The ‘Trump Effect’ Has Pollsters Fretting Over 2024

Major pollsters in both the business and academic sectors are experiencing renewed apprehension about their capacity to accurately forecast election outcomes. Once again, the primary cause for concern lies in the claim by these pollsters that Donald Trump’s supporters, making them difficult to gauge.

The polling industry experienced setbacks in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, as highly regarded pollsters significantly underestimated Republican support, including support for Donald Trump. However, the issues faced during those presidential election cycles did not persist in the off-year elections of 2018 and 2022. In fact, the 2022 midterm election witnessed the most accurate polling performance seen in any election since 1998.

For some reason, the pollsters get a lot closer when Trump, the political outsider, is running. But when two candidates from our political class are running against each other, pollsters seem to avoid election-impacting, inaccurate polling.

Jennifer Agiesta, director of polling and election analytics at CNN, said, “We were within the error margin on just about every poll we did. So I feel pretty good about how these turned out. I would say that does give me some confidence between now and 2024.”

But when Trump is on the ballot, everything changes. Politico described this effect by saying, “It’s not that Trump is some mystical force. The problems are practical. In 2020, he drew out significant numbers of people who had rarely — if ever — voted and who either weren’t included in polls or refused to participate in them. Trump trashed the polls that found him consistently trailing Biden. This created a feedback loop that made his supporters even less likely to respond, making the polls even more wrong.”

Voters’ electoral choices are often driven by tribal affiliations, a factor that holds greater significance than either political party acknowledges. The tribe aligned with Donald Trump remains largely unnoticed by pollsters due to their challenge in accurately identifying the members and, more crucially, determining their geographic distribution.

Agiesta said, “I don’t think that Trump’s comments on polling and the way that he presented his views on polling to his supporters were helpful in terms of response rate in 2020. But I don’t know if that’s going to be the same in future elections.”

According to Politico, the Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group implemented a significant methodological change in their 2022 polls. They adopted a more accurate approach by incorporating voters’ self-reported 2020 general election presidential vote as a variable. This practice, although not yet universally adopted, has been embraced by several other polling organizations as well.