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What Do the Pollsters Who Got It Right in 2016 Say About 2020?

Two pollsters who got it right last time are calling for a Trump victory – one says it's too close to call.

A lot of American pollsters woke up on Nov. 9, 2016, with egg on their collective faces. In print and on television, pollsters galore had to backpedal tout de suite. One would think these people – whose job it is to predict how citizens will vote – would have learned a thing or two from their national humiliation. Alas, these folks appear not to have learned a damn thing. Worse, they are shoveling the same manure into the public square in 2020, just as they did four years ago.

However, a select few called the 2016 contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump correctly. So, what are they saying this time?

Number 1: Trafalgar

Robert Cahaly runs the Trafalgar Group. These people don’t put much stock in national polls, so they spend a lot of time surveying statewide elections. There is ample reason to avoid national surveys, but more on that later. In 2016, Trafalgar called Pennsylvania and Michigan for Trump. Cahaly rightly boasted, “We had the best poll in five of the battleground states in 2016. And I actually predicted 306 to 232 on the electoral college.” So, why did the survey get it right when most others got it wrong?

Trafalgar polls differently than mainstream polling operations. It focuses on certain realities that others do not consider. For example, it determined that conservatives are five times more likely to refuse to participate in poll queries. In addition, Cahaly’s organization looks at something called “social-desirability bias,” which is a fancy way of saying the shy voter is real. In a nutshell, some Americans don’t want to go public with their opinions.

Thus, Trafalgar’s methodology is different from the average pollster. This time around, it is putting Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina in the Trump column, predicting the president will be re-elected. Cahaly told National Review‘s Rich Lowry, “If it all happened right now, my best guess would be an Electoral College victory [for Trump] in the high to 270s, low 280s.” The sticking point is Pennsylvania:

“Trump isn’t there yet in Pennsylvania. Right now, we’ve got him down in Pennsylvania. I think if it were held today, the undecided would break toward Trump, and there’d be some hidden vote. He’d probably win Pennsylvania. But I’m going to give a caveat on only Pennsylvania. I believe Pennsylvania to be the No. 1 state that Trump could win and have stolen due to voter fraud.”

Number 2: Norpoth

Political scientist Helmut Norpoth may not be a household name, but the Stony Brook University professor must know something. He uses a unique “primary model” to predict who will win. In presidential match-ups, Norpoth has gotten it right five out of the last six times. Over the last hundred years, applying his unique model would give Norpoth an accuracy rate of an astonishing 25 out of 27 contests. His misses were with the Bush/Gore and Kennedy/Nixon races – and who could blame him for incorrectly calling those historically close races?

Norpoth’s primary model – which he says is “just math” – predicts a Trump landslide this year. He has the president taking 362 electoral votes to Joe Biden’s 176. Not that it matters, but Norpoth conjectures the president is likely to lose the popular vote again. In the Stony Brook University News, Norpoth is quoted as asserting, “Everybody thinks Trump is going to go down in flames, and here I am predicting with almost total certainty that he’s going to win.” He concluded, “It seems crazy. But it’s not.”

Number 3: TechnoMetrica Institute of Policy and Politics Poll (TIPP) From TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence

In 2016, Raghavan Mayur saw the Trump Train coming when few others did. When most pollsters were busy eating crow in November 2016, Mayur was able to crow about his accuracy. In an article for NJ.com, he recently said, “Typically, what happens is that I lead the polls. They follow me.”

Mayur’s TIPP poll has Biden leading Trump by a razor-thin 2.7%. Keep in mind the RealClearPolitics average has Biden up almost 10 points. That should tell you a little something about poll averages. Mayur recently told NJ.com, “Under three points, anything can happen.” Here again, the TIPP executive points to the Keystone State as the problem for the president. “The real battleground is Pennsylvania. The dynamic in the state of Pennsylvania is that for the Democrats, the city of Philadelphia and the counties surrounding it are key to offsetting the rest of the state.”

In June, TIPP gave the president a slight edge; today, it’s Biden, which means this presidential match-up could be a squeaker and is still up for grabs.

So, before you drown your sorrows in a bottle over the polls, keep in mind Trafalgar, Norpoth, and TIPP. Whether it’s close or by a landslide, a win is a win, and if you want to look at polls, why not consult the ones who got it right last time.


Read more from Leesa K. Donner.

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