Democrat Pollsters Admit 2020 'Major Errors,' No 'Consensus' Solution An election worker stamps a receiving date on mail-in ballots at the Salt Lake County election office in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 29, 2020. (GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Tuesday, 13 April 2021 10:54 AM
Five of the Democratic Party's top pollsters are set to admit "major errors" in 2020 that left party officials stunned after November election results failed to come close to predictions.
The polling firms, which have spent the past few months working together, will release a statement Tuesday acknowledging mistakes last year and how they can be avoided going forward, Politico reported.
Pre-election data showed then-candidate Joe Biden well ahead of President Donald Trump, and indicated Democrats would increase their House majority.
Instead, the party won the presidency, gained a slim majority in the Senate and maintained a slight majority in the House.
"Twenty-twenty was an 'Oh, s***' moment for all of us," one pollster said. "And I think that we all kinda quickly came to the point that we need to set our egos aside. We need to get this right."
Politico said the pollsters' first public statement said their industry "saw major errors and failed to live up to our own expectations." The release, however, added that "no consensus on a solution has emerged."
Republican pollsters are not joining in a unified review of 2020, though some are reportedly evaluating their methods heading into the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election.
Tuesday's statement, according to Democrats involved with the collaboration, is the beginning of a years-long process to examine why most major elections since 2012 have tilted against the party despite favorable pre-election polling data.
Democrats have been shocked by defeats in races they thought to be competitive, and by narrow victories in races thought to have been secured easily.
Even pollsters not aligned with the DNC are examining 2020. The American Association for Public Opinion Research's task force is expected to release a report addressing the overestimation of Democrats' performances up and down the ticket.
While there's no apparent clear-cut answer for why polls have been off the mark in recent years, Politico said one attributing factor likely is the public’s decreasing trust in government and the news media.
There also has been the Trump factor — people who might not have been willing to express support for the former president publicly, or to take part in surveys.
"Trump went after the polls," a Democratic pollster said. "He was really pretty overt to those that were listening about some of his distrust of polls or media."
Nearly all data now for the November election, which shattered turnout records, is available now.
Democrat pollsters said Trump was able to activate large numbers of voters who previously had turned out less reliably. One example of that occurred in Iowa, where Trump beat Biden easily and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, won reelection handily despite races that had been considered toss-ups.
The pollsters' memo said Iowa Republicans classified as "low-propensity voters" turned out at four times the rate of Democrats in that category.
"This turnout error was clearly one factor in polling being off across the board, but especially in deeply Republican areas," the memo read. "It also meant, at least in some places, we again underestimated relative turnout among rural and white non-college voters, who are overrepresented among low propensity Republicans."
Even if last year's polls had been properly adjusted for future turnout, they still would have been biased toward Democrats, the study found.
The memo cites at least three possible causes:
- Late movement toward Trump and Republican candidates polls failed to catch.
- Homebound people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic answered phone calls at a greater rate than those not following restrictions.
- The decline of social trust and faith in institutions.
"While there is evidence some of these theories played a part, no consensus on a solution has emerged. What we have settled on is the idea there is something systematically different about the people we reached, and the people we did not," the memo reads. "This problem appears to have been amplified when Trump was on the ballot, and it is these particular voters who Trump activated that did not participate in polls."
Following the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee conducted a so-called "autopsy" that included a list of best practices for pollsters, who were also summoned to party headquarters to discuss any issues.
The five Democrat firms that signed onto the Tuesday memo included ALG Research, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, GBAO Strategies, Global Strategy Group, and Normington Petts.