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Polling’s Prognosis: Wary Conservatives and Eager Liberals

Ultimately, said Colin McAuliffe, a co-founder of Data for Progress, the team found that among white voters, when it comes to candidate choice, “the percentage of voters in their ZIP code with a college degree was more predictive than their own education level.”

In particular, Fischer said: “There are substantial differences among white conservatives that we aren’t picking up on. A college-educated white Republican in a rural, consistently Trump-supporting ZIP code is different from one in an urban or Biden-supporting ZIP code.”

“We’re hearing from more of the Biden-supporting ZIP codes, and less of the non-Biden-supporting ones,” he added. “And because of that, we can’t just weight by education and expect that to be solved.”

Over the course of the 2020 campaign, Data for Progress researchers said they got profane responses from thousands of people they texted — often topped off with a “MAGA” or “Trump 2020” reference. This was all of the evidence they needed to support social scientists’ frequent observation that support for Trump correlates to suspicion of institutions, which can have a big impact on surveys.

So as they conduct polls on political races and issues this year, Data for Progress researchers have begun sending out different types of invitations via text — all leading to the same survey. “We’re experimenting with the language that we use when we text somebody,” Fischer said. “Can we use language that elicits more authoritarian responses, or keys into language used more often on the right, to engage those voters?”

And by specifically factoring in the social and political climate of their respondents, as well as the respondents’ own personal and political profiles, Fischer said that Data for Progress had cut its measured error in half.

When building a representative sample now, “we care about the neighbors,” Fischer said, “more or at least as much as we care about the respondent themselves.”

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