Pollsters Don't Seem Very Confident Ahead of Midterms

Polls are looking up for Dems in all the same places they were in 2020, when they were wrong
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2022 3:22 PM CDT
Polls May Be Setting Dems Up for Another Big Letdown
   (Getty - liveslow)

If past performance is any indication, polls ahead of this year’s midterm elections may be setting Democrats up for another major letdown. That’s according not only to pundits but also the pollsters themselves, who according to Politico have been wringing their hands and tweaking their methods ever since the 2016 election forced a reckoning in the industry. Postmortems back then alerted pollsters to a new breed of voter: Trump supporters, a considerable chunk of whom are hard to reach or simply refuse to participate in polls, therefore skewing results toward Democrats.

Despite significant adjustments aimed at reaching more non-college educated voters and those without landlines, most pollsters bombed again in 2020. Biden won, but the margins were far narrower than predicted, especially in many battleground states. Indeed, 2020 polls were the least accurate in four decades, and the industry doesn’t seem to know why. As the New York Times’ Nate Cohn puts it, the polling community essentially "declared that it was 'impossible' to definitively ascertain what went wrong in the 2020 election." Since then, pollsters have continued the handwringing, but they haven’t made major changes, hoping instead that Trump’s absence on the ballot will relieve the poll-skewing effect of his supporters.

Polls are looking relatively rosy for Democrats, contrary to traditional wisdom that shows a president’s party underperforms in midterms, especially in an uncertain economy. Some pundits say Democrats have legitimate momentum on their side, thanks to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision and the fact that lots of Republican candidates have very low favorability ratings, per the Washington Post. Democrat candidates also outperformed polls in recent special elections in New York and Alaska. But as the Times also points out, the strong Dem polls are appearing in the exact same battleground states pollsters botched in 2020. For example, in Wisconsin, Democrat Mandela Barnes shows a seven-point lead over incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson; in 2020, polls showed Biden at +8, but he won the state by less than a point. (More 2022 midterms stories.)

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