All About Exit Polls (with a Plea for Caution and Reporting)

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

2020 was not a good year for pollsters. Guardian: “Polling industry the night’s big loser as 2016 debacle repeats itself“; Jacobin: “After the 2020 Election, Polling Is Dead“; Al Jazeera: “The landslide that wasn’t: What the elections say about America“[1]; and the Bangor Daily News: “Susan Collins defied the polls. Here’s what they may have gotten wrong.” In fact, at least on election night itself, a punter who followed the betting sites would have, correctly, gone to bed and slept easy, unlike those who stayed up to watch the networks.

This post, however, is not about horse-race polling, but about exit polling: Polling that does not try to pick a winner before election day — can’t we just wait? — but that seeks to explain what happened[2]. I will first give a short list of “hot takes,” which are even now no doubt congealing into conventional wisdom. Then, so we know where the hot takes come from, I’ll look at the sources of exit polling data and the methods[3] used. I’ll conclude with some thoughts on how to improve the role pollsters play in our elections, and other ways we might come to understand election results. To the hot takes!

Hot Takes

Here is an, er, random sampling of hot takes from the Twitter. There are many more like them! Running through the various identities:

On Latinos:

(Note the lack of a source).

On LGBTQ+:

On Whites:

On demographic shifts generally:

Summarizing the surprising demographic results in prose, USA Today, “Election 2020 exit polls: Political pundits utterly failed to predict Donald Trump’s voters“:

Coverage of the Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden campaign largely focused on four areas: women, racial minorities, senior citizens and suburban voters. Conventional wisdom held that Trump would be slaughtered by all of them, thereby handing Biden a landslide.

Turns out, that was almost entirely incorrect. Trump improved over his 2016 performance among Black women (+4), Black men (+5), Latino women (+3), and Latino men (+4). It is almost certainly true that minority voters turned out in far larger numbers in 2020 than in 2016, racking up critical votes for Biden in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, but Democratic strategists must be wondering what it means that Trump earned a larger share of the non-white vote than any GOP presidential candidate since 1960.

(This happens to be written by a Republican, but I’m sure you’ve seen the same points made elsewhere. All the links go to CNN, by the way, and not directly to CNN’s source which, amazingly or not, goes unlisted on CNN’s page).

So those are the hot takes. Now I’ll go on to show why anything numerical in these results should be approached with caution. First, we need to understand the sources.

Exit Polling Sources

As it turns out, in 2020 we have not one but two[4] exit poll sources (though one doesn’t call itself an exit poll, for practical purposes they are the same. From the Washington Post, “How is TV news going to cover the weirdest, most fraught election in history? All of your questions answered“:

As they have for nearly two decades, the big three broadcast networks and CNN will join as the National Election Pool [NEP] to share data collected by a firm called Edison Research, which conducts exit polls — via both in-person and phone surveys of people who have already voted — to anticipate the trends within this year’s electorate. While “a handful of people at each network” will be permitted to review the exit-poll data during the day, they will not be allowed to report it until 5 p.m. Tuesday, said Edison executive Joe Lenski. Edison also will collect the actual vote tallies from across the country as they are released by local jurisdictions.

But Fox News and the AP left the pool after 2016 and have struck out together, hiring a research operation affiliated with the University of Chicago to help them prepare their projections. Arnon Mishkin, head of Fox’s decision desk, said his organization was disappointed with 2016’s exit polling, which skewed the results by capturing a disproportionate number of younger and college-educated voters — many of whom lean Democratic — and didn’t fully probe the voting sentiment of mail-in and early voters. What this means is that for the first time since 1988, you’ll see not one but two different polls of the electorate as you flip the channels.

So, at a minimum, when you see a hot take with a chart that doesn’t cite to either source, you should approach it with caution (or even reject it entirely, as you would with a Covid chart that gave no sources).

So, we have a duopoly with Edison and VoteCast. Here Pew Research on Edison’s logistics:

The exit poll is a major operation. Edison expects to survey about 16,000 early and absentee voters by phone, [Joe Lenski, Edison’s co-founder and executive vice president,] said, and another 85,000 or so voters in person. “Between exit-poll interviewers, vote-count reporters, supervisors driving around checking on sites, and the two very large phone rooms we’ll be operating on Election Day to take in those results, we have close to 3,000 people working for us on Election Day,” he said.

The exit poll is more a set of interlocking surveys than a single, uniform poll. Aside from the phone and in-person components, Edison will field state-specific questionnaires at 350 of its 1,000 or so polling locations, in addition to the national questionnaire all respondents receive. The idea, Lenski said, is to be able to ask about issues that might be particularly relevant in key states.

