The US election polls were wrong again, but for different reasons

The pollsters picked the right winner, but their inaccuracy in 2020 at the state level was almost the same as four years earlier. In this piece, Alex Holroyd-Jones explores why support for Donald Trump was again underestimated.

Nov 30, 2020

6 minutes

Alex Holroyd-Jones
The pollsters picked the right winner, but their inaccuracy in 2020 at the state level was almost the same as four years earlier. In this piece, Alex Holroyd-Jones explores why support for Donald Trump was again underestimated.

The fast view

  • State polls in the 2020 election were almost as inaccurate as they were four years earlier – both in terms of magnitude and direction, as Trump’s support base was once again significantly underestimated
  • The reasons were well publicised four years ago, with the lack of college-educated voters in polling methodology apparently rectified this time around. So, what happened? There are a number of possible explanations
  • Fewer people respond to telephone surveys nowadays, making adjustments to polling cohorts more difficult to implement; inherent biases can therefore be continually missed by voters afraid of declaring their voting intention publicly due to social stigma
  • The ‘shy Trump’ vote may have played a large role in the result, with many voters afraid of social stigma to declare their voting intention publicly
  • Pollsters anticipated a high voter turnout, but underestimated the greater-than-expected Republican participation; the improving economic picture heading into the election may have also been a factor
  • Markets crave certainty, despite polls having large margins of error. By understanding their inherent inaccuracies, investors can turn this uncertainty into an advantage

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Authored by

Alex Holroyd-Jones
Portfolio Manager

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