The 2020 Polling Disaster
Posted: Jul 21, 2021 12:01 AM
As the last presidential election approached, one could sense that something was wrong with the polls. The race felt tighter than the polls indicated, and specifically, Joe Biden's solid lead in the polls felt less solid than the surveys suggested. As they had in 2016, pollsters appeared on their way to underestimating the vote for Donald Trump. That did not mean Trump was actually leading the race, or that he would win -- and in the end, he did not -- but that the contest was closer than the polls said.
Now it turns out that feeling was right. And the polls were not only wrong, but more wrong than they had been in decades, including their dismal performance in 2016. A new report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research has found that national election polls overstated Biden's lead over Trump by 3.9 percentage points. And state-level polls were even worse, overstating Biden's lead by 4.3 points.
The polls' performances in statewide races -- campaigns for senator and governor -- were worse still. There, they overstated the Democratic candidates' lead by an average of 6 percentage points.