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US Election - Post-Election Analysis | Munk Debates

EPISODE #51

US Election - Post-Election Analysis

How could the mainstream media and their pollsters once again get the U.S. election results so wrong?

Guests
Jeff Roe
Terry Sullivan

About this episode

The election wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, according to months of American election polling. Survey after survey and breathless media commentary predicted that Joe Biden would beat Donald Trump in popular vote by upwards of 6, 8, even 10 percent. The same polls and media commentators projected the Democrats with winning margins in the key battleground states of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Idaho. Bullish predictions included a Democratic sweep of Senate, more Democratic seats in the House of Representatives, and Biden flipping the traditional Republican strongholds of Georgia and Texas. So far, none of these predictions came to pass and, instead, a Democratic cakewalk into the White House has morphed into a contested election with possibly weeks, if not months, to go before a winner is officially declared. How did this happen? Why, after 2016, is much of the media, and seemingly the majority of pollsters, so clueless when it comes to fathoming voter’s intentions on election day? Is it time, once and for all, to give up on public opinion polling as predictive tool? What is the effect on democracies of faulty polling and a media only too happy to widely publicize survey results that 2020 would suggest have little real bearing on what voters actually think?

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Guests

Jeff Roe

"They're not polling to get the right answer. They're polling to get us to write a story. It’s purposeful."

Jeff Roe

"They're not polling to get the right answer. They're polling to get us to write a story. It’s purposeful."

Jeff Roe is a nationally recognized Republican political operative. As the Founder of Axiom Strategies, Jeff has built the largest Republican consulting firm in the nation. In 2008, he made his early primary states debut on the Presidential level, coordinating phone contact and GOTV efforts for Governor Mike Huckabee, and in 2012, worked for Texas Governor Rick Perry. In 2015 Roe began running Senator Ted Cruz’s Presidential Campaign. According to the Washington Post, “Ted Cruz ran the best campaign of any Republican politician in the 2016 primary.” Others have noted that Ted Cruz’s campaign was “the most sophisticated” the nation had ever witnessed. 

A Brookfield, Missouri native, Jeff grew up working on his family’s hog farm, is an Eagle Scout and joined the Army National Guard 155mm Howitzer Unit at the age of 17. He graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO. 

Terry Sullivan

"The same day that you decide to delete realclearpolitics.com from your favorites page, unfollow Donald Trump's Twitter account. Both those things will be healthier for everybody."

Terry Sullivan

"The same day that you decide to delete realclearpolitics.com from your favorites page, unfollow Donald Trump's Twitter account. Both those things will be healthier for everybody."

Terry Sullivan has played a senior strategic role in over 100 campaigns, including more than two dozen US Senate, Gubernatorial and Presidential campaigns. Over his career he has worked for some of the biggest names in politics, including Jesse Helms, Jim DeMint, Mitt Romney, Trey Gowdy and Marco Rubio, for whom he served as Campaign Manager on his presidential campaign. He has also built and run multiple award-winning communications and media firms over the years, including TV, digital and print. 

Sullivan has a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Wilmington, and has served as an adjunct professor at George Washington Graduate School of Political Management and as a featured speaker at numerous universities including Harvard and NYU. He has appeared as an expert on numerous major and cable networks, as well as in major news publications ranging from The New York Times to National Review.

Show Notes

During the run up to the U.S. Election, Jeff and Terry participated in a Munk Debate about whether Trump had a path to re-election. During this debate, they foreshadowed concerns with how polls work and what polls were forecasting about the upcoming presidential election. This article in the Harvard Business Review explains how political polling works.

During their post-election conversation with the Munk Debates, Jeff and Terry agree that public polls failed spectacularly in predicting the 2020 US election results. You can read in-depth analysis of this epic fail in The New York Times and Vanity FairThis article by The Guardian explains how overreliance on polls reveals deeper problems within a democracy.

During the conversation Jeff argues that it is possible for polls to predict election outcomes accurately, and that the private polls he looked at succeeded where public polls failed. This Newsweek article examines why private polls do a better job than public polls.

Both Jeff and Terry discuss in detail the extent to which polls underestimated the GOP, which outperformed all predictions and delivered the thinnest House majority to Democrats in 20 years. In a major upset, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) won a fifth term, beating Sarah Gideon, Democratic Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. No poll had predicted Collins winning her Senate seat in months, but defying all odds, she won by over nine points. Read this article by The Atlantic to learn about how this race unfolded.

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