Why different polls have different results



People wonder why different polls of the same population have different results. Some people attribute it to liberal bias (and sometimes, this is correct). The media likes to push polls showing their candidates and issue positions are popular to depress opposition.

But that is not always the case and especially not in candidate polls where the media can be proven very wrong on election day. The Times actually had an excellent article showing why different pollsters come to different results, even with the same sampling data.

It all comes down to adjustment of the raw data. Let's just say you conduct a random poll in Florida and see that Trump is ahead five points but that 55% of your poll sample are self-declared Republicans. Well, we know Republicans are not 55% of the Florida populace so in that case a pollster could legitimately reduce the impact of the Republican voters to a more balanced level. The tricky part is knowing what is the right balance of voters. You can look at the % republican and democratic turnout in the 2012 election. But do we expect the same % turnout for dems and republicans as in 2012? No one knows. That's why pollsters tinker with the representation levels in polls, not to be biased, but to try to guess actual turnout. A poll may show Trump legitimately ahead with 40% republican voters but if GOP voters are only 38% on election day, a poll showing Trump winning may actually have him losing.

This is why polls are mostly a rough guestimate about an election, and why if the gap between two candidates is only 2-3 points, we really have no idea who is ahead; it all comes down to turnout, which no one can legitimately know in advance.



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