Biggest loser in the election: polls

The biggest loser in last week’s election wasn’t any of the candidates for president — not even entertainer Kanye West, who collected little more than 60,000 votes, which was less than one-tenth of 1% of ballots cast.

Nor was it Donald Trump, who lost the White House to challenger Joe Biden, according to an Associated Press projection Saturday. Our litigious and conspiratorial president is fighting the results in court. He actually did much better than expected, especially in Wisconsin.

Which brings us to the polls: We can say with great confidence — and with a margin of error of plus or minus 0% — that political polling lost the 2020 election in a landslide. In the category of “Worst Performance in a Supporting Role” during the fall campaign, pollsters easily earned the dishonor.

In fairness, most polls pegged Biden to win, and the Democratic nominee appears to have squeaked out victory. But a slew of pre-election surveys gave Biden large leads in several states that never materialized.

For example, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Oct. 28 had Biden up 17 percentage points in Wisconsin, which he won by only half of a point. The New York Times/Siena College poll on Nov. 2 claimed Biden had an 11-point lead.

Even the highly respected and data-driven website FiveThirtyEight gave Biden an advantage of more than 8 points, as it averaged polls from across the country on election eve.

The Polling Industrial Complex was way off — again — just four years after predicting Hillary Clinton was comfortably ahead. That’s not just annoying or misleading. It could alter who wins. Biden might have spent more time and resources in Wisconsin, rather than bothering with Texas, if he had known Wisconsin was so tight. Some voters might have backed Biden to be on the winning side, thinking he was way ahead. Others might have skipped voting, assuming their vote didn’t matter because of a blowout.

Maybe it’s time for a poll on whether anybody is going to pay attention to polls anymore. They need to get better, or we need to ignore them.


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