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The real reason most polls in this election are not trustworthy

Trump at a press conference

An event happened yesterday in our home that I think illustrates forcefully why no one can trust any poll being conducted during this election season.

The phone rings. As I now do on all calls, I pick it up, say “Hello?” and wait to see if it is a live person on the other end. If it is a recording of any kind, spam, political, poll, whatever, I immediately hang up. My life is too short to waste on robots or crooks. (I should add that if Diane picks up she does the same, though she doesn’t even offer them a “Hello.” She also often screens calls with caller ID, and thus often does not even bother to pick up.)

Sadly, a large majority of all in-coming phone calls now are from these robots, with the political and pollster robocalls coming more and more frequently, sometimes ten to twenty times a day.

If it is a live person, I listen to find out what they are calling about. If the call is for a commercial product or a scam, I tell them to stop calling us and hang up.

If it is a from a political campaign office or a survey I also say I am not interested in talking, and say good-bye. If the call is from a survey but specifically asks for my wife, I tell her about the call so she can decide what to do.

This happened yesterday. Her answer: “Please tell them to go away.” I then told the guy on the line her exact words, adding that I agree entirely with her. He laughed, and said good-bye, ending the call.

A lot of political experts have wondered whether the refusal of shy Trump voters to answer poll questions might be skewing the poll totals in favor of Biden and the Democrats. This may be so, but I think something more fundamental is happening that makes all poll results untrustworthy.

Most polls today are conducted by phone. During election seasons the number of these polls has skyrocketed in recent years, so that a registered and likely voter such as myself and my wife might get five to ten such calls every single day. At some point this becomes simple harassment. You simply want them all to “go away,” as my wife said. You don’t have the time or inclination to talk to them. And you don’t refuse because you are afraid to tell them you are a Trump voter (my readers will know I certainly am not afraid of telling anyone this fact) but because they have become a nuisance you simply want nothing to do with.

I therefore think none of the poll results today are trustworthy because too many people, from all political perspectives, are simply tired of being harassed by pollsters. They are refusing to talk, and thus the pollsters are only getting a very limited slice of opinions, from a few people who likely don’t represent the general population. The only polls that might produce reliable results would be those conducted door-to-door, but few today are conducted in this manner.

Thus, if you want to get a sense of the electorate in today’s modern political climate, I think you need to look to other data points. Attendance at rallies might provide some guidance (all favoring Trump). Voter registration numbers also are a good guide (also tending to favor Republicans during this election season).

In the end however the only poll that will matter will be the actual vote, on November 3rd. We can try to guess beforehand what that result will be, but I think any guesses now will be merely staring at tea leaves. Too much guesswork involved.

I pray however that those few data points mentioned above (rally attendance and voter registration numbers) are a true indicator, and that Trump and the Republicans will win in a landslide, winning the Presidency and both Houses of Congress as well as numerous downstate local elections. Such a victory will be the only way to clean up the Democratic Party and make it a true second political choice that supports our country, rather than being the power-hungry and corrupt leviathan it is now.

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  • LocalFluff

    Two days before election day in 2016, I simply looked at the poll numbers as presented on Real Clear Politics state by state. They showed that Trump was ahead in 4-5 states. And then I looked at the betting odds, that gave 5 times the money if Trump won. I’m not a betting man, but when 400% return on “investment” in a few days are offered at better than 50% probability, I don’t turn down free money.

    At the same time media shouted that Hillary Clinton would win with 85% probability. I went with the data and won a bet for the first time in my life. Perhaps it is different this time, but I will hold my bets until the last few days and keep an eye on the relevant polling results. The betting odds is not a predictor but a profit opportunity.

  • Phill O

    “clean up the Democratic Party and make it a true second political choice that supports our country, rather than being the power-hungry and corrupt leviathan it is now.”

    I emphasize “make it a true second political choice”. with the addition – For a country which wishes to stay democratic.

  • MDN

    Bob, you state above what I’ve been saying all year: the only poll that counts is the one on November 3rd.

    So ignore the daily media/poll barrage which is far more about trying to shape rather than unbiasedly determine and report on public sentiment. Like you say, life is short, so go read another essay on BTB, or re-watch an Evening Pause you especially liked, or get out for a walk around the block. As Terri Clark says, we’ve got better things to do : )

    Day to day polling, even 3 weeks out from an election, is simply a naval gazing waste of time.

    My humble opinion anyway.

  • Tom

    I haven’t seen President Trump so far down in the polls since the night he won the election.

  • Jeff

    This past weekend I participated in our local “Trump Train”, in the rain. The remnants of Hurricane Delta paid us an untimely visit. Even so, there was a respectable turnout of over 30 vehicles all decorated with flags and signs. Many of the county candidates for office were there, as was the sherriff who lead the 4 hour tour of the county. Folks of all ages, from 8 to 80 were laughing, shaking hands and discussing the election. I only saw one elderly lady with a mask. I haven’t witnessed so much joy and excitement in a long time.

