This article originally ran on The Bern Report.
Although it’s still super early in the game, Polling Season for the 2020 Presidential election is here and with that comes a lot of craziness. The point of this article is to shed a little bit of light on polling mechanisms because we’ve all seen (and likely experienced) this. We see a headline that shows our candidate doing poorly and the feeling of doom sets in before we’ve even clicked on the article. That’s why we always hammer home the idea that we should wait until we have read the poll thoroughly and clicked on the methodology before forming an opinion. If the poll doesn’t include transparent methodology then it shouldn’t be taken all that seriously.
Since the race officially kicked off (and really in the months preceding) the polls started coming fast and furious, most with wildly differing results. One poll will show former Vice-President Joe Biden running away with the race with a double-digit lead, while another poll will show Biden trailing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Add to that the meteoric rise in the polls of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who seemingly came out of nowhere to vault past Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke and you have to wonder what is really going on here. But if you have been paying attention to the dynamics of polling for any length of time, it’s not hard to figure out.
One latest example of the madness is a poll that was just released for the Lone Star state that finds Joe Biden at 23%, Beto at 22% and Bernie Sanders at 17%. No other candidates were in double digits. The problem with this poll though is that it is skewed heavily towards landline telephones. We’ll dig much further into the problem with that method a little bit further on.
Here’s another poll just released today by CNN. This one shows Biden with 39% and Bernie with 15%, while no one else is registering over 8%. Huge problem with this one though, they apparently didn’t poll anyone under the age of 50.
Let’s briefly revisit the 2016 Democratic primary to get a better understanding of how this all works.
Much like 2020, the 2016 election cycle brought out some real head-scratching early polls on the Democratic side of the aisle. If you listened to or watched corporate owned-mainstream media, you were likely wondering how Clinton could have seemingly been running away with the race. She had no real big news during the primary, other than the Benghazi hearings and the email scandal, and of course neither one of those news items would have caused a Bernie supporter to leave his side. At the same time she was not making news, Bernie was, appearing on the occasional magazine cover and getting a little bit of network coverage, resulting in more and more people everyday who felt the bern. So why were a lot of the polls showing him slipping at times?
Well, the simple answer to the question is that most of the “national” polls only call a small percentage of people. (One “national” poll on NBC/WSJ admitted they only contacted 400 Democratic voters.) And if it was anything like the previous polls, they had likely called 300 of them on a landline phone. (They conveniently started omitting the methodology so that part is assumed) Add to that fact the word we mentioned a few sentences ago, “democrat”, and you’ll get a clearer picture of how the numbers could be so lopsided. It’s no great shock or breaking news that if they call a dyed-in-the-wool Clinton supporter, they’d get the answers that they do. In fact, it would be more shocking if they didn’t.
During the 2016 campaign Monmouth University had one poll a month before the Iowa Caucus that showed Clinton with a 41 point lead over Bernie Sanders in that state. But if you read the fine print for that poll, 21% of those polled had actually seen Clinton in person. That’s a telling number right there, but also add that they, like the NBC poll we mentioned, also only called 400 people (300 on a landline)and for good measure, add that they only contacted people that voted in 1 out of the last 2 Democratic primaries. That eliminated a massive amount of Bernie Sanders’ support right there. I was actually shocked that her numbers weren’t higher based on the fact the pollsters in that poll seemed to be only calling people that were likely to be supporting her.
We’ll admit we like to see the needle on the dial for internet traffic go up just as much as anyone else and the networks like to see the needle move too, but for a totally different reason. Among other reasons, we don’t sell ads, they do. In the current volatile political climate, they understand that when they put out a poll about who is the best person to take down Trump, people are going to click and they are going to share. Most of the time, the crazier the numbers, the better. And while the numbers might be accurate, it’s who they’re calling that helps skew the data and make the polls inaccurate.
How do we get to REAL numbers to see what is REALLY going on?
That’s a tough question to answer. It’s pretty clear that calling people on landline phones to get some kind of idea about what is happening inside the Bernie Sanders movement doesn’t give the American people an accurate accounting. It’s a flawed, easily manipulated antique polling method that, while decades ago might have worked to tell the story, it clearly isn’t working now.
When was the last time you were able to reach a Millennial on a landline telephone?
If you are like most of the country, you know that question is laughable. Anyone that has kids around that age knows that if you don’t text with them, you simply don’t talk to them. Until the pollsters perfect a method of reaching people by text messaging, they are not going to be providing completely accurate information. Also, a lot of Millennials won’t answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize. Another fact.
As we mentioned earlier, most of the polls are weighted more heavily by landline calls than they are cell phones. That’s important because Bernie’s rallying cry resonates very well with the younger crowd and around 2/3 of them don’t use or even own a landline, so their voice is not being counted in the polls. In a 2014 survey conduct by the CDC, 69.3% of 25-29 year old adults don’t have a landline and 64.9% of those 30-34 don’t either. The rate for 18 – 24 is 57.8 but many of those still live at home and likely aren’t answering it even when it rings.
Three in four adults living only with unrelated adult roommates (73.9%) were in households with only wireless telephones.
Nearly two in three adults living in rented homes (64.6%) had only wireless telephones.
Approximately 103 million adults (43.1% of all adults) lived in households with only wireless telephones;
More than two-thirds of adults aged 25–29 (69.3%) lived in households with only wireless telephones. This rate is greater than the rate for those 18–24 (57.8%) and similar to the rate
for those 30–34 (64.9%).
It’s important to point out that in all those demographics that show very little landline telephone use, Bernie Sanders performs very well. Of course, you have to take into consideration his rallies, the massive amount of contributions he receives and his social media reach to understand that. That’s how it was in 2016 and very little has changed, in fact he’s as popular as ever, if not more. But you’d never know that by looking at some of these polls. And please understand that some of these polls are created for a specific purpose, and it isn’t to help push a progressive agenda. Just look at the former jobs that some of the pollsters have had and you’ll start getting a more accurate picture.
Another thing we know is that Bernie Sanders is the champion of the politically disenfranchised (like us). A good amount of these people – upwards of 60% depending on where you look – aren’t registered as democrat or if they are, don’t have a long history of voting, so they don’t get to take part of the charade of Polling Season either.
Online polls have their own sets of problems with overzealous supporters spreading the links everywhere, especially active online communities with large followings.
One does have to feel the slightest bit of empathy for the people that believe these polls are accurate. Some of these people refuse to believe that a mainstream, albeit corporate-owned, network would put out information that they themselves know is flawed. But the reality of the situation is that many of these people don’t know how to find other methods of gauging how a candidate is doing, so they are forced to settle for what they are being told. And if they listen to the radio or watch TV on for very long, they’ll likely be hearing the same news broadcast over and over and over. Then it becomes fact, or it feels like fact.
You can do yourself and the rest of the country a service by not accepted the first page of the polls. Go past the “earth-shattering” headline and research how the poll is getting its data. Yes, this oftentimes requires a few extra clicks to check out the methodology of the poll but well worth the additional effort.