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What Went Wrong With The Political Polls For The 2020 Election?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Going into the 2020 presidential election, several polls made it seem like Democrat Joe Biden had the race all locked up.

Some showed he was eight to 10 points ahead of President Donald Trump. But in many states, those numbers didn't pan out.

So, what went wrong with the polls? WCCO spoke with Rob Daves of Daves & Associates Research to find out. Daves, the former director of the Minnesota Poll, says he didn't do any political polling himself this year.

He says some polls were close, within the margin of error, like in Iowa. But some were way off, like in Wisconsin, where Biden won by less than one percentage point.

"It's too early to be certain about our diagnostics. It's not too early to conjecture, hypothesize and pick at pollsters," Daves said. "It's never too early to do those things."

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Daves said we can conjecture about several things. First, he says it's always hard to model turnout.

"Ascertaining likelihood to vote is a very, very difficult thing," he said.

He says a pandemic and this political climate made that even harder this year.

"One of the most important things is that for years now, especially in the last four years, we've had the president talking about the 'lamestream media,' 'fake news,'" Daves said. "It could be that his base took that to heart and projected that onto the polling results."

So it's not necessarily that there were shy Trump voters. It may be they were less likely to respond at all.

Daves acknowledges it's become much harder to reach voters, like it was when in-person surveys went to landlines then cellphones, and now the internet. But he says that doesn't make polling impossible.

"This is another obstacle we have to overcome," Daves said.

He says polls are far from dead.

"Lots of life in polling," Daves said.

Like they did in 2016, the American Association for Public Opinion Research will do a review. The group also cautions against making judgments on a poll's performance until all the votes are counted.

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