

While Democratic challenger Joe Biden is "comfortably ahead" of President Donald Trump in the polls, Director of Suffolk University's Political Research Center David Paleologos said people should expect to see red and blue shifts as votes are counted. Paleologos estimates that unless Biden wins by a landslide, it could be days or even weeks until we know the final results.

It happened before. In 2016, polls showed Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump, leaving Democrats crushed when the votes were tallied.

“I believe in stats, but it’s also undeniable that the polls have been off for two presidential contests and they’ve been off in the same direction: undercounting Donald Trump,” UMass Boston professor Erin O’Brien said.

She doesn’t think Trump supporters are lying to pollsters, she said. “Rather, I think that Trump supporters view pollsters in the same realm as elites.”

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Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center said that isn't surprising.

“For the last five years, Trump has been talking about fake news and fake polls,” he said. 

The industry is going through a paradigm shift, according to Smith, moving away from polling by phone to web-based surveys. 

“And in this election, our poll was dead on in predicting Biden and Trump support here in New Hampshire,” he noted.

David Paleologos, of Suffolk University‘s Political Research Center, said he's hoping that's good for polling. 

“That shakes out pollsters who are just in it for the attention and not in it for the research,” he said. 

Now, the industry is working to figure it out, according to Paleologos. “I’m trying to get my fellow pollsters to consider doing just rural ... voters to get into the mindset ... if in fact they are under-counted.”

Most pollsters are confident polling will remain relevant, because journalists, academics and the general public have become so reliant on it. 

As votes continue to be counted in the remaining battleground states, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke briefly to the press on Thursday to call for the continued counting of legally cast ballots. “Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.”
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