And now Associated Press on VoteCast:

AP VoteCast combines interviews with a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files with self-identified registered voters selected using nonprobability approaches. In general elections, it also includes interviews with self-identified registered voters conducted using NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak® panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population.

Interviews are conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents may receive a small monetary incentive for completing the survey. Participants selected as part of the random sample can be contacted by phone and mail and can take the survey by phone or online. Participants selected as part of the nonprobability sample complete the survey online.

In the 2020 general election, the survey is expected to complete about 140,000 interviews with registered voters between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3, concluding as polls close on Election Day.

So, although VoteCast is treated as if it were an exit poll, it is not, unlike (mostly) Edison, conducted at the exits of polling stations. And now to the methodological issues for each.

Exit Polling Methods

The response rate problem is common to all pollsters, and has the potential to vitiate the entire industry. From The Age, “Why the polls were wrong – and will never be right again“:

In the age of the mobile phone, very few people answer calls from unlisted numbers, and even fewer want to talk to a pollster – who, for all they know, may be a fraudster in disguise. The Pew Research Centre reports that its response rates have plummeted from 36 per cent two decades ago to just 6 per cent now. And Pew is a not-for-profit outfit that doggedly attempts to contact every sampled phone number at least seven times. Commercial polling firms don’t have that luxury.

No major commercial polling company is brave enough to reveal its response rate. Rumours are that they’re down to about 3 per cent.[5] That’s a very thin foundation on which to predict a presidential election. The tiniest inconsistency between the characteristics of that 3 per cent and those of the electorate as a whole could invalidate the entire industry.

The pollsters do their heroic best to model the likely behaviour of the masses from the self-reports of a few phone-answerers, but all such models are approximations. They inevitably introduce error. Model error may be even bigger than the sampling error that goes into calculating the “error margins” that are often reported alongside polling data. Or it may not be. No one knows but the pollsters, and they’re not saying.

Hitherto unique to election 2020, an unprecedented number of votes were cast by mail (“67% of Republicans said they planned to vote in person on Election Day, according to a Marquette University Law School poll, compared with just 27% of Democrats”). Edison and VoteCast handled this change in voting patterns differently.

First, from Edison, “NEP & Edison Research to Once Again Conduct Exit Poll of Record“:

The NEP’s exit poll is the only survey that will be released on election night that represents the views and opinions of actual voters interviewed as they cast their ballots all across the country.

As it has since 2004, the NEP exit poll will also include extensive telephone surveys of those planning to vote by mail to ensure that all voters are represented in Election Night coverage across the pool’s member networks and subscribers. This year, those polls will reach more than 25,000 voters casting ballots before Election Day.

For the first time in 2018, NEP’s exit poll included in-person interviews with those voting at early voting locations. The technique proved highly accurate in Nevada and Tennessee, the two states in which it was used that year, and was successfully expanded in this year’s presidential primaries in North Carolina and Texas. For the presidential election this fall, early voters will be interviewed in person in eight critical states.

“In 2018, Edison and the NEP pioneered the technique of conducting interviews at in-person early voting sites, and today, we’re using that valuable experience to expand those efforts for 2020,” said Lenski. “It’s simply a matter of taking our time-tested models and applying them to the ways people vote today.”

So Edison is an exit poill, except when it isn’t. Now, VoteCast, “AP VoteCast isn’t an exit poll. It’s better“:

In 2016, more than 40% of the electorate voted early, absentee or by mail. Unlike the legacy exit poll, AP VoteCast meets registered voters where they are, reaching them via mail, by phone (landline and cell phone) and online, using a random sample of registered voters to carefully calibrate a massive poll conducted using opt-in online panels.

AP VoteCast extends beyond the traditional battleground states. It captures the opinions of registered voters who cast a ballot early, on Election Day or not all. By gathering data from a sample size more than six times the size of the legacy exit poll, our survey provides greater insight into various subsets of the population, including Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Latinos, veterans and other groups of voters.

Now, at this point, nobody can say which is more trustworthy: Edison or VoteCast; it’s far too soon for any academic research to have taken place (“Exit Poll of Record” [POW!] vs “legacy exit poll” [OOF!]). All we can say is that they gave different results. From the Poynter Institute, “The AP and Fox News say Biden has carried Arizona. Why do other networks say it’s too close to call?:

Fox News and The Associated Press deemed Arizona a win for Joe Biden on election night, making their calls three hours apart. President Donald Trump and his campaign howled in protest against Fox.

Now, a day and a half later, CNN and other broadcast networks insist that while Arizona may be leaning Biden, the race is still too close or too early to determine the winner.

Why that disparity?

Formulas for vote counts and projections are wildly complex mathematically and expensive to create, but there is a simple explanation.

