Polls show Joe Biden leading Donald Trump, but after 2016, should we believe them?
It seems like a new presidential election is being published every day - with similar results.
Democrat Joe Biden dominates Pennsylvania. Now a leader in Iowa. He even leads the notoriously close race of Florida.
Just days after the news of President Donald Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization, national and state polls show Biden continues to lead the president's race.
In some cases, Biden leads double digits.
Four years ago, almost to the day, many of the same polls showed that Democrat Hillary Clinton was way ahead.
But Trump won.
Should you trust the polls this time?
President Donald Trump's supporters remain committed, despite former Vice President Joe Biden leading the way in several polls.
Respondents and political scientists say the 2016 elections changed the way polls are conducted. The educational level of the voters is re-emphasized.
It is also clear, these experts say, that there are significantly fewer indecisive voters than in 2016.
Four years ago, many voters appeared to have changed their minds in the last 10 days of the election campaign - a time when pollsters weren't there.
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The experts warn that polls should be viewed as a snapshot. Predictions from political experts helped create the assumption that Clinton would defeat Trump.
"Pollsters are aware they were absent," said Terry Madonna, pollster and political analyst at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "Since 2016, respondents have reassessed many aspects of their survey."
Not all polls in 2016 were inaccurate, said David Redlawsk, chair of the political science department at the University of Delaware.
Redlawsk, who served as an election supervisor at Rutgers University for years, found that many of the 2016 national polls estimated that Clinton was 3 percentage points ahead.
She won the referendum with 2 points.
There was also a big difference in Clinton and Biden's performance on these polls, the professor said. Despite having a slight lead, Clinton broke up in the days leading up to the election. Surveys now show that Biden's lead is growing.
At times, Trump led the former Secretary of State in the polls. Biden, on the other hand, has only left Trump behind twice among the hundreds of national polls conducted in the past year, Redlawsk said.
Winning the national vote does not mean winning the electoral college.
According to Redlawsk, one of the key lessons learned from 2016 was the importance of adapting to education in surveys.
"The point now is that polls should take a closer look at how they think about education levels," Redlawsk said. "The reason was that in the past it didn't matter. There were no gaps between white voters outside of college and college."
In many cases, white college-educated voters supported Clinton, while white voters with a high school education or less voted for Trump.
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Immediately after the 2016 election, a report by the American Association for Public Opinion Research found that the polls "significantly underestimated Trump's support in the upper Midwest."
The researchers attributed this to a significant change in voter preference in the last days of the campaign, as well as polls that ignored over-representation of college graduates who participated in those polls.
Madonna, the Pennsylvania pollster, anecdotally noted that many Trump supporters didn't tell pollers they wanted to vote for the reality star and the businessman. This was confirmed by the report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research.
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Unlike 2016, there are few undecided voters this year, probably only around 10%, Madonna said. He noted that in 2016, especially in Pennsylvania, many voters had made up their minds just before the election.
This is known as the "Comey Effect". FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress on October 28 stating that the agency intended to review additional personal emails sent by Clinton as Secretary of State.
This dominated the news cycle and may have influenced voters.
Many pollsters, including Madonna, were not on hand to capture this change, which is one reason why some polls have predicted Clinton's victory.
Experts say it is important not to overweight a single survey, but rather to focus on the overall trends of the surveys. While Biden is clearly leading the polls, Trump could still try to win over the electoral college.
A 95% probability means no certainty, warned Redlawsk, the UD professor.
"I think we're too obsessed with polls," he said. "The voters will ultimately make the decisions they make."
Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @merenewman.
This article originally appeared in the Delaware News Journal: Polls Show Joe Biden Before Trump, But Should We Believe Them After 2016?
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