The Irish Times view on opinion polling: beware the ‘shy Trumper’

Some studies suggest that highly educated Trump supporters might be more likely to tell pollsters they preferred his opponent because of social pressure

Fog surrounds the White House in Washington on Thursday. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

Fog surrounds the White House in Washington on Thursday. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

 

In the wake of the 2016 US elections concern at the failure of polling to pick up swings to insurgent Donald Trump in key marginals saw many beginning to write off opinion polling. An investigation by the American Association for Public Opinion Research found that pollsters had failed to spot the disproportionate number of undecided voters opting for Trump in the final days, particularly in the upper midwest battleground states. It also pointed to faulty statistical weighting – some pollsters, for example, failed to take account properly of the fact that college-educated voters are more likely to respond to polls.

Lessons learned? Apparently not.

This election has seen polling again miss a surge in Trump support, notably in marginals such as Ohio, Iowa and Florida which they projected him to lose narrowly. The respected New York Times/ Siena College poll overestimated Biden’s support by up to 10 points in key states such as Wisconsin and Iowa. YouGov predicted Biden would secure 53.2 per cent of the popular vote (actually 50.4 per cent), taking him to a resounding victory in the electoral college, with 364 votes.

A variety of explanations have been advanced, and notably the willingness of Trump voters to avoid pollsters or mislead them over their intentions, the so-called “shy Trumper” – akin to the “shy Sinn Féin voter”, a phenomenon once familiar to Irish polling companies but which is no longer an issue. Some studies suggest that highly educated Trump supporters might be more likely to tell pollsters they preferred his opponent because of social pressure.

Republican efforts to prevent some populations from voting easily may have had largely unmeasurable effects, despite the high turnout. And it appears from exit polls that attitudes to the pandemic and to the speed of reopening the economy was also less of a motivating factor for voters than many polls had appeared to convey.

Some blame the advent of caller ID on phones; fewer pick up, and the young are much less likely to answer the phone to an unknown caller.

The truth is this is far from an exact science.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.