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Ending The ‘Trump-Defies-Polls’ Fallacy

Ending The ‘Trump-Defies-Polls’ Fallacy

by Kevin Kelton

As the 2018 midterms approach, a lot of people seem to be misremembering the facts regarding President Trump’s ability to “defy the polls” and the true history of polling involving him. In my Facebook political group, Open Fire Politics, and in other debate groups, I constantly see posts warning that Trump defies all polling and that midterm election polls cannot be trusted with one Donald J. Trump in the mix. This creates a Svengali-like myth around Trump that only helps him and is far from accurate. So let’s do a reality check.

First off, remember that election polls are not meant to predict a numeric outcome; they are merely meant to project who will ultimately win or lose.* In that regard, the 2016 general election polls were predominantly correct: Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, and 47 of the 50 states turned out the way the pollsters had projected.

To my knowledge, there were only four times when pre-election polls were wrong about Trump. And one of those was wrong in his favor – the Iowa primary – in which the polls almost unanimously showed Trump far ahead of Ted Cruz. Yet Trump went on to lose by several points.

In the 2016 general election, only PA WI and MI were off in HRC’s favor, and WI and MI were just outside of the margin of error. But in every other election he’s ever been in — 49 state primaries and 47 of the states in the general election – the final pre-election polls were right. That’s a 96% accuracy rate. Yet people still seem to believe he simply defies all polling.

Forbes, The New York Times, Wired and many other media outlets have reported on this fallacy, yet it continues to live and spread in the zeitgeist of America’s voters.

That’s not to say we should blindly accept all polling (clearly we shouldn’t) or that the news media needn’t do a better job of its predictive analysis (clearly they should). But to discount the polls and simply assume Trump will defy the numbers diminishes both the national political dialogue and reality itself.

So please stop spreading this phony-baolney narrative that Trump is somehow impervious to polling, or that otherwise highly respected polls should be ignored when it comes to him. In doing so, you are creating a phony narrative that Trump will continue to beat the odds and is destined to win everything he touches.

That gives him a fake power that he has not earned and does not deserve.


Kevin Kelton is a co-host of the More Perfect Union podcast and founder of the Facebook political debate group, Open Fire. 

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* The news media often implies that a wide polling spread means the election outcome will be that wide. It doesn’t. Pre-election polls are designed to be predictive of the winner and loser(s), not necessarily the final margin of victory.

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