AP and Fox pulled out of a consortium of networks after the pooled effort had produced shaky results in 2016. The rest of the networks stayed in, thinking the system could be tweaked while the AP had concluded it was broken.

The issue was whether the accelerating move to early voting and mail-in voting, advancing cycle after cycle, made traditional election day exit polls invalid. AP said yes and embarked on inventing a new methodology. The Fox News decision desk, an AP client, agreed and collaborated.

Ditching exit polls, the new formula relies on votes counted so far plus an informed estimate of how many votes remain to be counted and where. The likely split can be inferred by party affiliations, the mix in a given county of those who already voted and other factors.

Sally Buzbee, executive editor of AP, explained her thinking in an email interview with me last week:

“We made the difficult decision to pull out of the network exit poll consortium. Working with NORC at the University of Chicago, we developed a new methodology and tool called AP VoteCast, which also captures early voters and which has proven highly accurate and robust.

“We did not develop AP VoteCast for the pandemic: We developed it because we saw the long-term trends. But it has proved a huge blessing given the pandemic.

“In a pre-election webinar in which Buzbee participated, Sam Feist, Washington bureau chief of CNN, explained why his network went another direction, sticking with the consortium and its vendor, Edison Research. Simplifying just a bit, Feist said that he and others who stayed believed that a supplemental version of exit polls could be constructed for the early voting and mail-in segments.

Hoo boy. “Informed estimate”? That sounds like a Nate Silver-esque secret sauce (or, less politely, a fudge factor). Nevertheless, the VoteCast client made the early call, which stood up. But that’s the horse-race. Will Edison or VoteCast be more trustworthy with exit pollings other function, explanation? We just don’t know yet.

Conclusion

As readers know, I didn’t pay much attention to the polls during the general (sorry, guys, I know you needed the clicks). My subjective sense is that doomscrolling through poll results takes time that would be better spent doing almost anything else, including bowling, snooker, drinking, smoking, etc. One solution to any problems polls create is “election silence“; Israel, for example, bans polls for 15 days before an election, though most other bans are expressed in hours. “Social media blackouts” (7 days) have also been proposed. (For myself, I’d consider a 30 day ban for both, as a minimum. Then again, why not abolish both “industries” entirely?) What’s wrong with having the results of a horse-race come as a surprise?[6]

Finally, I’d like to express a desire that we try to refocus just a little bit from symbol manipulation through numbers and charts to reporting by humans about humans. For example:

From the Harvard Gazette, “The problems (and promise) of polling“:

Political scientist Theda Skocpol isn’t ready to give up entirely on polling just yet, but she does think the current process, which often relies on dinnertime robocalls, “artificially constructed” focus groups, and oversimplified voter categories, needs a serious overhaul. “The whole way we think about what’s going to happen politically is not based on talking to people or observing people in their contexts,” said Skocpol, Harvard’s Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology. “It’s based on these methods of data collection, and also thinking about the data, which aren’t working anymore.”

For Skocpol, what works is something she has done for the past several years while researching her most recent book, “Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance,” with co-editor Caroline Tervo. Together Skocpol and Tervo made repeated trips to eight counties in four swing states — North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin — developing close relationships with people on the ground. Skocpol sees similar grassroots efforts as the key to effective polling in the future.

This 2016 story by the New York Times, “Many in Milwaukee Neighborhood Didn’t Vote — and Don’t Regret It,” really helped that election come into focus for me. More like that, please. Much more.

NOTES

[1] I have asserted that in 2020 pollsters became political actors at the tactical level (seeking to bring about the result they desire by making it seem inevitable). This is true in the newsroom, as Taibbi points out:

In the last few weeks I’ve heard from multiple well-known journalists going through struggles in their newsrooms, with pressure to avoid certain themes in campaign coverage often central to their worries. There are many reporters out there — most of them quite personally hostile to Donald Trump — who are grating under what they perceive as relentless pressure to publish material favorable to the Democratic Party cause.

I grant I have no evidence similar pressures are taking place in the office cultures of pollsters. However, it would seem strange that pollsters are immune to pressures otherwise pervasive throughout the political class. This doesn’t imply a Bond villain, but rather the usual self-censorship and slanting due to careerism.

[2] Yes, exit polls are used by the networks and other media on election day to help assess candidate’s likelihood of winning before actual votes accumulate. This use case may even be how exit pollsters make most of their money; I don’t know. However, the social purpose for which pollsters exist is to, as it were, to hold a mirror up to the electorate, so we can get some idea of who voted for which candidate, and why. And, no doubt, to handicap the next race. Interestingly, exit polls were first designed to explain. The (more lucrative?) horse-race function came later. From Samuel J. Best and Brian S. Krueger, “The Exit Poll Phenomenon” (SAGE):

Exit polling developed in the 1960s out of a desire by journalists to explain voting results to their

audiences. Over time, it transformed from a modest effort at CBS News to estimate the outcome of the 1967 Kentucky gubernatorial election into a multimillion-dollar operation sponsored by a consortium of television networks and designed to project race winners and explain the preferences of numerous voting groups. Along the way, it overcame technical malfunctions, internal squabbles, and erroneous calls to become the centerpiece of media coverage of the elections.

