To investigate those concerns, the Pew Research Center did a thorough analysis over the past few months, culminating in a report released yesterday. By adjusting the results from their pre-election polls throughout 2020 to account for Trump’s actual showing in November, Pew’s researchers found that whatever caused his support to go underrepresented didn’t have as much of an effect on responses to other questions.
“We discovered that the impact on the issue questions was very minimal,” Scott Keeter, who helped create the report, said in an interview, referring to questions about social and political issues. For questions more directly tied to partisan affiliation, like the president’s approval rating, “those numbers moved more,” Keeter said. “But they still didn’t move as much as the vote moved, in our simulations. So we took this as generally good news.”
Ultimately, the Pew report found that adjusting poll results to properly account for Trump’s support altered the results on issues-based questions by anywhere from 0.5 to 3 percentage points. That’s not nothing — but it’s also not enough to render these results moot, Keeter said.
“Given how evenly divided the public is, in election polls an error of two or three percentage points makes a real difference,” he said. “But we don’t hold issues polling to that kind of standard because we understand that questions on issues are inherently more subjective.”
Those kinds of questions, he explained, are already messier than questions asking which candidate a respondent will support. “They tend to be tied to how questions are worded, and what people happen to be thinking about on a particular topic at any given point,” Keeter said. So while it can be useful to know that a solid majority of the public supports, say, a $15 minimum wage, it isn’t as worthwhile to focus on the exact numerical figure, down to the percentage point.
With that in mind, there’s no doubt that polls continue to provide a useful tool for understanding — as George Gallup’s syndicated newspaper column was once called — “What America Thinks.”
We can reliably say that Biden’s approval rating is more positive than negative. We know the public broadly supports the $1.9 trillion relief bill he has proposed — while certain elements within it are even more popular than the package writ large. And polls clearly reflect the fact that most Republicans would like Trump to continue playing a role in their party going forward.