With control of Congress hanging in the balance in this year’s federal mid-term elections, pollsters are once again under the microscope.
The issue is that outfits that measure voter support of political candidates have not been able to hone in on a slice of former President Donald Trump’s backers. All you have to do is have a look at the last two presidential elections.
Polling suggested Hillary Clinton in 2016 had slim leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. To the surprise of many, Trump won all three states and the White House.
Four years later, Joe Biden was polling slightly ahead of Trump but ended up winning in a cliff-hanger.
After each election, the American Association of Public Opinion Research put together teams to examine polling to figure why it was off the mark.
The results found that in 2016 polling “clearly underestimated Trump’s support in the Upper Midwest.” Similarly in 2020, the polling autopsy found a “(polling error) of unusual magnitude.” In short, polling in both races missed a chunk of Trump voters.
The question is why?
For an answer, FOX59/CBS4 turned to Don Levy, the director of highly regarded polling outfit the Siena Research Institute.
“Part of the on-going narrative of former President Trump can be summed up under the rubric of ‘fake news’,” said Levy, who added that distrust among Trump voters extends to pollsters.
Some Trump backers simply won’t cooperate with polls.
So, how do you measure the political leanings of a segment of the voting population that refuses to talk about their favored candidate?
Skylar White said the answer is Google searches.
White is the CEO and founder of unumAI, a Colorado data services company. He has a radical polling recipe. He folds in historical voting data, gives the incumbent a slight mathematical bump and adds data on Google searches for candidates.
In short, the candidate voters are Googling more is doing better among likely voters.
“Whether it’s searching for a news article related to the candidate or a way to donate to them, there’s confirmation bias in the way people are searching them,” explained White.
White said his research finds people overwhelmingly do internet searches on candidates they intend to support. Combine that with Google’s dominance among search engines and that search data is available on Google Trends, and White contends it gives a real-time glimpse of how voters are leaning.
White also provided to FOX59/CBS4 some Google-assisted research on a pair of Indiana races where public polling has been scarce.
In the U.S. Senate contest, White has incumbent Republican Todd Young up 13 percentage points on Democratic challenger Thomas McDermott. He has the Secretary of State race a bit tighter with Republican Diego Morales ahead by 10 percentage points over Democrat Destiny Wells.
White will also be supplying data to Siena on several key 2022 statewide races around the country.
Levy said, “We’ve told Skylar the states that we’re going to be investigating and polling twice, once in September, once in October. He’s going to track those states simultaneously, and we’ll compare and contrast.”
But Levy does not foresee changing his telephone methods even if White’s Google-driven surveys are closer to actual vote totals.
White remains confident he has found the future of political polling.
“The process works. It’s validated, a history of testing both live and historicals. So, the question for adoption is when, not if.”