Profs and Pints DC presents: “Pre-Election Polls and Presidents,” an examination of when, how, and why pollsters have erred in predicting occupants of the White House, with W. Joseph Campbell, emeritus professor of communication at American University and author of the recently updated book Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections.
Four years ago, pollsters turned in their worst collective performance in a presidential election since 1980. Although directionally accurate in pointing to Joe Biden's victory, they sharply underestimated support for then-president Donald Trump. CNN, NBC News, and others estimated that Biden would win by double digits in 2020 but the election instead hinged on just 44,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. Trump, as you’ll remember, had won the presidency by surprisingly defeating Hillary Clinton, who had been strongly favored and whose campaign planned strategy accordingly.
With primary election campaigns well underway, the time is ripe to consider whether we are we looking at another polling misfire in 2024.
Join W. Joseph Campbell, who previously gave a great Profs and Pints talk on America in the 1990s, for a fascinating look at polling’s record in modern U.S. presidential elections—a subject rarely considered in any detail.
He’ll walk us through the errors and embarrassments of past efforts to predict the winners of presidential elections, including the “Dewey defeats Truman” polling fiasco of 1948, the close election that wasn’t in 1980, and the shock outcome of 2016. In a talk light on pollster jargon, easy on stats and data, and decidedly focused on case studies, Professor Campbell will discuss key figures who have shaped polling and how polling failures often lead to errors in how journalists, and the American public, think about elections.
And he also will offer practical tips about how best to think about pre-election polls. Among the questions he’ll tackle: Could polling's checkered past be prologue for the 2024 campaign? What are the prospects that pollsters will err again this year? (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)
Image: Halloween masks on sale in 2016. (Photo by Mike Mozart / Creative Commons.)