[3] I won’t discuss statistical methods. For a bracing look at that topic, see this comment by alert reader Terry Flynn, who writes: “TL;DR – if you don’t correct heteroscedasticity in polling data first then “more data” doesn’t produce better results, often the opposite.” For heteroscedasticity, see here. Flynn urges that “the polling organisations REFUSE to poll using correct methods as known since 1985 because of their funding masters, laziness and fear of striking out from the pack,” which certainly triggers my priors and implies, pleasingly, that the entire polling industry could be abolished (if not revolutionized). Does anybody wants to take a second shot at explaining the entire thread — maybe using one or another of the “hot takes” I supplied?

[4] The U.S. Census, as part of its monthly Current Population Survey (CPS), surveys voters for age, sex, “race and Hispanic origin,” education, poverty status, and income — but not who they voted for!

[5] Pew Research: “The good news is that Pew Research Center studies conducted in 1997, 2003, 2012 and 2016 found little relationship between response rates and survey accuracy, and other researchers have found similar results. The bad news is that it’s impossible to predict whether this remains true if response rates go down to 4%, 2% or 1%, and there is no sign that this trend is going to turn around as peoples’ technology habits continue to evolve.”

[6] Another function that exit polls are used for, at least internationally, is to serve as a check on the election results. As TDMS Research points out:

The possibility that our vote counts are corrupt cannot be dismissed off-hand or ignored. Computer vote counts are never verified by full hand counts and the vote counting software is proprietary—hidden from view and inaccessible to the public.

However, all our other electoral functions are so deteriorated I’m not sure that checks by exit polls are all that helpful. Voter rolls are going digital, which means they are by definition hackable. Voter rolls have also been corrupted by Republican operatives like Kobach. Democrats seem to be interposing more and more barriers between the voter’s expression of intent and the actual ballot, whether through inherently unauditable ballot marking devices — Stacy Abrams, though justifiably emphatic in praise of Georgia’s voter registration efforts, is, oddly, completely silent on Georgia’s horrid electronic voter rolls and ballot marking devices — or through vote by mail (which makes voters who don’t follow directions well vulnerable to disenfranchisement, as well as those who, through life circumstances, find it hard to “make a plan to vote.” Voters are now spoken of as having “banked” their early votes, leading one to wonder what rent is being extracted by the banker; the opportunity cost, I would imagine, of already having voted for Biden when he slipped a major cog, or for Trump when there turned out to be video of him at Little Saint James).

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

43 comments

  1. Shiloh1

    The pollsters are the advertising side of political marketing – tell the client what they want to hear – that’s really what they’re paying for – not to be confused with actual market research.

    Reply
    1. TimH

      I’m curious where the poll phone numbers come from. I would never give my number out unless forced, and don’t remember having to for voter registration, and since it can’t be presumed that every voter has a phone, then unlikely to be a mandatory disclosure.

      Reply
      1. expr

        I actually got polled once a long time ago and asked how they got my number. The guy said they went to a page in the phone book, took a number and added 1. I am sure they have a computer do it now

        Reply
        1. lordkoos

          I don’t know about other people but in the run-up to the election I wouldn’t answer calls unless I recognized the number. Most of my family did the same. This backfired a couple of times but mostly I avoided a ton of robocalls.

          Reply
    2. skippy

      “not to be confused with actual market research.”

      Slaps knee “”””””

      And some are befuddled about post marketing studies aka polls that view everything from a market based framework of dubious expectations in a hyper PR marketing social media bear pit.

      This ain’t Kansas anymore toto ….

      Reply
  2. Terry Flynn

    Thanks for the shout out. All the post-hoc justification by polling organizations drives me wild. The problem – that they refuse to acknowledge – is that all “discrete outcome variable” models (like voting) have in the likelihood function a perfect confound between mean (the underlying strength of your identification with the policy/brand/party/candidate in question) and variance (how “certain” you are). So it’s like a straight line in the x-y plane – an infinite number of solutions can “explain” a 70/30 vote for (say) Biden. Some involve “strong means” – it can be tough to “shift” these people to Trump. Others involve weak means but higher variances – these people are “influenced more easily”.

