Surely the polls can’t be 17 points off!

In the weeks before the election, I viewed Wisconsin to be the most likely “tipping point state”, as it was in 2016. It turns out I was correct on that point. So goes Wisconsin, so goes America.

In September, I had expected Trump to win. But when I saw the following story on October 28, I couldn’t in good faith predict that Trump would win. Thus in the end I wimped out and predicted nobody.

Biden up 17 points in new Wisconsin poll

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a commanding lead over President Trump in Wisconsin in a new poll of the key battleground state released less than a week before Election Day.

The ABC News-Washington Post poll found Biden supported by 57 percent of likely voters, far ahead of the president’s 40 percent. 

Unlike Nate Silver (and many of my commenters), I knew that polls were understating Trump’s support. The betting markets knew this too. And I knew there is a 3% margin of error in polls. But surely polls can’t be off by 17%!

And I was right. The WaPo/ABC Wisconsin poll was not off by 17%. It was off by 16.4%. That’s why Biden won.

PS. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but if I were I’d be asking how Trump could have done 16.4% better than the WaPo/ABC poll. Massive GOP election fraud in a failed attempt to steal the election?




32 Responses to “Surely the polls can’t be 17 points off!”

  1. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    28. November 2020 at 15:28

    Mystery writing noted: (Sumner) “And I was right. The WaPo/ABC Wisconsin poll was not off by 17%. It was off by 16.4%. That’s why Biden won.” – what? I missed this in the main body of the post. Why does Dr. Sumner write so cryptically?

  2. Gravatar of bill bill
    28. November 2020 at 16:50

    Pennsylvania was the tipping point state in 2016 per Nate Silver.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. November 2020 at 19:29

    Bill, If Hillary had won Michigan and Pennsylvania she still would have lost by 270 to 268. And Trump won Wisconsin by a bit more than either MI or PA. So it was the tipping point state in 2016 as well.

  4. Gravatar of Jon Miller Jon Miller
    28. November 2020 at 20:05

    When polls are off more than a reasonable error, that is the time to ask if there was actual meaningful election fraud.

    I am giving myself a break, and the Nate and the others more time, but I want a good explanation of it (in the little I saw from Nate, he seemed to be defending the national view where the result was on the edge of the fat part of the distribution, this is not a good explanation of Wisconsin).

    One try I have heard is that there was a large misjudgment due to Biden voters working from home while being eager to answer polls while Trump voters were not working from home and were not eager to answer polls. I don’t think this really fits, one of the difficulties of 2020 is that some states were right on the money (Iowa, Minnesota, etc) and other states were ridiculously far off.

    Another try is that a lot more Biden possible votes were not counted due to problems with mail in voting in certain states.

    I haven’t heard any clear and consistent story that holds up yet. Not saying that I think there was election fraud, just that I don’t have a narrative yet (I didn’t really understand the issues with education level until 2017… so I don’t expect to understand until 2017).

  5. Gravatar of sty.silver sty.silver
    29. November 2020 at 01:20

    Misleading headline; it was one poll, not ‘polls’.

    And I still don’t see the evidence for believing that markets ‘knew’ anything rather than just being wrong in what happened to be the right direction. As a Bayesian, you have to acknowledge that stupidity on and post election day is at least some evidence against your theory of wisdom pre election day. You would never consider revealed intelligence on different occasions to be independent if we were evaluating another person.

    Which actually matters quite a bit since I currently plan to bet against the markets in the future if they differ from 538.

  6. Gravatar of xu xu
    29. November 2020 at 02:19

    You wont be betting on anything in the future, because your future is communism. You will be an unemployed vagrant begging for bread between gulags.

    They are called supression polls.

    Internal campaign polls had Trump up 3.

    Trump won the state by at least 2.5 (will be proven in court)

    Very few people outside greenbay voted for biden. Indeed its difficult to find anyone. Only trump signs.

  7. Gravatar of harry harry
    29. November 2020 at 04:14

    Economists who vote for Biden/Harris, and therefore for communism should have their PhD’s revoked.

    Has anyone read the Gulag Archipelago?

    Sumners generation bled America dry, and to this day is working to destroy it. The sooner his generation dies off, the better we will all be.

    We went from the greatest generation to counter culture communist boneheads.

    Time to put a bullet in the heads of ingrates and hippies so we can reclaim freedom and liberty.

  8. Gravatar of jayne jayne
    29. November 2020 at 04:42

    I could not agree with Harry more.

    When a pseudo intellectual with a PhD in gender studies or social justice, or womans studies or film studies, or you get the point — the lowest scum and lowest IQ of the academic world — decide to vote for communists that is somewhat understandable. After all, idiots are idiots.

