With Joe Biden set to become president-elect, each side needs to take stock of where they missed. And I certainly will write about my misses (the Ohio one is terrible) in the weeks ahead.
The lesson of 2020 is that Biden’s voters were correct that Trump’s supporters can’t grasp how much of the country despises Donald Trump. Trump’s loss is built on massive pro-Biden turnout in cities, along with Biden’s gains in the Suburbs. That’s perhaps best encapsulated by Cobb County, Georgia. Hillary Clinton won the county by just over a point. Biden won it by 14.3 points. He won 62,000 more votes there, which will easily surpass his margin in a state that hadn’t gone Democratic since 1996.
The other lesson of 2020 is that Trump’s voters were correct that Biden’s supporters have no idea how many people love Trump. Trump came closer than I thought, and he received way more votes than he did in 2016.
In a period of examination, it’s important to beat back faulty narratives. And “Trafalgar got things right” just won’t die.
They started spinning that they got it right early:
Here’s Trafalgar’s final map:
They’re going to miss: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona. For Trafalgar, this is not “unfolding the way we figured.”
Trafalgar claims they have a proprietary method, which they will not reveal beyond saying they’ve sent texts and asked how someone’s neighbors are voting. But their method has led to some very strange claims:
That did not happen. Not even close. The exit polls leave a lot to be desired but here is Trump’s Black support in them: 6% (PA), 7% (WI), 9% (MI), 11% (GA). Even if you distrust the exits (which is reasonable), Biden’s winning in most major cities by more than Clinton. From Kansas City to Columbus. From Denver to Atlanta. The story is the same in many other major American metropolitan areas: Biden turned out a ton of people that didn’t vote in 2016, and he won them at high rates. It’s hard to make any convincing case that Trump won over 20% of the Black vote.
Trafalgar’s problems with polling Black voters really showed in Minnesota. They had Kanye West at 3.3%:
He ended up getting .2%. They found 16.5x more votes for West than he received. That poll all fell down. And Cahaly went on Sean Hannity’s show before the election and said, “But for Kanye, he’d (Trump) take Minnesota.” Here’s what actually happened (New York Times listing of results):
The Trafalgar folks would say, in flashing lights, “Well, we barely had Trump up in those states, we were within our margin of error.” But that’s what happens when you basically have every poll as Trump +2 in the states he loses. If he wins, you say, “The liberal media missed again.” And if he wins, then you get to claim nobody understood Trump was as close as you did.
They missed big in Georgia:
This is probably the easiest transition to 2018. Trafalgar missed a lot in 2018. Cahaly won’t acknowledge that:
In the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, they had Kemp winning by 12. He won by 1.4. They missed his margin by 10.6 points.
They missed the 2018 Nevada Senate race by eight points, incorrectly predicting a three point Heller win when he lost by five points.
They missed the 2018 Arizona Senate race. They called a McSally win by two points and she lost by 2.3.
Trafalgar missed the 2018 Texas Senate race by 6.4 points. They had Cruz winning by nine points when he won by 2.4.
In their final big miss in 2018, they incorrectly called a two point win for the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Nevada has a Democratic governor—by a 4.1 point margin.
Why should we have thought this guy had it right?:
Cahaly really might be on to something with finding different voters. The polls had big misses in places in 2020. Susan Collins trailed in every poll. She’s going to cruise to re-election. Trafalgar has done well in Florida, as they’ve called the last four big races in the state.
But Cahaly won’t release his method. With plenty of big polling misses—including so many in his polls—he should bring his method public. Maybe he’s finding Trump’s white voters or detecting a Cuban shift in Florida. If he has a way to reach those people, then a public dialogue could help him figure out why he’s missed so badly in Georgia and had a map that missed five states. Maybe we’d find out why he thought Minnesota was Kanye dependent.
My fear is that Cahaly will come away from 2020 without anyone looking back at how many races he’s called incorrectly. He proclaimed victory on election night before mail-in ballots put Biden over the top. But he shouldn’t proclaim victory. He predicted the wrong candidate would win, and his polls leave a lot to be desired over the two two cycles. Plenty of other pollsters have missed big, but they’re not out there claiming vindication. Cahaly shouldn’t either. Any love for him should be locked down.
Kendall Kaut is a lawyer, the editor-in-chief of Baylor’s SB Nation website and an elections analyst.
You can follow Kendall on twitter @kendallkaut. You can subscribe to the newsletter, which will publish at least weekly on the election and politics at https://kendallkaut.substack.com