It has been a rough few election cycles for pollsters, who have taken flak from both sides for largely missing the boat in 2016, 2020 and 2022. With another presidential election approaching, the questions about polling for 2024 have already begun. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showing Donald Trump leading Joe Biden by 10 points even caused many mainstream media pundits to dismiss their own findings as an outlier. In other words, now the pollsters don't even trust themselves. Other critics are calling for a change in polling methodology to allow for the Electoral College, which ultimately decides the presidency rather than the popular vote.
The bottom line is polling has never been an exact science, and advancements in technology and communication are actually making it less accurate. "The outcome is what matters," says Matt Mackowiak, GOP strategist. "In the last decade, we've seen polls be wrong in both directions...I think generally they over-poll Democratic voters by a few percentage points."
Mackowiak tells KTRH the advent of cell phones over landlines has made it more difficult, and more expensive, for pollsters to reach voters and get an accurate sample size. For that reason, so-called 'horse race' polls are often unreliable. "I don't think an exact ballot number in a poll is all that accurate---if it says somebody's up by 6 or somebody's up by 3," he says. "First of all, you have a margin of error, which is generally 3 or 4 percent anyway, and that usually goes in both directions."
"The Trump factor is also interesting," Mackowiack continues. "Because there is a strong suspicion that a lot of Trump supporters don't tell pollsters what they really think, for some reason."
Moving forward, Mackowiak believes polling may be more useful for gauging larger trends in the race than predicting the specific vote count. "One thing to watch for is when different polling outfits are testing the same thing, if they all show things kind of moving in one direction, it can provide additional confidence that there is something really happening," he says.
"For instance, I think that (ABC News/Washington Post) poll is probably an outlier in terms of the exact numbers, but I think it is directionally correct, and it is building off what has been a couple of really bad weeks for Biden."