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Why Were The Polls Wrong Again? Pollster Charles Franklin Weighs In

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Joe Raedle
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While many polls did correctly predict that Joe Biden would win the 2020 presidential election, they got all kinds of details wrong.

If there’s one thing the 2020 presidential election showed us, it's that many polls were wrong again. Yes, they did correctly predict that Joe Biden would win, but they got all kinds of details wrong. Some national polls projected that Biden would win Wisconsin by more than 8 points. That was a gross overestimate, as he only won by less than 1 point.

On Tuesday, Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, discussed a hypothesis for why the polls were off. He says it has everything to do with Trump voters and their lack of willingness to participate in a poll.

"The person who supports President Trump but is distrustful does think that polls are fake and has no desire to join in the collective discussion of politics, which is what polls represent," says Franklin.

According to Franklin, this is similar to what happened four years ago and helps explain why the polls were so off then. To adapt, Franklin says this year his team tried a different methodology to capture some of those potential trump voters.

"In our last poll, we went through and looked at all the people who said they were undecided or declined to say who they were voting for. And we looked at whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of Biden and Trump. And if they were favorable to Biden and unfavorable to Trump, we allocated them as a Biden voter. If they were favorable to Trump but unfavorable to Biden, we allocated them as a Trump voter," Franklin explains.

The final Marquette Law School Poll, released in late October showed Biden winning by 5 points. It was more accurate than some national polls. But Franklin acknowledges that the erroneous predictions in 2016 and now in 2020 have damaged the reputation of polls. His main concern is that the behavior of the Trump voter will bleed over into more traditional Republican voters in future surveys.

"If there does become a persistent party bias, then we have a much bigger problem — because how do I know that I'm missing a group of people as opposed to that group of people has diminished in size?" asks Franklin.

Despite the calls on social media from many to end the use of polling, Franklin says the Marquette Law School Poll has been an accurate source of public opinion in a number of contests and will continue to be so for years to come.

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