    But economists should no better. The fact Sumner threw his lot into the ring with those commies suggests he is mentally incapable of understanding economics 101.

  9. Gravatar of bill bill
    29. November 2020 at 05:42

    I stand corrected! Thanks.
    There’s a Wikipedia page on tipping point states that backed up my recollection about PA. But further research agrees with you.

  10. Gravatar of nick nick
    29. November 2020 at 06:59

    Revoking their PhD is not enough.
    Communism is a virus, and the only vaccine is violence.
    If you don’t kill them before they gain power, they will kill millions of innocent people. Generations will suffer.

    We need a civil war. And we need to eliminate these communists before it’s too late.

  11. Gravatar of sarah sarah
    29. November 2020 at 07:23

    AOC is already making lists for gulags. So yeah, I’d say now is the time for those that believe in Liberty and Freedom to make a stand.

    Do whatever it takes to stamp out communism. Remove these people from the face of the earth if necessary.

    Too many people died protecting liberty. We cannot let their efforts go to waste because of a few power hungry degenerates.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. November 2020 at 09:16

    Jon, I think Trump voters are simply less likely to respond to pollsters.

    sty.silver, Yeah, I have no explanation for the weird post-election betting markets. We need better markets, perhaps more deregulation.

    Harry, I didn’t vote for Biden, so do I keep my PhD? (I voted Libertarian, like all good communists do.)

    Bill, Always trust me over Wikipedia!

  13. Gravatar of rinat rinat
    29. November 2020 at 10:01

    Sumner was part of the counter culture baby boomer generation that stole the American dream from hard working patriots. America went from the “greatest generation” to a generation of clowns led by Communists like Sumner.

    The culture went from hard work and individual responsibility to coastal elites profiteering off the backs of the middle class.

    Sumner supported outsourcing all of America’s jobs, because he wants to see America kneel before the CCP.

    The promulgation of these polices is the driving force behind the second American Civil War. Sumner has already killed millions of American youth. That civil war will take place in the next one to four years.

    And yes, conservatives will win. Just like they won in 1865. Why? Because liberty always wins. Good always beats evil.

  14. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    29. November 2020 at 10:35

    It’s disappointing, but now obvious once I saw it, to realize that xu, harry, jayne, sarah, rinat, and nick are all the same insane poster.

    That’s some hacky trolling, dude. Be better.

  15. Gravatar of bill bill
    29. November 2020 at 12:00

    I do! I do!
    It was own lying memory that did me in

  16. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatrics Cartesian Theatrics
    29. November 2020 at 12:14

    Is not the Bayesian update to generally weaken our priors? Three weeks to count the votes, bizarre election sequence, polls off by double digits, etc. No one should think this election was “perfectly fine”.

  17. Gravatar of jayne jayne
    29. November 2020 at 12:21

    Epic Lawsuit with MASSIVE amounts of data & evidence filed by American Patriots.

    Hero and Heroine
    Sidney Powell & Lin Wood

    American Losers
    Scott Sumner and the Communists. 🙂

    Game. Over. Commies!
    Nothing better than communist tears.

  18. Gravatar of Tom Tom
    29. November 2020 at 12:40

    America was destroyed by gangster culture.

    They don’t want to work, because work is considered oppressive.
    They want free checks, free food, free school, and so the communist ideology is attractive.

    But they fail to see that the trade off erodes liberty. They might get universal income, but as outlined by the WEF that proposal would be predicated on the elimination of private property and total obedience to the state.

    It’s not a world I would want to live in. I presume when that world comes to light – which appears to be quite soon – others will see that it’s not much of a utopia either.

  19. Gravatar of sarah sarah
    29. November 2020 at 13:01

    Huge legal win in Georgia (wood/powell case).
    The dominoes are starting to fall.
    Communists running scared.
    Deep State in full propaganda mode.

  20. Gravatar of henry henry
    29. November 2020 at 13:15

    Does anyone else remember when Sumner said Japan was thankful for Biden.

    I guess he hasn’t seen that massive rally for DJT in Japan. Why? Because the Japanese love freedom and liberty, not communism.

    When will Sumner ever get something right. He’s been wrong his whole life. Must be depressing.

  21. Gravatar of Big Al Big Al
    29. November 2020 at 14:03


    That’s pretty funny. I’m pretty sure there were more customers at my local Trader Joe when I stopped in yesterday than what I saw in your twitter video. But no doubt there were thousands of people just outside the frame ……. If only the poster could afford a better camera.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. November 2020 at 14:44

    Cartesian, It was far from “fine”; the votes were counted too slowly.

    Henry, You asked:

    “Does anyone else remember when Sumner said Japan was thankful for Biden.”

    Not me!