    What impressed me most was the reactions of people along the route. Folks were out on porches, carports, garages and some even standing out in the rain to wave their own signs, flags and/or hands as the caravan past. I’ll never forget one young family standing among their yard signs, with the girls literally jumping up and down as we honked past. The overall enthusiasm was something I never saw in 2016. Perhaps back then there was reluctance to admit support for Trump. This time, I have seen the exact opposite.

    We all agreed the weather dampened turnout, but I heard no complaints. As one lady put it, “If it was raining on Election Day, would that stop you from voting?” So I don’t put too much faith in polls. I look at all the smiling faces at the rallies and see the hope in their eyes. That gives me hope for the future.

  • Richard Aubrey

    Unfortunately, the enthusiasm is for NOT TRUMP. One need not be motivated to show up for a Biden rally to be frantically devoted to the prospect of voting NOT TRUMP.

  • JB

    Most people are tired of being harassed by pollsters and politicians, that is true. But it is reasonable to ask who is not. I suspect that it is generally people who like government, think of governing others as a vocation, or, in short Democrats. As a result, pollsters routinely oversample Democrats.

  • With a typical poll response rate now under 7%, an honest reporting of these ‘blowout’ Biden poll leads isn’t Biden 57%, Trump 43%; it’s Biden 4%, Trump 3%. That said, I wouldn’t bet today on Trump at even odds.

  • Diggs

    After Hillary’s loss, the Democratic Party had two ways to turn. Back to being a political party that DIDN’T consider half of Americans “deplorable” because of their political beliefs, or further Left. As in, people with differing political beliefs are not just deplorable, but are the enemy. They chose the latter, and are bringing that belief to the streets.
    A loss by Biden will NOT bring his party back into a true political party. It will push them even further Left. The Dems’ new, younger “stars” are not liberals. They’re not even progressives. They range from socialists to communists, and every statement they make about seizing power by any means should be taken as their true goal. That is the Dem Pay direction, win or lose.

  • william francis

    this was said: Such a victory will be the only way to clean up the Democratic Party and make it a true second political choice that supports our country, rather than being the power-hungry and corrupt leviathan it is now.

    The fact today is that there is no democrat party anymore. There are only socialists and communists on the left working as hard as they can to destroy America. It is hard for me the believe that they could get anymore corrupt than they are now.

  • Clean Willie

    Another positive metric: no incumbent President who received more than 75% of the primary votes during his re-election campaign has ever lost. Trump received 94%.

  • Luke

    You’re assuming good faith.
    Fortunately, this is an easy assumption to test.
    Is increased non-compliance reflected in increased margin of error?

    The sad fact is that polls are not conducted to reflect reality, but to create a reality. (The polling about the Gay Rights issues early this century is an especially blatant example. Gay sex just isn’t something most people perseverate about, and the legal ramifications are of it are of even less general interest.)

    Something a bit over a quarter-century ago, I was in college pursuing a Geol/Geog double major, and took a class called “Human Geography” that vaguely billed itself as studying migration and settlement patterns. I recall thinking it odd that it had Statistics as a prereq, and that none of the other Geog majors seemed to have taken it. But it was a break from GeolE, and seemed like good worldbuilding fodder…
    If you haven’t guessed, it was a masterclass in selecting a “random sample” that would return whatever result the organization paying for the poll wanted.
    It was the single most cynical thing I’ve ever encountered.
    (Naturally, there was a Psych counterpart, I believe it was more about “selling” the results than skewing questions, but I didn’t want to investigate further.)
    Every poll I’ve looked into since then has raised red flags. The little bit of methodology they provide to the public inevitably screams manipulation.

  • webley silvernail

    I recall watching the news on the big screen TV in my office just few says ahead of the 2016 election. All the polls, and all the media were calling for a Hillary landslide. But there on the screen, on the same day, were a Clinton “rally” in Miami, at which there were maybe 25 attendees, with roughly 20 of them part of her entourage, while, simultaneously, in Tampa, there were thousands of people at a Trump rally, with cars backed up for miles trying to get in. I quickly declared, ‘Trump’s gonna win!” My colleagues on the desk quickly and loudly disagreed with me, so I offered to bet lunch on Trump winning. Immediately, everyone in the office wanted a piece of that action, which I was happy to cover. I ended up eating free lunches for over a week. The downside is that ever since then, everyone keeps calling me and complaining about “your man Trump.” Seriously? I don’t even live in the US, and certainly have no axe to grind in US politics. But, apparently, the ability to see through media lies and make my own evaluations of the facts means that I am automatically assigned a spot among the deplorables. So be it. They are more my kind of people anyway.

