It may well be days, if not weeks, before the winner of the 2020 presidential race is decided, but one clear lesson from Tuesday night’s election results is that pollsters were wrong again. It’s a “giant mystery” why, says Nick Beauchamp, assistant professor of political science at Northeastern.
There are a number of possible explanations, Beauchamp says. One is that specific polls undercounted the extent to which certain demographics—such as Hispanic voters in specific states—shifted toward President Trump.
Another is that, just as in 2016, polls undercounted hard-to-reach voters who tend to be less educated and more conservative. Beauchamp is less convinced that “shy” Trump voters deliberately misrepresented their intentions to pollsters.
“Whatever the cause, it has huge implications not just for polling, but for the outcome of the presidential and Senate elections,” Beauchamp says. “If the polls have been this wrong for months, since they have been fairly stable for months, that means that campaign resources may have also been misallocated.”
Beauchamp pointed to a tweet by political pollster Josh Jordan, which showed just how much Trump over-performed the FiveThirtyEight averages in nine swing states. In Ohio, for example, he ran seven points better. In Wisconsin, it was eight points. “Trump over-performed relative to the polls in these states by a median of 6 points,” says Beauchamp. “That’s a shockingly large error, though in other states it may have been smaller.”