The Perils of Early Polling: The Election Ain't Over 'Til Election Day

Updated: Jul 7



There has been a lot of talk lately about how blumpfh is finished because he is down in the national polling aggregate by over 8 percentage points to dementia man Joe. However, there is more to this election than simply early polling data that is usually conducted very poorly. Trump does better in nearly every poll when weighted, and polls were even more wrong across the board in the 2018 midterms than they were in 2016. So, if anything the polls seem to be getting worse. But, that is besides the point.


The truth is that this election will most likely go down the wire. Michael Dukakis led George Bush by 17 points in late July 1988. He ended up losing by 8 percent and Bush tallied over 400 electoral votes. This is especially notable because Bush was the incumbent VP and much more known than Dukakis, which defies the notion that incumbents always poll higher than their end result. In 1984, summer polls showed it neck and neck between Reagan and Mondale. Mondale ended up losing by 20 points and barely won his home state and nothing more (besides DC, of course). Things can change fast in politics. And the internet is a beautiful tool to analyze history. We can use 2016 as a much more recent example of how polls (especially early ones) can be inaccurate.

Let's take a look at the averages of key swing states in 2016 at certain points of time and compare them to the end result.


Ohio: Clinton +5 (August 21, 2016), Clinton +2.3 (October 12, 2016)

End Result: Trump +8.1 (He outperformed the final aggregate by 5.9%)

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 13.1%


Texas: Trump +3.3 (October 23, 2016)

End Result: Trump +9.1

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 5.8%


Georgia: Clinton +1 (August 27, 2016)

End Result: Trump +5.1

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 6.1%


Arizona: Clinton +1.5 (October 28, 2016)

End Result: Trump +3.5

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 5%


Michigan: Clinton +12 (October 20, 2016)

End Result: Trump +0.3

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 12.3%


Wisconsin: Clinton +6.5 (Final 2016 Aggregate, not August 29 when she led by 11.5)

End Result: Trump +0.7

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 7.2%


Pennsylvania: Clinton +9.2 (October 13, 2016)

End Result: Trump +0.7

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 9.9%


Iowa: Trump +1.7 (November 3, 2016)

End Result: Trump +9.5

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 7.8%


Florida: Clinton +4.3 (October 22, 2016) End Result: Trump +1.2

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 5.5%


New Hampshire: Clinton +8.5 (October 24, 2016) End Result: Clinton +0.3

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 8.2%


Minnesota: Clinton +9.5 (Final 2016 Aggregate)

End Result: Clinton +1.5

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 8%


Utah: Trump +1.5 (October 27, 2016)

End Result: Trump +18.1

Error: Overestimated Clinton/McMullin by 16.6%


Maine CD2: Clinton +2 (October 25, 2016) End Result: Trump +10.4

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 12.4%


Missouri: Trump +6 (October 25, 2016)

End Result: Trump +18.5

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 12.5%


Alaska: Trump +3 (October 6, 2016) End Result: Trump +15.2

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 12.2%


Indiana: Trump +5.5 (October 19, 2016) End Result: Trump +19

Error: Overestimated Clinton by 13.5%


There are plenty of other examples. Some of them actually overestimated Trump, as he was within 10 percent in the aggregate of Illinois in October but ended up losing by a wider margin than Romney did against Chicago's hometown "hero." But the bottom line is that the election is not decided just because a couple of polls looked good for Biden. We haven't had the convention yet, let alone the debates. And yes, some people will mention that the "Comey letter" is what skewed the electorate in Trump's favor at the end, the truth is that many late deciders actually broke for Hillary (per the exit polls) and that Clinton's peak already happened around a week before the letter was released. 2018 has countless examples showing how polls are not always accurate, as showcased by Cruz being overestimated in Texas as well as Gillum being favored by 7 in Florida (before Trafalgar saved the day). So, we will see what happens this election cycle, but it should go down the wire either way.

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