Top Democratic Pollsters Detail What They Think Led Them To Blow The 2020 Election

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Andrew Trunsky Political Reporter
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A group of Democratic Party pollsters acknowledged “major errors” in their 2020 polling in an autopsy-like report discussing how they ended up wrong for the second presidential election in a row.

The firms, ALG Research, GBAO Strategies, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, Global Strategy Group and Normington Petts, said that they “failed to live up to expectations” in the joint report, but offered no comprehensive answer as to why they overestimated Democratic margins ahead of Election Day. The groups did, however, offer possible reasons as to why its polling was so inaccurate.

The groups first cited their underestimation of voter turnout, especially among low-propensity voters.

“We found our models consistently overestimated Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout in a specific way,” the report said. “Among low-propensity voters – people who we expect to vote rarely – the Republican share of the electorate exceeded expectations at four times the rate of the Democratic share.”

The report also said that pollsters could have failed to account for Americans who decided to vote for former President Donald Trump or other Republican candidates at the last minute, though it said it “probably did not play a major role.”

It also cited the pandemic as a possible driver of an unequal rate of response among Democrats and Republicans, since “voters with more progressive attitudes on COVID-19 were not only more likely to wear masks and stay home, but also more likely to answer our poll calls while conservatives remained harder to reach.” (RELATED: The Polls Were Wrong Again. Here’s How It Happened)

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first of three planned debates between the two candidates in the lead up to the election on November 3. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Then-President Donald Trump and then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Lastly, the report cited declining trust in social institutions like the government, media and polls altogether, which led to more conservative-leaning voters refusing to participate in surveys as a result. It added that Trump himself may have accelerated the distrust due to his attacks on the media and polls. (RELATED: ‘F*ck You, We Did A Good Job’: Nate Silver Defends His FiveThirtyEight’s Polling)

“Trump may have helped turn this into a problem for pollsters by attracting distrustful voters and making his most ardent supporters even more distrustful of other people, of the media, and perhaps even polling itself,” the report said. “That, in turn, could have made his supporters less likely to answer polls.” (RELATED: ‘I’m Furious’: DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos Reportedly Blames Polls For Democrat Losses In The House)

Despite the firms’ theories, they conceded that they did not have a concrete solution on how to poll accurately.

“How do we get people to participate in polls, if they won’t answer our phones, or respond to surveys online? We don’t have that answer yet,” the report said. “Our industry must figure out how to improve, and it is not going to be easy.”

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