There Are Polls…And The Polls

I get just as worried as anyone else over those polls that our media outlets obsess over–the ones that find more Americans voting for Mr. Mental Case than for President Biden. But I know I shouldn’t.

Over the past several years, in election cycle after election cycle, even opinion polls produced by highly credible sources have proved to be wrong, and not by just a little. There are a lot of reasons for the misses–ever since cell phones replaced land lines, efforts by those conducting the surveys to compensate, to adjust in order to ensure they are surveying representative groups of voters, have proven inadequate.

A recent post to Daily Kos reminded me why we should take all polls–with the exception of actual voting at the election polls–with a heaping measure of salt.

The post began by reminding readers of Congress’ abysmal polling–and the fact that, despite overwhelming disapproval, incumbent representatives get re-elected more than 90% of the time. (We used to refer to this as the “I hate Congress but love my own Congressperson” problem.)

It is difficult to square these high reelection rates with Americans’ overall low opinion of Congress. Gallup tracking polls of Americans’ opinions of Congress over the past twenty years reveal that rarely do more than 25 percent of Americans approve of Congress and frequently their approval is down in the 14-20 percent range. In one recent Gallup survey, as few as 9 percent of people approved of the way Congress was handling its job.

The post– written by someone who is himself a political pollster–went on to explain:

There is a lot of bad data out there, mostly because of the fact that it is almost impossible to collect it.  So when I tell you there is a lot of bad polling, almost all of it, it does not mean I think the polling is intentionally bad, or done with a purpose of propaganda.  It just means that Republicans are much, much easier to reach than Democrats.  I have spoken about this before.  It is one of the biggest reasons I saw the 2022 election going differently than most.

What the pollsters did not figure out, however, is that this is not a problem that can be fixed with weighting.  As I have said, a young person that talks on the phone, is more conservative than one that likes to text.  Generally, this cuts across all demographics.  Republicans are more likely to participate…

As Michael Podhorzer has demonstrated, pollsters influence outcomes by letting their own biases and intuitions tilt poll results by deciding who to include in the sample. A month before its late-October 2022 poll showing a four-point deficit, the Times/Siena showed Dems up by two points. In the October story, the Times/Siena showed Biden losing ground among independents and women. But as Podhorzer writes, “What the paper didn’t disclose was this: Independent voters hadn’t changed their minds; the New York Times changed its mind about which Independents would vote.”

Perhaps the most significant insight in this particular post is this: support doesn’t change. Turnout does. Political preferences tend to be stable; in today’s highly polarized political environment, self-identified Republicans and Democrats are highly unlikely to go to the polls and cast a vote for a candidate of the other party.

The motivation to go to the polls–the motivation to cast that vote–is another matter.

The number one thing to remember about polling, is that after about 2000, for the most part, bases solidified and voters do not often change their minds.  Partisanship has hardened.  All elections are about turnout.  While independents may be in a sour mood, they are also displaying nihilistic tendencies, and my research suggests the most likely scenario is one that makes 2024 a base election.

Permit me to repeat the most important insight in that paragraph: All elections are about turnout. 

Democrats did extremely well this November, because they turned out. Thanks to the Dobbs decision and the unremitting MAGA attacks on democracy and the rule of law, Democrats have been motivated to turn out in much higher numbers than usual. That motivation is likely to persist into 2024.

If there is a moral to this story, it’s this: don’t try to “get through” to your bigoted uncle at Thanksgiving. Don’t try to explain to your co-worker why his vote for the GOP is really a vote for cutting Social Security. Instead, make sure your college-age children, your live-and-let-live bowling buddy, and your pro-choice aunt are registered and that they have rides to the polls.

You know–those polls that (contrary to the Big Lie) are actually accurate and meaningful.


  1. We gave up our NY Times subscription because of this stupid reporting. Hubby had it “paused” and tried to cancel it but as soon as he unpaused it in order to cancel, it automatically charged us for another month. Then he could cancel but by then, he was furious! Follow the money, like JoAnn says!

