cover image Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections

Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections

W. Joseph Campbell. University of Calif, $29.95 (316p) ISBN 978-0-520-30096-5

American University communications professor Campbell (Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism) puts the glaring mistakes of the 2016 presidential polls in historical perspective in this accessible and well-informed survey of polling errors. Arguing that polls “have been wrong often enough to invite skepticism and wariness,” Campbell reviews the infamous 1948 pollster consensus that George Dewey would defeat Harry Truman and other failures, including missed landslides for Eisenhower and Reagan in 1952 and 1980, respectively, and the chaotic Bush-Gore campaign in 2000, when pollsters inaccurately predicted the winner of the popular vote. Campbell identifies elements common to many of these polling failures, including the difficulty of anticipating what undecided voters will actually do, miscalculations in the number of respondents who go on to cast a ballot, and the premature cessation of poll taking, which happened in both 1948 and 2016. Highlighting major problems in four of the preceding five presidential elections, Campbell convincingly concludes that “voters in 2020 are well advised to regard election polls and poll-based prediction models with skepticism.” Newshounds closely following the latest 2020 predictions would be well-advised to read this bracing reality check. (Aug.)