Pollsters say it’s the public’s love of a so-called horse race that hooks people in.
“We love keeping score,” Vanderbilt political science professor Josh Clinton said. “We love sports as a culture, and so polls we think give us some metric. I think it’s something people want to know even with all the errors that are associated with that.”
Big misses in 2016 and again in 2020 cast doubt on the accuracy and reliability of polls. In 2016, the polls famously failed to predict former President Donald Trump’s rise to power. The polls missed the mark again in 2020 when they overstated the support for President Joe Biden and Democratic candidates relative to Trump and Republican candidates.
“Polls in 2020 had a really hard time getting Republicans in particular and supporters of (former)President Trump to participate in polls,” Clinton said. “Perhaps that’s because of the narrative around fake news.”
Pollsters now are working to broaden their appeal in 2022 and expanding how polls are conducted — from hardline telephones to cellphones.
Voters this year likely received text messages asking them to take a survey online, but unanswered calls and unresponded-to text messages miss data that then isn’t reflected in poll results.
The accuracy of these polls have real-world effects, too — either keeping voters from the polls or pushing voters toward them.
Those studying the impact of these polls say they’re not meant to predict the results.
“Don’t let the poll become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Clinton said. “Vote your conscience. Vote for the candidates that you support.”
Although the methods are rock-solid, polling advocates say the practice shouldn’t become extinct.
“Sometimes people in Washington think, ‘you know, issue A, B and C is going to be really important’ and it doesn’t always resonate with the public and polls can help out with that,” Clinton said.