Former President Donald Trump repeatedly denounces “fake polls” and “voter suppression polls,” mocking the pollsters for their inability to get to his supporters – and the pollsters are struggling to evolve.
Striking a balance on how to closely model the electorate has perplexed pollsters in the Trump era, failing to show the true height of his support in 2016 or 2020, but they are at least willing to acknowledge a problem.
“I think there’s more of a willingness to try different things and have this discussion,” Democrat pollster Nick Gourevitch of Global Strategy Group told Politico.
Trump’s phrase “voter suppression polls” refers to polls that oversample Democratic voters over Republicans and independents, often showing an outsized bias for Democrats, giving them such a large lead that Trump voters decide to not vote, Trump has argued.
As Trump voters had increasingly declined to answer phones to talk to pollsters, they were forced to find alternative methods of reaching those who did not want to participate. Pollsters have ditched land lines for cell phones, but even those did not truly measure the level of Trump’s support in 2016 or 2020, according to the report.
“These things are only getting harder,” a pollster told Politico. “So if you’re just doing the same thing, it’s only going to get worse.”
Scouring registered voter rolls and reaching the electorate online has been increasing popular, particularly through internet links from text messages, according to the report.
“The future’s multi-modal,” Republican pollster David Kanevsky told Politico at a recent pollster conference where data scientists discussed the future of the industry. “We’re going to reach you any way we can.”
The problem comes when the new routes to reach the voters contain the same bias that Trump has been mocking for years now.
“For us, any experimentation in real time has consequences,” North Star Opinion Research’s Dan Judy, a Republican pollster, told Politico. “You have to be careful about what you’re doing. If you try it the old way, and the old way is dead, then you end up with 2020.
“But if you try something new, and the new way is also improper, maybe you get a different result — but it could also be wrong. That’s what keeps you awake at night, trying to strike that balance.”
Judy has more confidence in the 2022 midterm polling methods than a potential Trump election in 2024, he told Politico, “because I feel like what we know works is still likely to work in this midterm.
“But in the next presidential, that’s when things are going to get dicey,” he concluded.
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