In elections years, the American political landscape is flooded with polling data. As a consumer, it can often be difficult to decipher which polls are reliable. The 2016 election famously saw Donald Trump elected president with 306 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 232, a seemingly unanticipated Electoral College landslide. However, Clinton won the popular vote by more than two percentage points—a margin that was in line with most national polling. The 2018 midterm election results were similarly dramatic and, once again, Abt was able to bring real value to election polling: Our ABC News/Washington Post generic Congressional ballot prediction proved the most accurate among major media polls.
Reliable pre-election polls results require both accurate modeling of voter turnout as well as adherence to the highest methodological standards. The technical execution of our methodology sets Abt apart. We strive for consistency throughout the project lifecycle. This means a dedicated team of experienced project directors to lead all polling projects. Data collection is conducted by two specific call center facilities, ensuring every poll has field management and research interviewers with prior experience. Among the most critical aspects of election polling is reaching a representative cross-section of the American public, including respondents who are hard to reach. Using historical norms to guide our sample release and maximizing call attempts on all available records improves the demographic makeup of the final sample. Finally, our team of statisticians and survey methodologists have developed a consistent and reliable weighting protocol for all polling studies. Calibrating our survey estimates to match population parameters is critical. These practices together ensure Abt delivers the highest quality data to our polling partners.
As a charter member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research Transparency Initiative, Abt requires high levels of disclosure and transparency in all polls we conduct, so it’s not surprising that polling organizations that partner with Abt performed extremely well in the FiveThirtyEight pollster ratings. In fact, our ABC News/Washington Post poll is one of just six organizations, and the only major news organization/media poll, to receive an A+ rating.
Looking ahead, the 2020 election will present unique challenges. Among the most important for election polling will be the makeup of the electorate. Typically, pollsters model turnout based on similar recent elections (i.e. primary, midterm or general). However, there is reason to believe that the makeup of the 2020 electorate will be different from that of 2016. Factors that impact the electorate include changing voter registration, shifting demographics, and individual voter intentions. The uncertainty will require pollsters to have a number of different turnout models to evaluate based on the changing landscape. Having successfully navigated the unexpected in the last two election cycles, we’re confident that we can use our experience to accurately assess the changing dynamics we anticipate for 2020.