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The Uncertain Science Of Election Polling

Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush casts her ballot on August 4, 2020 at Gambrinus Hall in St Louis, Missouri. (Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush casts her ballot on August 4, 2020 at Gambrinus Hall in St Louis, Missouri. (Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
This article is more than 2 years old.

With the presidential election less than three months away, people are fixated on polls. Biden’s up, Trump is down – but is that really true? We discuss America's polling obsession.  


Elliott Morris, data journalist for The Economist. (@gelliottmorris)

Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan campaign analysis. Political analyst for CNN and RollCall. (@nathanlgonzales)

Celinda Lake, longtime Democratic pollster and expert on women voters. Founder and president of Lake Research Partners, a political strategy research firm. Author of "What Women Really Want." (@celindalake)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

From The Reading List

Pew Research Center: "Key things to know about election polling in the United States" — "A robust public polling industry is a marker of a free society. It’s a testament to the ability of organizations outside the government to gather and publish information about the well-being of the public and citizens’ views on major issues."

The Economist: "Forecasting the US elections" — "Our model is updated every day and combines state and national polls with economic indicators to predict a range of outcomes."

The Upshot: "Are the Polls Missing Republican Voters?" — "With polls showing Joe Biden holding a commanding lead, one question keeps popping up: Are these polls missing Trump voters?"

Bloomberg: "Political Pollsters Find People Stuck at Home Are Happy to Talk" — "Democratic pollster Celinda Lake is used to people hanging up on her after giving all manner of excuses."

Economist Radio: "Modelled citizens—how useful is polling in predicting the result of the US presidential election?" — "Forecasters put Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning at 70 percent or more on the eve of the election in 2016."

Roll Call: "6 things that will never be the same after the 2020 elections" — "It’s still too early to declare the final results of the 2020 elections, but there are at least a few things that we know will never be the same again, even before we get to November."

New York Times: "A 2016 Review: Why Key State Polls Were Wrong About Trump" — "Nearly seven months after the presidential election, pollsters are still trying to answer a question that has rattled trust in their profession: Why did pre-election polls show Hillary Clinton leading Donald J. Trump in the battleground states that decided the presidency?"

Quartz: "Can we trust the 2020 US presidential polls?" — "The US presidential election is three months away, and the polls and forecasts are rolling in."

This program aired on August 7, 2020.


Adam Waller Freelance Producer
Adam Waller is a freelance producer for On Point.


Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



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