scorecardresearch Skip to main content

After 2016, Trump says we shouldn’t trust the polls that show him down. But should we?

President Donald J. Trump, down in the polls.Yuri Gripas/Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/

Every single public poll this summer has found President Trump losing to Joe Biden. Not only losing, but losing in a historic fashion, a blowout not seen since Ronald Reagan’s landslide reelection in 1984. And Biden’s lead is growing.

But in an interview that aired on Sunday, Trump rejected the premise.

“I’m not losing, because those are fake polls,” Trump said in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “They were fake in 2016 and now they’re even more fake. The polls were much worse in 2016.”

Some Democrats don’t believe the polls either.

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, has repeatedly said she doesn’t believe the polls showing Biden with a large lead in her home state, a key swing state that Hillary Clinton lost.


“He’s not up 16 points in Michigan, that’s just not a reality,” Dingell told a local newspaper last week.

What’s the reality the polls measure?

A Fox News poll cited in the interview had Biden up by eight points.

Also on Sunday, an ABC News/Washington Post poll had Biden up by 10 points over Trump. A NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll last week had Biden up nationally by 11 points. All three polled likely voters.

Biden has never trailed Trump in a head-to-head matchup against Trump since the presidential campaign season began. But where Biden’s lead was simply 5 or 6 points on average in this spring, polls now show Biden ahead on average by 8 points. Worse for Trump is that he is losing in every single swing state to Biden. The trendline is clear and the reason is also clear: voters believe that Trump is mishandling America’s response to the coronavirus.

However, to many who watched, stunned, on election night in 2016 when Trump won the presidency despite poll after poll saying that Hillary Clinton was going to win, there is an understandable skepticism: Why should anyone believe these polls this year?


Sure, there are a lot of bad polls out there. Some “polls” are released to serve agendas different from accurately representing what people are thinking.

And, yes, there are still over three months until Election Day. Anything can happen, especially in this era of coronavirus, which is dominating American life this year

Still, there are a lot of reasons to believe the polls that generally say that Biden is likely to be the next president.

First of all the polls themselves are better. After missing the mark in a number of states in 2016, pollsters have been paying more attention to how they weight the number of voters without a college degree. Pollsters missed the wave of those voters who came out for Trump in 2016. Since then, they say they are counting them more accurately. Second, many pollsters believed that voter turnout in communities of color in 2016 would only be slightly smaller than when Barack Obama was running, which turned out not to be true.

Serious pollsters, like many that are frequently quoted in the mainstream media, are trying to fix their flaws.

How do we know that they are? Polls taken in the last three weeks of the 2018 election were more accurate in their forecast than any series of polls since 1988, according to a CNN analysis. And in 2020, particularly for statewide polls, they have been basically spot-on during the primary season.


Bigger picture, even if the polls are somewhat off, Biden has such a large lead that he is still the frontrunner.

For perspective, at this point four years ago, Clinton held leads over Trump by around 3 to 4 four points. Her largest ever lead was in August when she was ahead by seven. In some polls this month, Biden is consistently close to double her lead.

Even if polls tighten, they would have to tighten a lot for Biden to be worried about losing. And while there is widespread belief both Republicans and worried Democrats that the polls will tighten, there is also an argument to suggest they won’t.

The 2016 election had polls that ping-ponged depending on which candidate was in the spotlight getting bad news. For example in the period of a month, it went from Trump’s attack on a Gold Star father, to Clinton’s “deplorables” comment, to Trump’s weak first general election debate performance.

In 2020, the dynamics of the race aren’t about individual bits of campaign developments. When a pandemic is killing so many tens of thousands of people, turn-of-the-screw politics — the gaffes and opposition research — don’t break through.

One last point: polls aren’t just for gossip or to sell newspapers. Real political professionals are using polls — publicly released ones and private ones they buy — to make decisions on where to spend billions of dollars.

Trump is most certainly losing at this point. He has time to turn things around before the election. And if he does, we will likely witness this comeback — you guessed it! — in the polls.


James Pindell can be reached at Follow him @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.