The opinion research industry seems to be broken. As the counting of votes continues in several contested states, the partial results tell a different story than the polls in the last weeks before election day, which falsely predicted an almost landslide victory for the former vice president and a “blue wave” that brought the Democratic Party into control of the Senate and a larger majority in the House of Representatives.
But apparently the internal polls of both presidential campaigns, which remain hidden from the American public, directed the candidates to travel to states like Michigan and spend millions of dollars there, which according to one poll was a ban on Biden, and to stay away from states like Texas, which according to polls is expected to be a barrier.
Robert Cahaly, senior strategist and pollster at The Trafalgar Group, one of the few polling organizations that predict a win in 2016, said he has no insight into the results of internal campaign polls, but he knows that the problem lies with the organizations that conduct the polls that the public hears about.
Cahaly told Washington Newsday that most polling organizations are “VCR bollards in the Netflix age that only do things backwards.
He said the polling organizations have not changed their methods to keep up with changes in society.
“The idea that you call someone at home at 7:00 a.m. and they stop doing what they do, stop washing dishes, stop putting kids to bed and talk to someone to do a survey of 25, 30, 45 questions for 15 or 20 minutes, that’s crazy,” he said. “That’s not happening. You can’t catch the average American doing it. Nobody lives like that anymore. Life moves too fast.”
Trafalgar was successful, Cahaly said, because his organization developed questionnaires that take 3-5 minutes to complete, with 7-9 questions and accompanying models that include a “fingerprint” of voters with 57 characteristics.
He said that other confusing elements prevent most pollsters from getting Trump voters to speak.
Trump is a candidate “who is right in the middle of the bias toward social desirability,” Cahaly told Washington Newsday. He described this bias as the tendency of a person being asked a poll question for fear of a negative judgment about their true opinion and trying to avoid that judgment by answering the question in a way that looks better in the eyes of the questioner. Simply put, people tend to tell pollsters what they want to hear.
Some Trump proponents probably gave pollsters answers that were not necessarily true, while others simply refused to participate in surveys.
For those who follow these races closely, there is another question: Why are the private polls that are conducted for candidates so different from the polls that are available to the public?
The discrepancy between campaign internal private polls and other polls that are disseminated in the news and available to the public during the presidential campaigns has contributed to increasing public distrust of the polls, a crisis of confidence.
According to a Hill TV/Harris poll in October 2019, 34% of respondents said they believed most of the results of political polls but did not trust certain sources. A further 32% said that they do not believe most of the results, but trust certain sources. Another 22% said they almost never believe survey results, compared to 11% who said they almost always believe them.
Evidence of the polling industry’s failure to accurately predict results in many places and at many races is found in a survey conducted October 20-25 among voters in Michigan and Wisconsin. An ABC News/Washington Post survey conducted by Langer Research Associates found that Biden in Wisconsin has a 17% lead over Donald Trump. On Friday morning, Biden was predicted as the winner in Wisconsin with a lead of less than 1% of the votes counted.
In the same survey by Langer Research Associates conducted for ABC News and the Washington Post, Biden had a 7% lead in Michigan, where he was reported to have won 2.7% on Friday morning with 99% of the reported votes.
What did the campaigns know that the rest of us didn’t