With control of Congress on the line in this year’s federal midterm elections, pollsters are once again under the microscope.
The problem is that outfits that gauge voter support for political candidates have been unable to zero in on a slice of former President Donald Trump’s supporters. Just take a look at the last two presidential elections.
A poll suggested that 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 probing slightly ahead of Trump but ended up winning in a cliff-hanger.
After each election, the American Association for Public Opinion Research assembled teams to review the polls to understand why they were irrelevant.
The results revealed that in 2016 polls “clearly underestimated support for Trump in the Upper Midwest.” Similarly in 2020, the poll’s autopsy revealed an “unusually large (polling error)”. In short, the polls in both races missed a portion of Trump voters.
The question is Why?
For an answer, FOX59/CBS4 turned to Don Levy, the director of the popular pollster Siena Research Institute.
“Part of former President Trump’s ongoing narrative can be summed up under the rubric of ‘fake news,'” Levy said, adding that voter distrust of Trump extends to pollsters.
Some Trump supporters simply won’t cooperate with the polls.
So, how to measure the political orientation of a part of the electoral population which refuses to talk about its preferred candidate?
Skylar White said the answer is Google searches.
White is the CEO and founder of unumAI, a Colorado data services company. It has a radical sounding recipe. It incorporates historical voting data, gives the incumbent a slight math bump, and adds data on candidate searches on Google.
In short, candidate voters google more fare better among likely voters.
“Whether it’s looking for a news article related to the candidate or a way to donate to them, there is confirmation bias in how people search for it,” White explained.
White said his research found that people were heavily searching the internet for candidates they intended to support. Combine that with Google’s dominance among search engines and that search data is available on Google Trends, and White argues it gives real-time insight into how voters are leaning.
White also provided FOX59/CBS4 with Google-assisted research on a pair of Indiana races where public polls have been sparse.
In the U.S. Senate contest, White has incumbent Republican Todd Young up 13 percentage points over Democratic challenger Thomas McDermott. He has the race for Secretary of State a bit tighter with Republican Diego Morales ahead by 10 percentage points over Democrat Destiny Wells.
White will also provide data to Siena on several key statewide races in 2022 across the country.
Levy said: “We told Skylar in the States that we will investigate and interview twice, once in September, once in October. It’s going to track these states simultaneously, and we’re going to compare and contrast.
But Levy doesn’t plan to change his phone methods even though White’s Google-led polls are closer to actual vote totals.
White remains convinced that he has found the future of political polls.
“The process is working. It’s validated, a story of both live and historical testing. So the question for adoption is when, not if.
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