If you were looking for evidence of Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory that pollsters make up numbers for fake news to make him look bad, then you came to the wrong place.
Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling (PPP), is at Netroots Nation in Atlanta this weekend to meet his progressive clients — and he says the firm has actually been giving the president the benefit of the doubt, math-wise.
“You have to be careful about how you weight the data to make sure that it’s representative of the population as a whole,” Jensen explains. Because Trump supporters have become less responsive to surveys since January, his while opponents have grown much more enthusiastic, PPP has been adding “weight” to the president’s numbers.
Because if 50% of voters in Location X chose Trump in November, but 55% of today’s respondents are Clinton voters, then the raw poll results will be skewed to the left — and the data won’t be very helpful to PPP’s clients.
“Democrats are a lot more excited about sort of giving their opinions right now because they’re fired up and angry, whereas Republicans are a little complacent because they got their guy in, and also a little disappointed because he hasn’t gotten that much done,” Jensen says.
PPP began adding that “weight” after they missed Trump’s Electoral College victory — just like everyone else. It’s still not clear how that happened.
“Even though all the pollsters were off, the Republican pollsters had Hillary Clinton winning by a lot more than the Democratic pollsters did,” Jensen says, “so that sort of shows you that just because you’re a Republican or a Democratic pollster doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cooking the numbers for your side.”
In fact, party identification simply tells you what kind of clients a polling firm works with. “When a campaign or organization hires a pollster, you’re hiring someone you hope is actually invested in your success.”
An effective pollster works with their client to determine what messages are most effective. Bad or skewed data would harm PPP’s ability to help candidates win.
Asked what surprises lie in current polling data, Jensen points to non-candidate questions that his firm asks respondents in order to detect current trends.
For example, PPP has been asking people about impeachment since the inauguration. “We already have a plurality of Americans who want to impeach Trump,” Jensen says. “We’ve now found three months in a row that there’s more support for, than opposition to, impeachment.”
“People thought it was kind of weird when we started asking about that right from the start,” Jensen explains, “but we said ‘this is going to end up being relevant, so we want to have the historical data over time.'”
Looking forward, Jensen says that while nothing is certain, November 2018 looks to be a very good midterm for Democrats.
“Our last national poll, Democrats had a ten point lead on the generic congressional ballot,” he says. “That would give them a decent chance of getting back control of Congress.”
Jensen sees an unusual gap in enthusiasm for the midterm elections. “We did a poll in North Carolina this week where 57% of Clinton voters said they were ‘very excited’ about voting next year,” he says. By contrast, “Only 47% of Trump voters said they were ‘very excited’ about voting next year” — numbers that are exactly the opposite of what PPP usually sees.
Here is video of my interview with Tom Jensen. Watch:
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