In just a matter of a few days, two polls came out with completely different findings.
One found that President Joe Biden would easily defeat former President Donald Trump in a hypothetical 2024 election matchup, but also found that Biden would lose if he faced Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
The WPA Intelligence survey released on January 13 found Biden would beat Trump 49% to 41%, but lose to DeSantis 45% to 42%.
A few days later, a Morning Consult poll found Trump with a 17-point lead over DeSantis in a hypothetical GOP primary matchup. The poll, released Wednesday, showed Trump with 48% compared to DeSantis’ 31%.
The polls are all over the place — just take a look at the collection of surveys compiled by Real Clear Politics. Of course, there are still 656 days until Election Day 2024, so it’s understandable.
But nationwide surveys on politics have been losing cache for the last few election cycles. There are a bunch of reasons for that, but chief among them are two: 1) many pollsters insist on using landlines, and millions of Americans have long ago moved on from those, and 2) many people no longer talk openly about their political views.
Say ABC News calls Joe Blough in Topeka, Kansas, to talk 2024. If Joe’s a conservative, he might decide not to play along at all, or he might mute his real beliefs and come across as more of an undecided. And if Joe’s got only a cell phone, he might not get a call at all.
What’s more, pollsters often skew the numbers of those surveyed. For instance, a poll might take data from 36% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans, and 35% of self-described independents. That, too, leads to faulty findings.
The polls got it mostly wrong in 2016. While they were pretty close on the popular vote, they badly missed the mark in key swing states that tilted the Electoral College toward Trump, including Florida and North Carolina.
Pew Research, which produces some of the most accurate polls out there, took a look at the accuracy of the 2020 polls.
“Most preelection polls in 2020 overstated Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in the national vote for president, and in some states incorrectly indicated that Biden would likely win or that the race would be close when it was not,” Pew wrote. These problems led some commentators to argue that “polling is irrevocably broken,” that pollsters should be ignored, or that “the polling industry is a wreck, and should be blown up.”
Pew also noted a huge problem with polls. For example, in 2020, just 67% of those eligible voted, while 80 million Americans did not. But surveys usually just poll Americans, with no concern on whether they’ll actually cast a ballot.
“[N]early all of Pew Research Center’s public opinion polling on issues is conducted among the general public and not just among voters. Nonvoters make up a sizable minority of general public survey samples. In our 2020 post-election survey, nonvoters were 37% of all respondents (8% were noncitizens who are ineligible to vote and the rest were eligible adults who reported not voting).”
“It’s entirely possible that the same forces that led polls to underrepresent Trump voters would lead to the underrepresentation of Republicans or conservatives among nonvoters. Thus, we need to produce two versions of the nonvoting public to go along with our two versions of the voters,” Pew wrote.
So take every poll with a grain of salt — or a whole shakerful. The methodology is weak and getting weaker.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.