But here’s a stubborn and surprising fact — and one to keep in mind as midterm polls really start rolling in: Over the past two years — meaning in the 2016 general election and then in the various gubernatorial elections and special elections that have taken place in 2017 and 2018 — the accuracy of polls has been pretty much average by historical standards.
You read that right. Polls of the November 2016 presidential election were about as accurate as polls of presidential elections have been on average since 1972. And polls of gubernatorial and congressional elections in 2016 were about as accurate, on average, as polls of those races since 1998. Furthermore, polls of elections since 2016 — meaning, the 2017 gubernatorial elections and the various special elections to Congress this year and last year — have been slightly more accurate than average. This isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon: Despite often inaccurate and innumerate criticism over how polling fared in events like Brexit, a recent, comprehensive study of polling accuracy by Professor Will Jennings of the University of Southampton and Professor Christopher Wlezien of the University of Texas at Austin found polling accuracy has been fairly consistent over the past several decades in a variety of democratic countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
The media narrative that polling accuracy has taken a nosedive is mostly bullshit, in other words. Polls were never as good as the media assumed they were before 2016 — and they aren’t nearly as bad as the media seems to assume they are now. In reality, not that much has changed.