The 2020 election was far closer than we were led to believe it would be. Pollsters again got it very wrong.
Part of the reason was almost certainly that it was politically incorrect to say you supported President Trump. Who wants to tell some nice young person on the phone asking how you will vote that you are such an evil human?
What pollsters probably won’t admit is that few of them are Trump conservatives, and their own biases entered into the process.
Anyway, Democratic pollsters are trying to figure out what went wrong, and are at least admitting that something did.
According to Politico:
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 survey
“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 2020 election shattered turnout records — and since November, pollsters have been eagerly awaiting official information from the states about who voted, and who didn’t. That data is now almost entirely available, and there are clues hidden within.
The Democratic pollsters, who typically compete against each other for business, acknowledge that Trump was able to activate large numbers of voters who had turned out less reliably in the past. Looking at one state where the polls were off — Iowa, where Trump beat Biden handily and what had been seen as a toss-up Senate race went decisively for incumbent GOP Sen. Joni Ernst — Republicans classified as “low-propensity voters” turned out at four times the rate of Democrats in that category, according to the Democratic memo.
“This turnout error was clearly one factor in polling being off across the board, but especially in deeply Republican areas,” the memo reads. “It also meant, at least in some places, we again underestimated relative turnout among rural and white non-college voters, who are overrepresented among low propensity Republicans.”
But sky-high turnout for Trump among irregular voters only explains a small slice of the problem, the pollsters concluded. Even if the polls conducted last year were properly adjusted for future turnout, they still would have been biased toward Democrats.
The memo floats at least three possible causes: late movement toward Trump and Republican candidates that polls conducted in the run-up to the election failed to catch, the Covid pandemic causing people who stayed home to answer the phone at a greater rate than those who did not follow restrictions, and the decline of social trust and faith in institutions.