  • Larry Faria

    You could have cited the New York Times/Siena College poll of Florida voters in 2018. That poll specificlly announced “We contacted 36,727 voters. 737 were willing to talk to us.” Two percent of the people contacted were polled! What are the odds those 737 responders were a representative sample of the Florida electorate?

  • Greg

    Well, some polling has indicated that Democrats are making heavy use of mail-in ballots while Republicans are largely waiting until election day. This would tend to make Democrats much more likely to pass likely voter filters, I would think, since they’re going to answer “yes” when asked if they’ve already voted. That could do a lot to explain the odd percentages of Dems and Reps in the polls.

    Of course, it’s also worth noting that Trump is running slightly ahead of 2016 in the battleground states. By election day, Trump and Clinton were essentially tied in the electoral college according to the same polls. So we may have to just wait for the final numbers in a few weeks. The national polls may match the actual voting almost perfectly, the same as they did in 2016.

  • Tom

    #StraightRedTicket2020 in person from President Trump down to Dog Catcher!

  • Gary

    “In the end however the only poll that will matter will be the actual vote, on November 3rd.”

    I hope that this will happen, but with vote by mail, I believe that the Democratic party intends upon winning and will do whatever is needed to win. Mail in ballots and legal challenges make November 3rd doubtful…

  • Steve

    I don’t answer the phone either unless I know who’s calling. BUT, I think the last week of the campaign I will answer survey calls. I’m a Conservative and will answer truthfully just to send a wave of reality through the system.

  • In a normal election year, my phone would be ringing off the hook.
    Not this year.
    What is different? I cancelled the landline – we use mobiles only.
    What that says to me is that the polls are WAY oversampling the people from about 50 – up. They can use modeling to try to approximate the data, but they are relying too heavily on data that simply isn’t there.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Thus, if you want to get a sense of the electorate in today’s modern political climate, I think you need to look to other data points. Attendance at rallies might provide some guidance (all favoring Trump). Voter registration numbers also are a good guide (also tending to favor Republicans during this election season).

    Attendance at rallies may not be as useful as it may seem. Shortly before the 2012 election, Romney was getting huge crowds at his rallies, but he lost. Trump got huge crowds in 2016 while Clinton got nice crowds, yet Clinton had more votes (but fewer Electors). This week, Trump still has huge crowds while Biden got a dozen cars (6 feet of social distancing between cars, go figure), yet we can expect that the voting will be far closer than this huge difference in rally attendance suggests.

    What will really matter is the amount of cheating that the Democrats are able to perform during the election.

    In the end however the only poll that will matter will be the actual vote, on November 3rd.

    Already we are hearing about thousands of ballots being found in dumpsters, sometimes all of which were filled out as Trump votes. Project Veritas has exposed that Democrats have teams available to “harvest” Democrat ballots in locations where harvesting is legal, but in this case they are paying voters money to pre-sign their ballots and giving them to the teams for filling out the votes as necessary in order to change votes in certain precincts or counties from Republican wins to Democrat wins. We already saw this happen in Minnesota with the Al Franken election to the Senate — a bunch of ballots were “found” in the trunk of a car, votes almost exclusively for Franken.

    We have also known that for years or decades Democrats have bussed people from polling place to polling place in order to vote early and vote often. They are told who to say that they are. This type of voting has been known for a century and can be seen in the movie “The Great McGinty.”

    The problem is not the polls, it is the corruption. The Party is corrupt, but it has on its side a corrupt news media and entertainment industry. It looks like the U.S. Postal Service may also be corrupted, yet we depend upon it for absentee ballots and many states now rely upon it for mail-in voting, where in-person voting is either nonexistent or discouraged. Add to all this that the U.S. government and perhaps several state governments have taken sides during elections. The poll on November 3rd is hardly trustworthy.

    What kind of country has an election system that is so untrustworthy, biased, and corrupted?

  • pzatchok

    Like I say.

    Every vote should be connected to your SSN.
    Not to track who you voted for bet to instantly track if you have voted.

  • Micha Elyi

    If attendance at rallies were an indicator of general voter sentiment then Trump would have swept the nationwide popular vote in 2016. He didn’t.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Do you know how easy it is to get someone’s SSN? Or get a fake one? It happens all the time in HR offices.

    I spoke with an HR person that was telling me how they would turn applicants away, because they did not have an SSN or Workers Visa.. It was a dead give away that they were not in the US legally.

    An hour later, same person shows up with an SSN. There was no way to track it. (This was a while ago). They knew it was probably take or stolen, but the law in that State at the time did not allow them to call LE to investigate.

    So while on the face, tying to SSN sounds okay, it’s really not that reliable.

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