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Biden Polling: A Guide for the Perplexed (and the Freaked Out)

 Member Newsletter
March 5, 2024 5:15 p.m.

Over the weekend, Democrats or Dem-adjacent persons watching polling of the 2024 presidential election got knocked over the head with a metaphorical anvil: a batch of polls collectively showing Joe Biden 2 to 4 points behind Donald Trump. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about these polls and polling generally, ranging from the technical, to the what does it mean, to please talk me off the ledge. So I wanted to try to address them here.

First: Are these polls accurate? In an age when no one answers their cell phones let alone landlines, how do we know whether these polls are representative. Who has a landline? etc.

This is a complicated question. Without getting into deep technical details, yes, the pollsters definitely get that landlines are old news and most people don’t even answer unknown numbers on their cell phones. The same applies to text requests for political surveys. Response rates — or, rather, non-response rates — are awful. But pollsters know all of that and they’ve come up with pretty smart ways to deal with it. Without getting too far into the weeds, it comes down to increasingly sophisticated ways of modeling the electorate, using those models to weight the results, and in so doing backing out a representative sample from the data.

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