Poll surveys have become an important part of life and government in countries around the world. People in democratic countries get to declare what they want and support openly in periodic elections. In between elections, poll surveys indicate how people think and feel about government programs and plans. And they are used to predict election results.
Poll surveys are now under close scrutiny in the world’s biggest democracy, the United States, which will hold its presidential election in less than two weeks — on November 3. The surveys show that the Republican Party’s President Donald Trump, who is seeking a second four-year term, is well behind the Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden.
But there are many who nurse doubts about these surveys. Because of what happened in the presidential election of 2016.
In the US, presidents are elected through an Electoral College system. Voters elect the members of the state’s electorial college members who, in turn, elect the president. In 2016, Clinton had 3 million more individual votes than Trump. But in five or six so-called swing states, Trump edged out Clinton to win the state votes in the national Electoral College.
This year, Trump is again behind his Democratic rival, Biden, in the national total, but all eyes are now on the so-called swing states.
The poll survey organizations have conceded they made some errors in their 2016 surveys. In some battleground states, they said, their survey samples failed to include enough white voters without college degrees, who are among Trump’s most fervent supporters.
This year, the pollsters say they will avoid such mistakes in traditional battleground states like Pennsylvania and Nevada. But Trump continues to campaign, many of his enthusiastic supporters defying such pandemic protocols as wearing face masks and social distancing.
There are some other factors whose effect on the results remain uncertain. Mail-in voting and early voting are at historic levels. There are many complicating factors that are hard for poll surveys to account for, according to a leading global research group.
US elections are of great interest to us in the Philippines, whose political institutions, including form of government were patterned after those of the US. We too make great use of surveys not only at election time but also on various issues such as government programs on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
We thus follow with great interest the ongoing US presidential election campaign, especially as it approaches its climax. And we follow the debates and disputes over poll surveying which also make up an important part of our own political system and way of life.