    One equation with two unknowns? Hopefully that rings alarm bells.You need a SECOND equation, preferably from different data, to plot a second line and see where the two intersect. YouGov recognised this in UK in 2017 and alone predicted the result correctly. Sadly their “second dataset” used rating scale data (known to be awful and generally temporally unstable). So 2019 it all went wrong.Which is a pity because they were on the right lines (as some regulars on here might just remember I said on here at the time).

    Reply
    1. Terry Flynn

      One observation I’ll add that might be helpful in further explaining “what went on” in the election is a phenomenon us preference modellers frequently saw. “Stated preferences” in surveys – what the respondent SAYS they will do under some hypothetical scenario – are USUALLY (though not exclusively) characterised by “small variances”. In other words we have got people to “assume away” all those other inconvenient factors that might affect choices. Probabilities become “more skewed”.

      “Revealed preferences” – what they ACTUALLY chose in real life – often show much larger variances. Because life is complicated and all that. So in practice an estimated 70/30 Biden advantage in stated preference data might be accompanied by a 55/45 observed FREQUENCY in real votes. Are these two figures fundamentally inconsistent? Not necessarily. Though the revealed preference (actual votes) data is undoubtedly a “better”picture of what is really going on and should give Dems pause for thought.

      Exit polls get closer to the “real votes” to somewhat mitigate this issue…..but they are then highly vulnerable to the other problems like lying, the problems of sampling the mail-in voters etc.

      Reply
      1. ahimsa

        @Lambert @Terry

        Thank you very much for this post!( and Terry’s elaborating comments on methodology).

        Per usual, NC doing great journalism: seeing discrepancies, asking why, and seeking to understand them. Then getting into the weeds, finding the critical details and reporting them back for the reader.

        Reply
  3. Sordo

    Anyone find any legitimacy to the claim that Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn, and Georgia vote tabs were manipulated by the “CIA’s hammer and scorecard”? I would never inherently defend any IC entity from allegations of cheating or lying but correlation is not causation, I don’t have a handle on the fact base, and as always; Hanlon’s razor. Apparently ~150,000 presidential undervotes in Michigan, so the claim goes.

    Reply
  4. Biph

    Exit polls are garbage this year, I wouldn’t trust a one of them. I’ve seen one that gets mentioned a lot saying Trump won 49% of women, if that were the case he would’ve won the popular vote and EC in a landslide.

    Reply
  5. Glen

    Good post. I see similar phenomenon happening with published numbers for unemployment, inflation, homelessness, the “American Dream” and “food security”.

    Does your lived experience tell you it’s much worse than the experts tell you it is? Well, that’s normally because the numbers are jugged to make it look better than it is.

    Reply
    1. jsn

      It looks almost as if apparatchiks are manipulating information flows in response to political pressure from above, which while having the intended effect of making the apparatchik look good in the short term is having the unintended long term effect of blinding the politburo and detaching its policies from reality.

      Reply
  6. cocomaan

    Great post Lambert.

    I, for one, have stopped taking surveys of all kinds. I’m not interested in telling people how I think anymore. Piss off! The world is more interesting when it’s unpredictable.

    Personally, I think there’s a lot of Bradley Effect in play, named after former LA mayor Tom Bradley. he was a black man running for governor who lost despite polls saying he’d win. Supposedly people said that they’d vote for the black man but would then vote against him.

    Shy Tory factor is a related theory.

    What’s clear to me is that when people talk about their voting preference, they are thinking about the audience (the pollster) instead of telling the truth. To me, it’s a side effect of a lack of social cohesion and trust. One of my favorite historical thinkers, Ibn Khaldun, called the phenomenon asabiyah, and said that decadent and urbane societies start to lose asabiyah and are replaced by groups with greater asabiyah.

    Reply
    1. Biph

      We don’t have a final number but it looks like the national polling avg will be close(ish). The RCP national avg had Biden up by 7% on ED, it looks like he’ll end up ~+4%. My guess for what made the difference in a lot of these State polls was that the GOP kept up their ground game during the pandemic and the Dems abandoned theirs. I think that was enough to move a lot of the contested States 3-5% towards Trump and outside the polling MOE.

      Reply
      1. Dick Burkhart

        The Dems didn’t do much in-person canvassing because of the COVID. This definitely hurt them, and was stupid because you typically do it outdoors with social distancing, so you just need to add a mask.

        Reply
    2. ChrisPacific

      I lost patience with polls after being on the receiving end of a few that turned out to be marketing calls in disguise. Often they would impersonate a genuine poll for a presumption of goodwill and to get you to disclose stuff that you typically wouldn’t in a marketing call, then shade gradually into questionable territory (“Would you be more willing to pay for a product that did X? How about Y? How about all of the above at the low low price of…?”)

