Election Polls: A Look Behind the Numbers
As the 2020 presidential campaign ramps up, we’re getting hit almost daily with new candidate polls, often with wildly different results. Case in point, the most recent CNN poll shows Democratic candidate Kamala Harris plunged from second place with 17% support in June, to 5% support and tied for fourth place. Her strong debate performance gave her a nice early bump but that quickly dissipated in just a few weeks.
The media loves sharing polls because they are an easy news peg for stories and bite sized content to push out on digital platforms. And polls do have power. They help shape narratives and sway public opinion, nudge an undecided voter to one side or the other. Many people are still skeptical about polls after the 2016 election results but polling expert and FOG (friend of Grisko) Dave Fako of Fako Research & Strategies says that’s the wrong takeaway.
“The aggregate of the national polling was accurate, with some individual outliers. The misses were in some individual states and how the Electoral College lined up versus the national popular vote,” says Fako. “Although the public and media are more skeptical about polls after 2016, and even before, they shouldn’t be. Quality research conducted by public opinion researchers who adhere to strict methodologies and have adapted to the challenges of collecting data remain accurate, reliable and very useful internally and to the public and media.”
One of the big challenges Fako is referring to is a lack of cooperation by potential survey takers. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans willing to participate in telephone polls is at an all-time low. The increase in robocall trickery — especially the ones that make us think it is a local call — could be to blame, according to Pew.
Fako says reputable pollsters are consistently adapting to the challenges and using new methods of collecting data to ensure polls are accurate.
“Most of the focus is on correctly screening for likely voters, and on data collection methods with the utility of cell phone dialing, incorporating online surveys and mixed mode methodologies.”
The key to knowing whether a poll is credible is to understand the methodology behind the poll. Fako says that means pollsters should provide full disclosure including who paid for the survey, sample size and data collection methods. Of course, you might have to do a little digging to get the info since all that behind the scenes information won’t fit in a tweet.
If you’re a political poll junkie, RealClearPolitics is a great resource. The Chicago-based political hub aggregates all the polls and also provides news and in-depth analysis. You get lots of context with your data fix.
Of course, it’s still early to pay too much attention to poll results with the first primary/caucus still months away and the general election more than a year away.
About Fako Research & Strategies
Fako Research & Strategies is a national public opinion research firm based in suburban Chicago. Founded in 1998 by Dave Fako, they specialize in polling and strategic/organizational planning for political candidates, ballot initiative campaigns, public policy organizations, private sector companies and units of local government. Learn more at fakoresearch.com.