Most preelection polls in 2020 overstated Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in the national vote for president, and in some states incorrectly indicated that Biden would likely win or that the race would be close when it was not. These problems led some commentators to argue that “polling is irrevocably broken,” or that pollsters should be ignored.
The true picture of preelection polling’s performance is more nuanced than depicted by some of the early broad-brush postmortems, but it is clear that Trump’s strength was not fully accounted for in many, if not most polls. Given the errors in 2016 and 2020, how much should we trust polls that attempt to measure opinions on issues? A new Pew Research Center analysis of survey questions from nearly a year’s worth of its public opinion polling finds that errors of the magnitude seen in some of the 2020 election polls would alter measures of opinion on issues by an average of less than 1 percentage point. The errors in election polls don’t necessarily lead to comparable errors in polling about issues.