Problematic polls? Experts question reliability of election surveys

Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 1:31 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - How dependable are polls nowadays in gauging if a candidate is likely to win or lose their race? Political experts say Americans would not be wrong in having cause for pause.

The midterms are less than two weeks away and voters and political parties want to know how their favorite candidates are doing. However, it is unclear whether we can rely on the same old surveys given the mistakes of past elections.

“There are reasons for caution,” said Bill Galston, Senior Fellow of Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution.

Galston says it is getting trickier to read and interpret polls especially in presidential election cycles. That was well documented with the support for Donald Trump being underestimated in 2016 and 2020. But what about a non-presidential year like this one and a polarizing former president not on the ballot?

“The answer is nobody knows,” Galston said.

Galston believes polling at the state level is too inconsistent to have the average of those polls be a leading indicator. He also agrees having candidates who are staunch Trump supporters may make it tough to gauge their backing too.

“What you say makes sense on the face of it. But experience has taught me to mistrust, even propositions that make sense. Because you know what? Politics doesn’t always make sense,” said Galston.

Eli Yokley with Morning Consult says the polling agency has been forced to adapt to the changing times and not follow past methods when collecting data.

“Pollsters have done a lot of work over the last few years to try to work on fixing the challenges with reaching non-college-educated voters, trying to reach voters that may not trust some of these institutions like the press to try to get them to talk and answer surveys. I think there’s been a lot of ground made up on that over the past couple of months,” said Yokley.

Galston thinks it is safer to make big picture judgements about individual races especially those that are predicted to be blowouts. He says it is too hard to predict a candidate winning if their lead is within the margin of error.