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‘Polls are not predictions but snapshots in time’

‘Polls are not predictions but snapshots in time’

Ailyn Agonia
DOHA
As the US enters the final weeks of the presidential election and with more than 22 million ballots already cast, former vice president Joe Biden maintains lead over President Donald Trump in national polls.
However, in the latest Washington Foreign Press Centers virtual briefing, Dr Doug Schwartz, Director and Vice President of Quinnipiac University Poll, has reminded everyone “polls are not predictions but snapshots in time or opinions registered over a specific number of days that can change”.
Schwartz indicated Biden has led Trump in every national poll Quinnipiac have done this year by between seven and 11 percentage points, with one exception. He also said their most recent national poll, conducted at the end of September, shows Biden leading by 10 percentage points. In battleground states, he added, their polling is showing a double-digit lead in Florida and Pennsylvania.
“Obviously, that’s a very positive sign for Biden at this moment in time, but I would come back to this concept of polls being snapshots in time, that things can change. We do, for example, have another debate coming up between the presidential candidates that could affect things. Our poll that showed those big leads for Biden came right after the first debate and also right after President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. So, those things could have had an impact. And we just don’t know if it’s a short-term impact that was affecting people at that moment, or whether it would be sustained through the election,” he remarked.
He also pointed out that after the 2016 election- in which nearly all predicted a victory for Hillary Clinton- pollsters took a look at what happened as a whole and why some state polls underestimated Trump’s support.
He said, “The main methodological change that some state pollsters had to make was that since 2016, they’ve now started to weight by education. For Quinnipiac, we have always weighted by education, and that is, we want to make sure that we’re accurately representing different education groups. The problem in 2016 was that in some key states, including Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania, some of the pollsters there did not weight their samples by education. What ended up happening is they overrepresented white voters with college educations and underrepresenting white voters without college educations. And the group, white voters without a college education, were a key part of Trump’s supporters. It was one of the reasons why some of those polls underestimated Trump’s support in the election. And my understanding is that some of those pollsters are now weighting by education to fix that.”
In terms of determining the reliability of polls, he said the gold standard methods in polls include transparency and using live interviewers. Schwartz named the Pew Poll, ABC News, Washington Post poll, NBC News, Wall Street Journal poll, and CNN and Fox News polls as polls he personally trusts.
He also added, “One thing to keep in mind: As pollsters, nothing is more important to us than getting it right. Our reputations are on the line.”
As polls focus their efforts on swing states, Schwartz said for President Trump to win he has to keep all of the states that he won in 2016, namely, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona. While Biden, he added, has to chip away at that and win some of those states such as the traditional democratic states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.