Recently, on the heels of a survey showing Trump trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden by four points in Ohio, CBS released an article showing Democrats buoyant about Ohio. Meanwhile, Republicans are acting like the state is in play this year by putting ad spending into a state where they control all levels of government.
If you remember my last piece I specifically cited Ohio as a major polling misfire for the industry in 2018. The same thing could be happening again. As a reminder, in 2018, not a single survey showed Republican candidate Mike Dewine leading for Governor and he eventually won by four points. Similarly, in the Senate contest, surveys showed eventual winner Sherrod Brown winning by an average of 12 points since October. He eventually won by seven.
On the surface, Ohio should be easy to poll. It is about 80 percent white, with the remaining 20 percent mostly made up of blacks centered in Cleveland. But, as changes in society and economy have roiled Ohio it has also made it harder to get accurate election results. As one pollster said about Ohio after 2018, “pollsters don’t know whose voters they are polling.”
On the surface, the state’s partisan rightward lean should make it easy to poll. More so, now that the state’s growing suburbs in and around Jefferson County are turning blue. But, while the state has a well known and deeply red Western rural half, the Northeast and Southeast are chalk full of downscale suburban whites and blue-collar voters who still swing between the parties based on the candidate.
The dearth of quality pollsters also plays a part. Just look at who polled the state from October 2018 to that year’s election; Akron University, Baldwin Wallace University, Suffolk University, Emerson College, Gravis Marketing, Cygnal (R), Change Research (D) and Traflagar (R). All done by either small universities with no track record of polling in the state or partisan outlets with a similar state track record.
Now, one could argue the quality of pollsters this go-round is higher. Or not. Quinnipiac, Emerson, the Ohio Media Collaborative, and Fox and CBS have all taken jabs at the state this year showing narrow margins either way. All these pollsters have issues from major D leaning House effects to minimal track records of polling.
It should be noted not even well-known, state pollsters are infalliable. In 2014, the Des Moines Register made headlines when they showed then candidate Joni Ernst winning her race in Iowa by 8 points. She won by nine. But fast forward to earlier this year and they scrapped their pre – Democratic Iowa caucuses survey because of bias. Since then, they have put out surveys narrowly showing the Democratic candidate for Senate, Theresa Greenfield, ahead and Biden neck and neck with Trump.
In the ever crucial Midwest, there seems to be a theme emerging. Pollsters are all finding the same D leaning results. The problem is this consensus should be being challenged a lot more than it currently is. The Midwest was largely the one area of the country which resisted the Democratic wave of 2018. Democrats nibbled at the edges but couldn’t break GOP strangleholds on Ohio, Iowa or the Wisconsin and Michigan legislatures.The real battles are in the Sunbelt where a changing demographic electorate is swinging those races far more.
So is Ohio a warning sign for pollsters come November? Yep. Something tells me they will be way off when it rolls around – especially if the President’s numbers improve even a tiny amount.