      I did some Googling and discovered that this is common enough to have a name (push polling). I also assume based on personal experience that any kind of questionable telemarketing tactic is at least ten times more prevalent in the USA than anywhere else, so I would guess that US readers know exactly what I am talking about.

      Reply
    3. a different chris

      >Supposedly people said that they’d vote for the black man but would then vote against him.

      Which is laugh-out-loud funny because how did they determine that? With more polls, I would bet.

      So “people” told pollsters that they would vote for a black man, then didn’t and were so guilty when the pollster called them again – oops, not the same people we can “adjust” for that, sigh – they admitted they voted against him because he was black?

      Oceans Eleven has a more convincing sequence of events that that.

      Reply
      1. Oh

        >Supposedly people said that they’d vote for the black man but would then vote against him.

        I wonder if things would’ve gone better if that had happened in 2008?

        Reply
  7. Anonymousish

    The great weakness in exit pools now is the polled voter having no idea how their vote was actually recorded.

    Reply
  8. rd

    A few comments:

    1. I am not sure what exit polls mean this year considering the very high number of absentee ballots this year. Our county had nearly 20% absentee ballots – I think normally it is less than 3%.

    2. Much more early voting now. That makes exit polls more difficult and expensive to execute as you have to do it 2-4 weeks now.

    3. Our home phone was just non-stop political spam ringing (call block is a fabulous feature – keeps it to a single ring). Everybody on the planet is robocalling now and everybody wants to do a poll. We have become very egalitarian about this – we just don’t respond to any of them. If I pick up the phone, say hello, and then there is silence it is clear it is someobody robo-calling and the call-block button gets pushed. I used to do the polls by Gallup etc. but now it is impossible to figure who the poll is for until the call ends in a request for money. We just stopped answering the phone in the last mid-terms since the political spam calls have been reproducing like rabbits.

    4. Maybe the media can do more coverage on policies and positions now to educate public instead of just treating it as a horse race calling out who is leading by how many furlongs. At least in a horserace, you can actually see the distances between the horses.

    5. If the Republicans wanted to annoy the judges, I think their current strategy is working. Many of the Republican attorneys are now making claims for information or on procedures that they should have been making in September or October. In our county, the Republican attorney just asked for an electronic copy of the signatures for all voters for use in forensics on the signature comparisons for the absentee ballots. The court was told that the files are paper files and the Elections Board would require two weeks to scan them.They have a late November deadline to certify to the state which would be about the time the Republicans would be ready to file grievances regarding the signatures from their electronic scans. Meanwhile, both parties have physical access to the envelopes and signature files as they are being processed.

    Reply
  9. Abi

    My only comment because I find it very curious and wonder if the bias is clear to those practising it.

    There seems to be a consensus that Trump’s administration wasn’t very good. The Dems may not be better off policy wise but they don’t rob us of our sensibilities and decency like the GOP unashamedly have done.
    So to most outsiders it’s a no brainer to choose to least offensive. What I’m getting from reading the commentary is that you hold the Dems to a much higher standard than the GOP. And I’m genuinely curious. To me it’s one of two things – either you don’t see Trump’s presidency as so bad (maybe he fulfills your personal interests) or you really got some reason have an ideological problem with Dems that you concentrate on rubbishing them every time you get but that same energy is not in display when analysis GOP. Just curious if anyone else has noticed it.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith

      Accusing people of bias is not a good way to start a conversation.

      Despite its regular bumbling, a narcissistic and thin-skinned President who was more concerned about dominating the news than getting anything done, and resulting terrible management of optics, and despite having the press and the intelligence community out to sink Trump even before he was elected (Russiagate stated before he took office and Clinton was urging electors to defect), Trump:

      Got a major tax bill passed

      Killed the Obamacare individual mandate

      Got a lot of Republican judges appointed, most notably Amy Coney Barrett

      Leased a ton of Federal land to private interests

      Unwound climate protections and weakened enforcement

      Put in a head of the Dept. of Labor who implemented rule changes that allow 401(k)s to invest in private equity

      Did not start a war with Russia (recall Clinton wanted to implement a no-fly zone with Syria, which was tantamount to starting a hot war)

      Provided way more stimulus to ordinary people quickly via the $600 a week unemployment supplement than Obama after the crisis? Oh, and Obama also had trouble getting checks to people and was slower than the Trump Administration was on that stimulus component?

      Got out of the Paris Accord because Obama had only signed it in the last six months of his second term (I won’t go into the technical provisions, but Obama’s late entry set up the Trump exit)

      Kept the US out of the TPP

      In other words, despite being an outsider and a complete newbie to elected office, having not completed a hostile takeover of the Republican party (which meant he had trouble getting anyone good to sign on, although Trump’s propensity for firing people meant that he would have had difficulty keeping people, even had he started with a better team) and having the media in a 24/7 war on the Administration’s legitimacy, he still got a lot of stuff done. I am not a fan of a lot of that stuff, but Republicans are.

