November 9, 2020
As of writing this Friday afternoon, there’s still no declared leader of the free world…
We’re waiting on final vote counts from a few states, but it’s looking like Joe Biden will be our next president.
Pollsters supposedly spent the last four years preparing against a 2016 repeat – hoping to better capture the Trump vote. Leading up to Election Day, the vast majority of polls showed Biden significantly ahead… And yet for many states, the race was incredibly tight.
How did the polls get it so wrong again?
Was it because COVID-19 influenced more people to mail in ballots this time? Or the polls just underestimated Trump’s improved support among Hispanic voters in Florida and Texas?
We think the bigger issue at hand is many Trump supporters have a hearty distrust of the media, and they lump pollsters right in with this group… causing them to lie or simply decline to talk to them at all.
Today, radio show host and American Consequences contributor Jason Rantz dives into why inferior polling is more than just misleading to the American public…
The Sneaky Dangers of Shoddy Polling
Polls got the 2020 election wrong… painfully wrong.
Despite assurances that pollsters learned their lessons and wouldn’t make the same mistakes again, it was a bigger failure than 2016. It almost seems intentional…
On the Thursday after Election Day, President Donald Trump blasted “phony polls” as a form of “election interference” that was intended to “create the illusion of momentum for Mr. Biden and diminish Republican’s ability to raise funds.” Hours later, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) echoed Trump’s sentiment to Sean Hannity, arguing “media polling is designed to suppress Republican votes.”
Now, no one expects polling to be perfect… Polls come with a margin of error. But the 2020 polls consistently failed in remarkably big ways. So much so that it’s fair to wonder if the pollsters, working with some unquestionably anti-Trump media outlets, purposefully delivered false or exaggerated results to depress Republican votes.
According to Real Clear Politics, the final polls from Economist/YouGov, CNBC/Change Research (D) and NBC News/Wall Street Journal each showed former Vice President Joe Biden whooping Trump by +10. That was nowhere near the reality of this election.
CNBC/Change Research (D) had Biden at +3 in Florida, where Trump won by +3. In Michigan, a CNN poll said Biden would win +12, when in reality he edged Trump by under 3+.
Wisconsin was particularly egregious… While NY Times/Siena gave Biden a 10+ lead, ABC News and the Washington Post showed the former VP with an astonishing +17 point lead. Biden beat Trump in Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes.
The polling was dire not just for Trump but Republicans in general… It fueled breathless reporting from outlets gleeful that we were on course for an epic shellacking.
CNN’s least interesting analyst Chris Cillizza amplified the inaccurate polling, suggesting Democrats could expand their House majority by up to 15 seats.
“It’s no longer a question of whether Democrats will pick up seats and grow their majority, it’s by how much,” promised CNN’s Simone Pathe in an article that turned out to be remarkably wrong.
It’s hard to understate the impact this kind of false polling and subsequent media messaging can have on close campaigns.
How many potential donors kept their money, thinking it would be wasted on an unwinnable race?
Polls suggested Lindsay Graham was almost certain to face defeat thanks to his Trump cheerleading. His Democratic challenger raised record amounts of money because of those rosy polls showing he could win and the media coverage it garnered. So desperate for donations to fend off what seemed like an inevitable defeat, Graham frequently begged for financial help on FOX News. It was for naught. It wasn’t even close… Graham won by 10 points.
How many voters didn’t even vote, thinking it was a lost cause?
In tight races, like in all the current battleground states, even a small percentage of lost voters matters. If you’re one of the so-called secret Trump supporters who hears the president is down 17 points in Wisconsin, you may give up and not even vote.
Intent is obviously difficult to prove… But the very same media outlets that spent four years criticizing Trump also happened to be attached to the very polls showing certain defeat… because of the very criticisms those media outlets presented. In other words, their own polls reinforced their own beliefs. How is that fair and unbiased reporting?
Some outlets also very clearly used the polls to forward their own analysts’ unlikely hopes and dreams, instead of using them to inform how they cover campaigns.
Could Texas finally turn blue? The polls say so! Republicans waging a war on women and shoving through a Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade will certainly result in a blue wave! That wave turned out to be red.
Not all polls were suspiciously misleading, of course. Trafalgar Group showed reasonably close polling but since it gave an edge to Trump, ironically, media outlets from the Washington Post to CNN called it out for being… “suspiciously misleading.”
And the polls suggesting Trump was making significant progress in bringing voters of color to the Republican party were dismissed, though they ended up being true.
It’s fair to note the explanation pollster Frank Luntz offers up on why the polls were so wrong again… “Trump supporters are difficult to poll.” They don’t want to participate due to their distrust for the media. (Ironically, they are suspicious of how polls would be used.)
But if Trump voters are so difficult to poll that the data is irredeemable, why conduct it to begin with? Because it helps set a media narrative. And the national media narrative, from the beginning of the Trump presidency, was to do whatever it could to keep him from serving a second term. After four years of relentless attacks, it looks like they may have succeeded.
Jason Rantz is a Seattle-based talk radio host on KTTH Radio, a frequent guest on Fox News, and a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonRantz.
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Managing Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke
November 9, 2020