Marquette Poll Director on Misreading the 2016 Election

Nov 14, 2016

In Wisconsin, the Marquette Law School Poll had Hillary Clinton winning by six points. She lost by one.

Poll Director Charles Franklin says it will take months of study to gather any clear idea about why polls nationwide were so wrong about who was going to win, but he says exit polling provides some clues. It revealed many voters hadn’t yet decided who they wanted for president when Marquette took its last poll of the 2016 election season.

"In the exit poll for Wisconsin, 14 percent of voters said they decided in the last week how to vote, and they went for trump 58-to-31, a really remarkably lopsided late decision. That was all done after my poll was finished, but after every other poll in the state was finished," Franklin says.

Franklin says pollsters may also not have accurately pegged who was likely to vote, but they can change the way the way they survey people. Yet Franklin says some problems that can skew a poll aren't as easily solved.

"The most difficult problem is, if there’s a set of Trump voters…not a majority of them, but a set of them…who simply do not talk to pollsters no matter what. That means they’re missing completely from being represented in the polls,"Franklin says.

So clearly some things will need to change, though Franklin says it’s too soon to say how because pollsters must first determine what went wrong. He says this is not the first time the polling industry has faced such a reckoning.

"If we go back to 1948 and the famous Dewey defeats Truman headline, polling went through a real crisis then, and did major revisions to the methodology they were using…and in the long run that improved polling for decades to come. Here I think we have a serious failure of the polls that I hope will lead to the same kind of revision and improvement and then do better in two years in the midterm elections and four years for the next presidential," Franklin says.

But Franklin says he understands, if people don’t trust polls for a very long time.

"It’s certainly justified for people to be skeptical about polls, especially when it comes to predicting the horse race outcome, and the only way to get that confidence back, if it ever can come back, is through better performance next time," Franklin says.