James A. Baker III: Election 2020 — American democracy is being undermined by bad polling
Polling industry’s 2020 debacle
Trump calls campaign polls deliberately wrong.
Too many opinion pollsters have come to resemble Lucy in the cartoon strip “Peanuts.” Ahead of the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020, they held the political football in place to tee up certain Democratic victories. But at the last second, the ball was pulled away and the entire country landed flat on its back when the Republican candidate fared much better than expected.
It would be funny if it weren’t a sad reality that American democracy is being undermined by bad polling that consistently favors one side over the other. Though not as ingrained in our national heritage as politicians and the press, polling is an important component in the governance of the nation, as it presents snapshots of the positions Americans take on the challenges that confront us. Elected leaders, candidates for public office and constituents often rely on polling as they make their choices on issues that affect the health of the nation.
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Accurate information is critical to political discourse, and everyone loses when so many pollsters are consistently wrong. Polls that repeatedly favor one side create false expectations that adversely influence the actions of both sides. The favored side becomes overconfident and suffers when the results on Election Day don’t meet expectations. And the disfavored side is disadvantaged in both fundraising and voter turnout by the appearance that the outcome is foreordained.
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Sadly, Americans too often don’t get straight information from pollsters. When this is done knowingly or intentionally, it could be considered a form of voter suppression. For weeks this fall, Americans received a daily dispatch telling them that Donald Trump was facing a loss of near-historic proportions. At the same time, we were confidently assured that Democrats would take control of the Senate and add to their lead in the House. We were also assured that the pollsters had corrected their well-noted mistakes of 2016, when they predicted that Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president.
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