Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump in 3 battleground states according to a new poll conducted by Fox News. The former VP has the advantage among voters in Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. All 3 states were won by the president over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The Fox News poll was conducted by 2 polling companies, one Democratic and one Republican, over July 18-20, 2020.
The election is still over three months away and 2020 has been a year of sudden, unpredictable events such as the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests and violence after the death of George Floyd.
USA Today reported on the skepticism the public has with regard to the accuracy of polling data. They quoted David Burgess of Kittery, ME expressing his doubts about polls in general. “They predicted Hillary Clinton would win, and she didn’t,” Burgess said. “Voters are like an iceberg. (With polls), you just see the tip of the iceberg. You don’t see the rest of the iceberg. You don’t know who they’re going to vote for.” Ellen Chaput, a nurse from Portsmouth, agreed with Burgess about the viability of polls. “They’ve got it wrong before,” she said. “I don’t pay any attention to them.”
A pharmaceutical consultant from Staten Island, NY, Helaine Dandrea, offered a different reason for polling data to be wrong: biases on the part of the pollsters. She contended that many Trump supporters don’t tell pollsters they are backing the president because they don’t feel comfortable doing so. “People tend to be afraid because there’s a lot of aggression,” she said. “People tend to keep their opinions to themselves.”
Courtney Kennedy, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, and Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll, are two pollsters who contended that those taking surveys learned from the mistakes of 2016. Franklin blamed unforeseen circumstances for the errors of the last presidential election polls. “It taught us the lesson that there really isn’t safety in numbers because it is possible for a systematic error or change in the last minute of the election to make everybody wrong, and that’s what we saw in 2016,” he said. The two pollsters claimed that two major factors caused the errors in the 2016 polls: over-sampling of college-educated voters and failure to properly sample late-deciding voters. Both Kennedy and Franklin said that their polls are now corrected to eliminate these weaknesses, but neither was willing to rule out the possibility that 2020 polls might be just as inaccurate as those taken in 2016.
In 2016 pollsters achieved a level of failure that was almost without parallel in American presidential political history. In August of 2016, 104 polls were published concerning voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In 101 of them Clinton was leading, with 2 ties. Only one poll on Pennsylvania had Trump with a lead. Fifteen of the polls had Clinton leading by double-digit margins.
The recent questioning of the accuracy of polls predates the 2016 presidential election. In June 2016 voters in the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union despite the vast majority of polls indicating a win for the “stay” side.