Sorry, Republicans. The Polls Really Are That Bad.
Published in The Washington Post
on July 28, 2020
Many Republicans are responding with disbelief to polls showing President Trump well behind former vice president Joe Biden nationally and in all the swing states. Some say the polls are undercounting Republicans, while others cite 2016 as evidence that the polls are just wrong. Sadly, neither explanation holds water.
The evidence that polls undercount Republicans is slim at best. Five of the seven matchup polls between Trump and Biden in the RealClearPolitics average as of Tuesday morning have cross-tabulations that show the share of Republicans in their samples. Those shares range from a low of 24 percent to a high of 36 percent, with an average of 31 percent. That’s not far below the 33 percent GOP share in the 2016 presidential election exit polls, and the difference between the two cannot explain Trump’s massive deficit.
It’s also important to note that the Republican share of the sample in these polls has not changed much since the days in late February or early March before the pandemic hit the United States. A breakdown of the data is available for that period for two of those five polls, Fox News and The Washington Post/ABC News. The share of Republicans did not change more than one point on average in either poll between then and now. Three other polls that are currently not in the RCP average — Emerson, the Wall Street Journal/NBC News and Monmouth — also have data available for pre-pandemic and current periods, and the share of Republicans in those samples has dropped by an average of one point in that period. Yet in each poll Biden has gained significantly against Trump. Again, partisan composition of the sample does not explain Trump’s fall.
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Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.