Politics

Political Polling Has a Full-Blown Confidence Crisis

Image Credit: Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Heading into the 2020 election cycle, confidence in political polling has reached new lows, as evidenced by research conducted by CivicScience over the past several days. The results below were collected from a representative sample of over 3,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and older:

Only 4% of respondents characterized themselves as “very confident” in the results of political polls, while 33% said they were “somewhat confident.” A whopping 63% said they have no confidence in political polls. 

Not surprisingly, the results have a political skew. Only 1% of Republicans are “very confident” in political polls, while 85% have zero confidence. Democrats are the inverse, with 8% saying they are “very confident” and 40% saying they are “not at all confident.” Political Independents are right down the middle (5% “very”, 34% “somewhat”, 61% “not at all”).

Nefarious Participation 

As political polling has grown in both its media visibility and in its perception as an influencer of political outcomes, some survey participants will actively answer dishonestly to sway results in a direction of their choosing. See below:

Nine percent of U.S. adults admitted to answering dishonestly to a political poll or survey, with another 18% saying they actively choose not to participate. If we remove the 18% of non-participants from the sample, we see that 11% of political poll-takers may respond dishonestly at any given time. The numbers were consistent by party, with 9% of Republicans, 8% of Democrats, and 11% of Independents saying they have been dishonest in political polls. The big difference is that 20% of Republicans say they never answer political polls or surveys, compared to just 12% of Dems and 23% of Independents.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

And while 11% of U.S. adults openly admit to voting dishonestly in political polls, they seem to think everyone else is doing it. As you can see in the chart below, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe other people answer political polls inaccurately to sway the results:

Amazingly – or maybe not, if you think about it – the results to this question are nearly identical by party affiliation, with 64% of Republicans, 60% of Dems, and 62% of Independents believing other people respond dishonestly to political polls. That’s tribalism in a nutshell: you can’t trust people on the other team.

Confidence in the Future

There are a lot of reasons to explain the low level of confidence in political polling today. A recent history of inaccuracy is certainly a factor. Perceived (and real) biases of the media outlets that publish and often sponsor those polls is certainly another. But a growing distrust in the people who respond to political polls is an emerging and ugly problem. 

Still uglier yet is the fact that this culture of distrust is being embedded in our youngest generations. See below:

Gen Z voters are just as likely as the hyper-cynical Gen Xers, and more likely than Millennials or Baby Boomers to report no confidence at all in political polling. All of this points to a long-term crisis for political pollsters if things don’t change. 

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