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Can the Polls Predict if Trump or Biden Will Win?

The polls favor Biden, but can we trust them?

By:  |  July 20, 2020  |    424 Words
political poll survey NY (Photo by Howard EdwardsNewsday RM via Getty Images)

political poll survey NY (Photo by Howard EdwardsNewsday RM via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump isn’t doing as well recently in national polls, and some Republicans are very worried that he could lose his bid for re-election. Will Joe Biden win, or are the polls wrong?


In 2016, nearly all national polls gave Hillary Clinton a big lead over Trump in the weeks and days before the election. A survey by Princeton Election Consortium three days before the election gave Clinton a 99% chance of winning and predicted 312 electoral votes. In the real world, she lost and ended up with only 227. The pollster who was most accurate in 2016 was Robert Cahaly of the Trafalgar Group. He said Trump would win, and he managed this by recognizing that Trump was getting support from unlikely voters.

Cahaly understood that many of Trump’s voters didn’t want to answer the polls for fear of their jobs and lives. He added questions to his surveys that would reveal this group of voters.

Previous Campaigns

Polls have always been unreliable predictors of elections, especially when they are performed before the official campaigning starts. In July of 1988, for example, Michael Dukakis had a solid 17% lead over then-candidate George H. W. Bush in a Newsweek/Gallup poll. As history records, Bush came out ahead.

Only a few weeks before the 1980 election, incumbent President Jimmy Carter was ahead of then-candidate Ronald Reagan. But after the debates, Reagan won by a huge margin.

Voter Enthusiasm

Voter enthusiasm is far more important than polls. Most in the Republican Party approve of Trump, and he got more votes in many of the primaries than Biden.
On the other hand, a national survey by SSRS for CNN showed that 60% of Biden supporters are voting against Trump, rather than for Biden.


Now the national polls do not seem to have updated their models to capture unlikely and silent voters appropriately. Cahaly says that the fear of voicing support for Trump, even in a supposedly anonymous poll, is even greater today.

Repeating his method from 2016, he finds that the race between Biden and Trump is much closer than the aggregate of polls implies. The Primary model, which has accurately predicted 25 of 27 elections since 1912, gives Trump a 91% chance of winning in 2020, according to Dr. Helmut Norpoth.

Unreliable Polls

The year of COVID-19 has proven how unreliable both experts and the media’s reporting of facts and statistics are. Election polls are likely no exception. Trump may be down in the polls, but – based on the models that have proven accurate in the past – he is still well-positioned for re-election in November.

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