2020 Election SparksPublic Opinion

2020 Elections & Public Opinion: The Polls

Posted on in 2020 Election Sparks · Public Opinion

Before the election, respected national polls were showing Joe Biden receiving somewhere between 50 and 52 percent of the vote. These same polls showed Donald Trump receiving between 40 and 44 percent of the vote. In the end, the national polls  correctly predicted Biden’s vote share, but missed on Trump’s vote share. At the state level, the polls tended to also underestimate Trump’s vote share.

The 2020 election showed the problems in how public opinion is measured. In 2020, polls at the national level were accurate in predicting Joe Biden’s vote percentage but underestimated Donald Trump’s vote percentage. This caused the polls to predict a larger victory for Joe Biden than he received. Some state polls were fairly accurate, while in other states, the polls were not accurate. Although it has been suggested that a similar problem occurred in 2016, this is not the case. The national polls found a large shift towards Donald Trump in the final weeks of 2016 and predicted a final margin similar to what occurred. At the state level, most of the ”inaccurate” polls were conducted before the shift observed in the national polls; they were not inaccurate, they were out of date. 2020 shows potential problems with polling and challenges that may face pollsters in the future.

Instructors, click the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt and a debate question as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for “What Did the Polls Show Before the Election?"


“CNN Poll”

“USA Today/Suffolk Poll”

“Fox News Final Poll”

“Biden’s Favored in Our Final Presidential Forecast, But It’s a Fine Line Between a Landslide and a Nail-Biter”

“What Went Wrong With Polling: Some Early Theories”

“Where Polling Went Wrong in the 2020 Presidential Election”

“Why Were Polls Mostly Wrong”


  • Debate: Should we as citizens trust polls?                    
  • Why do you think the polls were wrong in 2020?
  • Poll: If you received a call from a pollster, would you participate in their survey?       
  • Short Answer: What are the pros and cons of public opinion polling?

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