    I’m impressed with the turnout of election since 45 took office. I think the media love affair with him has allowed people that usually don’t care or don’t follow politics to see the mania with him. The Dobbs decision has been a boom for liberals to take back our government! Well done Supreme Court! Removing a right after 50 years has proven that not only women, but men that support women are coming out in droves. 🙂 Great strategy GOP!

    The new speaker is going to release 400 or was it 4000 hours of video, of January 6th. Be careful what you wish for!

  2. Ive seen several articles saying Trump and MAGA is a threat to democracy. With the constitution in place the most any one person in the Presidency is effect policy. There are great restraints on power in such a document. What is a threat o democracy is that almost 500 affidavits of election fraud were not heard. Amy Tottenburg is allowing a case to go thru in Georgia substantiating fraud is effecting democracy as it takes away from voters rights with a fraudulent votes. We see democracy challenged in all sorts of races now, one being the mayoral race in Connecticut. Fraud not Trump or MAGAs who are patriotic citizens who hold right of center view are a threat. The weaponization of the FBI, the IRS and DOJ, all threats to a democracy. The biggest threat is an unbalnced budget year by year. $ 380 billion being handed iut fir climate change initiatives that sway the market and pad the pockets of ESG companies. All unconstitutional acts by Biden and Obama.
    Lets not forget Obamacare opposed by 70% of the voters and blue collar unions.
    Conservatives last time I checked were tge ones giving false data out saying they would vote differently because of big brother watching over their shoulder.
    Bidens policies are a threat to democracy and Obama was correct, If anyone can screw it up, its Biden. Nn President has created 7.5% inflation in fifty years. The poor are getting slammed.
    Their democracy, the US govt in full political corruptive swing is doing them great damage.

  3. Getting out the vote IS the watch word. There are, obviously, wild ideas of conspiracy out there.

  4. As I recall, the polls back in November 2016 had Hillary Clinton as a shoe-in and we all went to bed peacefully that night, confident in that “knowledge”, only to awaken to a nightmare.
    And to John S: among the many misconceptions in your rant, President Biden didn’t “create” the high inflation we’ve been experiencing—that’s a global woe resulting from the pandemic. His policies, however, have reined it in and brought it down more than economists thought possible, along with averting a recession—despite what the MAGA tropes say.

  5. John S.,

    What flavor of Kool-aid did you drink? Did I miss your irony?

    All this polling stuff is fun for Thanksgiving dinner conversation when you want to cull next year’s invitation list, but the bottom line is, of course, TURNOUT. That’s turnout to vote while we still can. The Trumpian monsters, especially the egregious Steve Bannon, will do EVERYTHING they can to disenfranchise the coming election. It won’t matter that Trump is in handcuffs or prison, he will be martyred by the mindless in an attempt to reduce the voter turnout. My question remains: How do these two seditious bastards still get to walk around and spread their fascist hate for anything not them?

    We’ve been down this road before as Rachel Maddow’s new book, “Prequel” illustrates. Sinclair Lewis’ prescient book, “It Can’t Happen Here” is getting re-read by many… including me. It IS happening here, but as opposed to what was happening in the 1930s, the leading candidate is NOT Huey Long, but a deeply disturbed psychopath who is not very smart to begin with. We’ve ALWAYS had the % of aggrieved and self-pitied, but this time, the bullhorn is MUCH louder than in the 1930s.

    If we don’t vote, then stand up to the following insurrection, we will face the same fate as Nazi Germany. Think of Stephen Miller as the Secretary of Education or, worse, the vice-President.

  6. John S: Trump is on the record saying the Constitution must be replaced after his re-election. He is also 0 for 60 in court in support of his stolen election claim, because he has NO evidence. Give it up.

  7. As anyone who recently has worked an election phone bank can tell you, few answer calls from unknown numbers. Most let the call flip to voice mail or just reject the call. One morning before the municipal election, I made about 200 calls and got through to about 20 people. If I’d been a pollster rather than an advocate, I wouldn’t find much useful data. I salute polling experts who try to make their work valuable, but it gets harder and harder.

  8. John S., I have, for some time now, simply skipped past your screed.
    Are you actually Karl Rove?
    I probably said this here before, but humans are very poor at predicting the future, how we’ve twisted the past is another issue, but if it was polls that predicted that Truman would loose, they don not have a great pedigree.

