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ASU professor: Media, pollsters focused on wrong information to predict election

Nov 10, 2016, 1:14 PM | Updated: 2:55 pm
(AP Photos)...
(AP Photos)
(AP Photos)

PHOENIX — Donald Trump’s victory in Tuesday’s election would have been easier to predict if pollsters focused more on voter sentiments than other issues, an Arizona State University professor said.

During an ASU-moderated discussion panel Wednesday, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism professor Leonard Downie Jr. said polltakers and the media focused too much on small issues, such as the candidates’ ground games, instead of how voters actually felt.

Julia Wallace, editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a journalism professor at ASU, agreed with Downie.

“We were so fixated on talking to each other, and to the experts, that we stopped talking to the people who were actually going to decide,” she said. “When they did talk, we didn’t listen.”

Many polls predicted a close race finishing with a Clinton victory. Instead, Trump won handily.

While there are inherent problems with polls — more on that below — they do serve a purpose. Polls are typically a reliable way to show how people feel about a certain topic, such as the election, and gauge how the public reacts to events.

So if polls are so reliable and widely-used, what happened during this election? Several factors likely contributed to why the media predicted a Clinton win.

Some organizations conduct their own poll or partner with an agency to survey people about their thoughts. Others use polling data from outside companies. Some use a mix of both.

The chief problem with polls is demographic data. For example: Some polls sent to KTAR News during this election cycle only surveyed a few hundred people. Others only called landlines, which typically are used by older people. Some had an uneven number of voters aligning with a certain party.

All of these factors could combine to give an inaccurate portrait of voter concerns.

There could also be a problem with what questions are asked. Poll questions tend to be very specific, which can serve to give a narrow view of what people think and may fail to reflect their true sentiments.

Tuesday’s election is also not the first time both pollsters and the media had the election wrong.

The most famous example of this comes from the 1948 election, when Thomas Dewey was unanimously expected to become president. However, he was defeated by Harry S. Truman, who was later photographed holding a newspaper announcing his defeated opponent’s victory.

KTAR’s Carter Nacke contributed to this report.

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ASU professor: Media, pollsters focused on wrong information to predict election