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Polling Your Leg? The Pitfalls Of Predicting An Election

Empty voting booths are seen in Flint, Michigan at the Berston Fieldhouse polling place.
Empty voting booths are seen in Flint, Michigan at the Berston Fieldhouse polling place.

A lot of people woke up surprised the morning after Election Day in 2016. Instead of a President-elect Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump won. And that surprise was largely due to interpretations of political polling. It seemed like election modelers, politicos and anyone who paid attention to the numbers coming out of key battleground states were all saying that Trump didn’t really have much of a shot.

But over the course of Election Day in 2016, the political picture shifted in a big way, leading pollsters and political data nerds (yes, we’re talking about the Nates) to do a lot of soul searching.

Fast forward to 2020 and their performance this time around hasn’t done much little to inspire confidence in their work. The numbers being thrown around online and on network television suggested that Democrats could take back the Senate and a sweeping rebuke of the current administration. Instead, Republicans picked up seats in the House, over 73 million people voted for President Donald Trump and Democratic control of the Senate depends on winning two runoff elections in Georgia.

Find our last conversation about polls from after the 2016 election.

Do polls and election models get too much attention? Is it time the country moved on to something else?

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5

Kathryn Fink

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