Why polls don't work

“We believe to put our time and money and brain-power into understanding the issues and priorities is where we can most have an impact,” Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport told Politico. Let other operations focus on predicting voter behavior, the implication went, we’re going to dig deeper into what the public thinks about current events.

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Still, Gallup’s move, which followed an embarrassingly inaccurate performance by the company in the 2012 elections, reinforces the perception that something has gone badly wrong in polling and that even the most experienced players are at a loss about how to fix it. Heading into the 2016 primary season, news consumers are facing an onslaught of polls paired with a nagging suspicion that their findings can’t be trusted. Over the last four years, pollsters’ ability to make good predictions about Election Day has seemingly deteriorated before our eyes.

The day before the 2014 midterms, all the major forecasts declared Republicans likely to take back the Senate. The Princeton Election Consortium put the odds at 64 percent; The Washington Post, most bullish of all, put them at 98 percent. But the Cook Political Report considered all nine “competitive” seats to be tossups—too close to call. And very few thought it likely that Republicans would win in a landslide.

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