  9. Seems to me that way too many people think the office of the President has powers that are not the privilege of that office.

    Maybe we need to start teaching U.S. Government and Civics classes again in school to educate the young uns who then might be able to educate their elders and put an end to the spewing of falsehoods based on their ignorance of the mechanisms of who is responsible for what.

  10. Did anybody else see the facial contortions and grimaces coming from Sec. Blinken as Pres. Biden spoke during the Xi/China conference?

    He looked physically ill at one point. It was an informal poll leading to motivation for hitting the polls, but not in the way the Democrats will expect.

    Lots of independents and lefties saw his many expressions and reiterated their support for Cornell West or RFK, Jr., especially when Biden called Xi a “dictator.”

    Who can trust a poll in 2023 considering cell phones vs. landlines?

    With populism on the rise, thinking that the 2024 election is about Biden and Trump is a mistake. Biden may lose enough leftists and independents to have the election fall right into Trump’s lap. Democracy at work or the rise of Fascism?

  11. I hope more people like myself vote against Trump. I didn’t vote for him in the last election because I think he is a problem. That was the first time I think I voted at all.
    And I will vote against him again even though I’m skeptical about whether my vote counts in any way. I tend to believe George Carlin’s viewpoint that it’s all theatre and a big club that I’m not privy to.

  12. Opinion polls seemed to have taken a nose dive since 2000. (Sarcasm) I wonder if there is a poll out there to see who is more likely to answer the phone broken down by political beliefs (end sarcasm). The reason I ask is it’s an interesting supposition, and one that I’m not sure I believe, but in this age of worthless polls, how do you really find out?

    I suspect the truth of who will answer the phone is more likely age related and I think it’s is true that older people are more likely to be “conservative”.

    I do remember the polls about the “red wave” that turned out to be a dribble. It’s expensive to run polls and the valid ones were run early in that mid-term year. They showed Dem’s holding their own. After two teenagers working to pad college resumes ran a cheap and not so scientific poll predicting a republican landslide and right wing media picked up on it, more right wing organizations ran their own cheap and not so scientific polls and if you didn’t look too closely at the source of the information it looked like there was going to be a “red wave”. We all know how that turned out.

    I agree that turn out is key.

    People on the partisan extremes won’t change their minds and John S proves that point. It’s also a tribute the great propaganda echo-sphere that Republicans have created such a cohesive block of partisan voters and goes a long way toward explain why even though people are really dissatisfied, they keep voting the exact same way.

  13. My hunch is the explanation for “hate X but vote for MY X” is that in the voting booth, most aren’t happy with any of the choices and feel forced to vote against the “greater of 2 evils”.

    AFTER voting, confirmation bias kicks in subconsciously to elevate voters’ views and justify their choices.

  14. This thread would’ve been apropos 6 weeks ago… Since the advent of Biden’s endorsement for genocide,things have changed. Biden, as the segregationist , can’t let go of his penchant for those of different skin color from his own being violently turned into pink mist.

  15. Polls show direction, not outcome. Current direction is that minorities and young people are turning away (compared to before) from Biden. Outcome? Based on past history, they won’t vote for The Duck, they will vote for 3rd parties or not at all. The “Duckies” will turn out in droves; you can count on that.

    As for postcards, door knocking and phone banking – unless the person you are contacting knows or knows of YOU, unlikely to do much. The secret sauce is “peer-to-peer” campaigning – pretty proven to be at least 10x more effective.

  16. Three small points, since it is Saturday –

    Suzanne – contrary to the people who don’t want you to vote, it does matter. In 2010, I put together a presentation on why the mid-terms mattered and why each vote counts. Prime slide – a list of congressional elections won by 4 or 2 or 1 vote. If nobody votes but me, I make the decision; if you don’t vote, you give your vote to — probably some MAGA supporter.

    Point 1 1/2 – supporting third parties gave us Nixon and George W – or bomb Cambodia and torture isn’t torture if it is done by us, as I call them (sadly both preferable to the previous guy – each actually did one or two good things)

    Everyone – feeding trolls causes their influence to expand and overwhelm the constructive conversation – we have a couple here – Sheila lets them post, which is proper, but we don’t have to feed them, and facts to not matter the them.

