Pollsters spent a lot of time figuring out why Donald Trump's win was such a surprise in 2016 — but there isn't going to be a radical change in most election polling for 2020, Axios managing editor David Nather writes.
- Why it matters: There will be some improvements in state polls, which were the 2016 key. But polling experts warn that states are still a weak spot.
The backstory: Most national polls weren't wrong in 2016. They had Clinton ahead by a few points, and she won the popular vote by about 2 points.
- Trump won the Electoral College by squeezing out victories in the upper Midwest — which you'd need reliable state polls to foresee.
The three main reasons the Trump win was a surprise, according to a postmortem by a committee of pollsters:
- Some state polls didn't get the right mix of educational levels: They had too many college grads, who were more likely to support Clinton.
- There was a late break for Trump among voters in Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania.
- Some people didn't identify themselves as Trump voters until after the election (which could have included some who decided late).
What's changed and what hasn't:
- Some state polls are doing more to weight their samples for education.
- It's still hard to predict who will actually vote, and it may be getting harder. "In pre-Trumpian times, one side would surge and the other side wouldn't. Now both sides surge," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
- Many state polls are still inferior to national polls.
- Voters can still decide at the last minute.
The good news, pollsters point out, is that the 2018 midterm election polling was largely right — especially on control of Congress.
- And not all pollsters are convinced there were major problems in 2016, if you knew what to look for.
Their main advice for 2020:
- Pay attention to who did the poll.
- Look at the sample size and margin of error.
- Polls should be transparent about what they're measuring. If you can't see breakdowns by age, gender, race, education, party and ideology, "that should be a red flag," said Republican pollster David Winston.
- Who's paying?
- Don't just follow the horserace — look for the reasons a candidate is gaining or losing.