      Richard Nixon, who was under similar assault by the media and the public, hit the point where he was bunkered in the White House. Trump kept slugging back, no matter how bad his punches looked. And most pundits concede Trump would have won re-election were it not for Covid. The ferocity of the second wave in Europe, despite better management of the first wave, suggests Biden isn’t going to make much progress in getting it under control.

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      1. feox

        How is passing the billionaire class/establishment wishlist (seemingly designed to destroy the working class and their environment, with the exception of TPP) considered in any way positive? Pointing out the fact that Republican voters want that destruction only worsens the morality of Trump and the GOP since it demonstrates that they have successfully used the politics of resentment to manipulate their base into voting against their own best interests.

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        1. Yves Smith

          Do you have a reading comprehension problem? I didn’t say I approved. The contention is that Trump despite his terrible optics got a lot done that Republicans approve of.

          Continuing to preen moral superiority isn’t a way to win votes. The fact he did as well as he did despite Covid, despite regularly and relentlessly self-sabotaging, and being generally undisciplined ought to freak Democrats out even more than they are. It says the way they have run the country has left many people feeling they are not represented by them.

          And did you forget that the average Trump voter in 2016 was much higher income than the average Hillary/Sanders voter? You assume fact not in evidence, that they are poor. Trump does very well with small business people who like their lower taxes and his deregulation talk.

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        2. Oh

          Wait till you see what Buyden is gonna do for the working class and the environment. Neither of these two parties is for the working class.

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      2. Jeff N

        I missed that the individual mandate was gone, that will help me greatly after my job goes away next year. I wonder why I still have to report my health insurance on my federal tax filings?

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        1. Yves Smith

          Yes, you have not been paying attention. The penalty for not getting Obamacare was reduced to 0 as part of the tax reform bill. It ceased to apply as of 2019 tax filings.

          I would assume the reason for asking is in case you might qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

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    2. ChrisPacific

      There seems to be a consensus that Trump’s administration wasn’t very good. The Dems may not be better off policy wise but they don’t rob us of our sensibilities and decency like the GOP unashamedly have done.
      So to most outsiders it’s a no brainer to choose to least offensive. What I’m getting from reading the commentary is that you hold the Dems to a much higher standard than the GOP.

      I’ll take this one.

      Damn straight I hold the Democrats to a higher standard. The GOP are (slightly) more awful than the Democrats in most respects, but unlike the Democrats they don’t claim to be upholding the values of the left and acting as our representatives in government. They also aren’t the ones ruthlessly suppressing progressive movements and protecting their GOP-lite version of the party at all costs.

      I also don’t agree that “least offensive” is the most important criterion. Take Colin Powell, for example. He was about the most proper and accepted establishment figure you could imagine. His reputation was beyond reproach, and he made full use of that to gain public support for Bush’s phony war on Iraq that he, personally, knew was based on a lie.

      So yes, I don’t expend a lot of energy in getting upset at the GOP, any more than I am angry at snakes for being poisonous or flies for being dirty. I do get upset at those that claim to represent my interests in government while doing the opposite, and expect me to be grateful for it.

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      1. Yves Smith

        This is more on point than what I wrote, thanks!

        The original comment assumes that the Democrats are better at taking care of lower income people, another fact not much in evidence. Obama presided over 9 million largely preventable foreclosures, which took average black wealth to zero. During the post-crisis recovery, 92% of the first year GDP gains went to the top 1%. By the end of his term, the bottom 70% had only gotten back to where they were, while the top cohorts pulled ahead. Oh yes, the Dems are less bad on particular programs like SNAP, but what have they done to protect farmer income from GMO litigation due to other farmers’ seeds blowing onto their property, or them losing ownership rights over their own equipment due to them having to license and upgrade the embedded tech? And Obama (and Clinton before him) both wanted to cut Social Security (we can thank Monica Lewinsky for derailing the Clinton plan).

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        1. ChrisPacific

          I am well practiced at answering this question as I get this reaction quite a lot. It often annoys my wife that I spend more time criticizing Democrats than I do Trump, for example.

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    3. Cocomaan

      > or you really got some reason have an ideological problem with Dems that you concentrate on rubbishing them every time you get but that same energy is not in display when analysis GOP.

      This blog usually covers trump foibles when it’s interesting, not out of a sense of activism like most “journalism” these days.

      This is a blog about understanding power and money. It is about understanding the way things work, not mere criticism. That’s why I’m here most days.

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      1. AnonyMouse

        Part of the problem I would urge OP to consider is that *if* no one does this, then the Dems can (as they often have) win elections, power, and your support simply by being fractionally less bad than the GOP, rather than actively good.