  23. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    29. November 2020 at 14:52

    Glad to see angry pro Trump commenters. Yes, Scott voted Libertarian but he still preferred Biden to Trump. Although he seems like he is trolling pro Trumpers—because it is really very hard to believe what he says he believes about Trump—-he holds to his line. The Dems cheated. The Dems cheated starting in mid 2016.

    Scott calls America a banana republic. But Trump is the only one supporting our laws and our traditions—-including the freedom to be jerks like Ocasio and Harris. But the anti Trumpers are hunting for ways to deny free speech—like Dorsey etc.

  24. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    29. November 2020 at 15:07

    Scott is doing his due diligence on the MMTers. I support that. But he knows he is just making sure he is not missing something.

    But he really knows he isn’t. As some one wrote they are from a Clockwork Orange world. And they are supported by the jackass left like Warren, Ocasio, and the old fart from Vermont. Scott hates them too. But he won’t say it, because it sucks energy from his anti Trump rants. But even though Trump would have won an election run like every other election we have ever had, that does not bother him. Or so he pretends

    When Biden is sworn in, he will still talk about Trump. But at some point he will explode. He will not be able to tolerate the demented one and the moron Harris. He will try and blame Trump but his heart won’t be in it.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. November 2020 at 09:44

    Michael, You said:

    “But Trump is the only one supporting our laws and our traditions

    You are quite the comedian. I suppose pardoning criminals who might rat him out is your idea of supporting our laws. Or how about his refusal to release his tax return, which is required by law? Or how about demanding loyalty from the FBI director? Is refusing to concede after losing an election also part of our tradition? How about holding back $100s of millions in aid to a country until they agree to try to dig up dirt on his political rival? How about encouraging foreign officials and domestic lobbyists to spend money on Trump properties? You have a quite expansion view of our laws and traditions.

  26. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    30. November 2020 at 13:57

    What makes this one so interesting is not just that Wisconsin polls were off by 16.5%, but that the error seems so uncorrelated with the errors in nearby states. One can claim that the entire US is not all that uniform, but when we look at neighboring states, things aren’t that different. I’d not expect a rural voter in Missouri to be all that different from a rural voter in Kansas, or Iowa. White evangelicals in Colorado aren’t that different than those in Utah: The difference is that Utah has more mormons.

    Therefore seeing mistakes this bad, and so unevenly distributed, should have us scratching our heads. There’s no need for it to be fraud, but something must have gone terribly wrong for so many pollsters to be so off in Wisconsin, yet not in Michigan or Minnesota.

  27. Gravatar of Chris Chris
    1. December 2020 at 07:43

    I hope you have taken the time to report these comments to the proper authorities. Several of them have taken the leap from complaint to actual call to action of violence against the left. By my understanding, they have broken the law and should rightly be found and punished for it.

  28. Gravatar of Bob OBrien Bob OBrien
    1. December 2020 at 09:21

    I have been watching the Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan hearings and two things are clear:

    1) There was very poor chain of custody on mail in ballots, poor to non existent signature checking on them and thus we can have no confidence that the mail in votes came from valid voters.

    2) If the suspect mail in ballots are not counted then Trump wins.

    Personally I believe the Dems stole this election.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. December 2020 at 10:32

    Bob OBrien, Thank God our elections are determined by vote counting in 1000s of districts across the country, and not based on who you “personally” believe won.

    Let me guess, there is a correlation between who you think really won, and the candidate you prefer. I think that’s called “motivated reasoning”.

  30. Gravatar of Bob OBrien Bob OBrien
    1. December 2020 at 17:20

    “Let me guess, there is a correlation between who you think really won, and the candidate you prefer. I think that’s called “motivated reasoning”.”

    Scott, Yes, you are correct. However, your posts suffer from the same “motivated reasoning”. As I see it, we are equally at fault.

    Did you watch the testimony I referenced? If yes, what was your conclusion.

  31. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. December 2020 at 09:01

    Bob, You said:

    “Scott, Yes, you are correct. However, your posts suffer from the same “motivated reasoning”.”

    You mean when I did all those posts claiming that Trump stole an equally close election from Hillary in 2016? Oh wait, I never did those posts!

    As far as the evidence, I agree with Attorney General Bob Barr. No evidence of fraud that would have swayed the election.

  32. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    30. August 2021 at 13:00

    The polls indicate how little trust average people have in experts or anything from traditional media. It’s a big reason why Trump can say their was massive election flaw.

    If the experts can’t get a poll within 16.4% correct then what else are they wrong about or are a lot of media types just making up all kinds of shit.

    I believe a lot of the reasons you cite for polls being off are correct. But these are expert pollster and they should be able to come up with better numbers. It’s literally their job.

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