Preelection polls have been inescapable early in the 2024 election year, setting storylines, as they invariably do, for journalists and pundits about the race for the presidency.
At the same time, the polls have delivered reminders that they can be less than precise indicators of outcomes — as was evident in January’s Republican caucus in Iowa and primary in New Hampshire.
In those contests, former President Donald Trump slightly underperformed his estimated polling numbers, while rivals Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in Iowa and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in New Hampshire outperformed poll-based expectations.
Although Trump won both states handily, the outcomes signaled anew that polls, however ubiquitous, are best treated warily. That’s a point I emphasize in the soon-to-be-released, updated edition of “Lost in a Gallup,” my book about polling misfires in U.S. presidential elections.
Imprecision in election polling has long been recognized. As Archibald Crossley, a pioneer of modern survey research, pointed out in the early 1970s:
“If election results completely agree with those of a preelection poll, it is a coincidence.”