        Take climate change. “Sure, our policies are inadequate, but at least we acknowledge that it’s a problem – they deny that it’s even happening!”

        There are plenty of people attacking the GOP and in many ways their problems are more obvious and require less in-depth analysis or critique.

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    4. Phillip Allen

      they don’t rob us of our sensibilities and decency

      I take issue with your assessment of the actions of the Dems. Those neoliberal empire managers have been just as destructive to the interests of poor and working people as the Reps. These are the people who granted impunity to the banksters (Obama), gutted the social safety net (Clinton), enshrined outsourcing as the chief aim of US industry, the better to loot the country of productive assets (Clinton/NAFTA, Obama/TPP). Together with their sister faction of The Money Party, they have supervised the immiseration of the US working class over more than 40 years. (There is vastly more continuity of government between administrations than disruption, because the general consensus is rock solid. See the above reference decades-long policy of immiseration as one example.) These are the “sensibilities and decency” you seem to admire so. I vomit on such “sensibilities and decency”.

      I think my hatred of the PMC exceeds my hatred of their owners and masters. I’m OK with that.

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    5. sharonsj

      It’s not bias. It’s the difference between the two parties. (Re Yves’s list: Trump has accomplished very few things I agree with, most notably not signing the dreadful TPP.) But plainly put, the Republicans are loony tunes: climate change and the pandemic is a hoax, “legitimate rape,” abortion kills babies, the Bible trumps the Constitution, the rich and the corporations aren’t rich enough, etc. Dems think everybody should be treated equally; some believe in health care for all, a woman’s right to choose, and scientific facts. The problem many of us have is that the Dems talk a good game but don’t deliver much for the average person. That’s why the election was such a squeaker and a blue wave didn’t materialize.

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    6. rd

      Yves has put together a pretty good list of things that Trump has done. While I disapprove of Trump’s presidency, it is very clear that he ran for office basically on the list of things that Yves listed.

      On the Democrats side of the table, I see:

      Clinton Administration
      NAFTA without providing a safety net fo training etc. for displaced workers
      Mass incarceration laws for relatively minor drug offences creating large unemployable populations among minorities
      Repeal of Glass-Stegal increasing wealth inequality and setting the stage for the financial crisis a decade later

      Obama Administration:
      Refusal to investigate and prosecute widespread financial fraud leading up to financial crisis
      Focus on TARP/Fed efforts bailing out the wealthy while doing little for the average person to prevent foreclosure etc.
      Aiding the explosion of non-dischargeable student loan debt
      Refusal to investigate and prosecute mortgage foreclosure fraud
      Passage of a Rube Goldberg Affordable Care Act difficult to understand, administer, and defend in court

      The Clinton and Obama Administrations set the stage for Donald Trump to enter. The Republicans were largely in self-contradictory positions which allowed Trump to takeover their party. But the Democrats had helped create the economic mess that many Americans found themselves in and Trump was able to take advantage of that and win.

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  10. Brick

    I long time ago I spent some time working in market research and gained a little insight into the issues that polling has. The first observation is that the exact word phrasing of questions matter along with the tone of voice used in the question. The second is that reaching certain demographics is difficult and that needs to be corrected for. Typically busy people don’t answer polls and those that do have a more generous positive outlook which means you cannot just extrapolate upwards. Minority groups are often more suspicious of polling and those who do answer are likely to have a more helpful outlook on life. Older people struggle to differentiate genuine polling from hard sellers with those who are the most suspicious and with fixed views least likely to answer polls.

    It looks to me like the corrections to polls made for low poll responses struggle with the fact that personal bias also affects whether you are likely to answer a poll.

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    1. Terry Flynn

      All stated preference research needs up to 20 years of experience to learn of the pitfalls. For example, in any country with a non trivial number of Chinese immigrants you have to check whether the number of people rating something as “4” might be artificially low.

      Why? Because in (typically older) Mandarin speakers 4 has connotations with “death”. It’s even worse in Cantonese. On scales that go up to 11 or 12 there are two numbers (I forget exactly – 7 & 11?) that are slang for a certain male organ. One is it soft and the other is errr not soft. Cantonese respondents are known to mess with you with using or not using these numbers. Do your homework. THIS is but one reason never to use rating scales.

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  11. Tim

    Personally I like the exit poll that flashed on the screen while I was watching Fox News to see how they were taking the election in:
    (paraphrased)

    “Do you want Medicare for all?”

    69% for 29% against 2% undecided. Inclusive of dem, rep, ind.

    I think somebody could win the next election as an independent, on a very simple platform: I want Medicare for All. Let the next president fight the other sacred cows, this one is mine.”

    Reply

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