    Sheila and Lester make great points – the poll that counts is the one on election day, and peer to peer persuasion is probably the most effective thing anyone can do.

  17. I see that we have a few victims of Goebbelspeak at work in Sheila’s effort today who have substituted groundless theory for evidence, and as for the predictions in re faulty polls I am reminded of Mark Twain’s famous observation that “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Polls are reports. The Democratic Party and defenders of democracy have not yet begun to fight; the only problem in winning is, as usual, turnout.

    The fact is that there are many more Democrats than Republicans in this country, that women are rightly turning out in droves to protect their reproductive health, and that Republicans have decided to run a demented psychopath who may well be a felonious jailbird by the fall of ’24, and with the enormous successes of Biden’s leadership, a strong economy and angry women Democrats will elect whoever they nominate and remove the Republican Puritans and election deniers from the House while adding to their current narrow Democratic majority in the Senate – subject, as always, to turnout. Of course, the ultimate test is not who is in the majority; it’s who and how many vote.

    Whoever would have guessed that our collective futures would be measured by arithmetic? Our task? Talk daily of our Democratic successes and Republican failures with our friends and neighbors and yes, those crazy uncles who show up for T-Day.

  18. Thank you Vernon Turner for your comment. My head was spinning before I read your comment. I think he must have been a troll or….he has bought into the conn man’s corrupt message.

  19. Regardless of the polls, never take anything for granted.

    If I may just say something about Mr. Biden’s support for Israel, I would like everyone to understand that he knows that he can’t oppose Israel publicly and speak effectively to Mr. Netanyahu. He is putting pressure on Netanyahu to stop the slaughter and provide humanitarian aid. The thing he’s not seeming to get is that the only way get through to a would-be dictator is to withdraw funding. It’s kind of refreshing to see a politician who isn’t changing what he’s saying just to win polling.

  20. Biden is not supporting Israel. He is supporting Netanyahu and Likud.

    I see the usual chorus-girls/DNC operatives would rather we bury our heads in the sand than to acknowledge the white elephant in the room.

  21. Any apparatchik care to comment about the peaceful protest outside of DNC hq that turned into Chicago 1968?

  22. Gerald – WADR, while there are more folks willing to say they are DEMs than GOP, there are increasingly fewer (including Blacks, Latinos and young people) and the largest (and ever-growing) “party” are those neither DEM nor GOP – IMHO, fed up and increasingly distrusting of both politicians and government – not a good sign for ’24.

  23. I looked at the results of some polls by Nate Silver, who has been more accurate than most in the past. His results suggest that the percent of people who disapprove of Trump and who disapprove of Biden are essentially equal.

    Now, why are his polls better than most? Silver’s people don’t take polls. They look at the polls that several other companies take, and dig into them. They look at the demographics and economics of the areas in which the people responding live, and use that information to “weight” the responses. So they get a more sophisticated “image” of how people think. That is a very brief description of how he gets his numbers.

    His book, “The Signal and the Noise” is interesting reading.

  24. To Suzanne — I am appalled that you listen to George Carlin for guidance in doing your civil duty! Carlin was a comedic entertainer — you don’t take his rants seriously (and I’m a fan of Carlin’s).

    People have died to protect, gain and retain our VOTE. Even though the Electoral College, a despicable remnant from 1804 to appease slave-holding states, allows this country to ignore majority rule in close elections, we still need to get out and vote. Watch the videos from the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge where people got their heads bashed in to defend their RIGHT to vote. No one is laughing in that video. Between 1909 and 1914 women suffragettes were forced fed after being arrested while protesting their lack of the vote. No was laughing in those prisons. And, nobody was laughing on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 as they charged headlong into Nazi fire-power in order to prevent Western Europe’s take-over by a ruthless dictator.

    Suzanne, I hope you are a young person who will change your viewpoint. Please, please get out and vote. It’s the least you can do to promote and preserve Democracy!!

    And thanks, Vernon – I thought I was correctly interpreting John S.’s comments yesterday. (See Rose’s comment about my comment.)

Comments are closed.