Beware of the 2020 Forecasts

Mike Shannon    The Washington Post Vector Logo 3

The deluge of national polls makes it hard to remember that U.S. presidential elections are about a map.

Twenty years ago, I was the keeper of the George W. Bush campaign map — our color-coded projection of electoral college votes based on our private state tracking polls. Last week, I dug one of those maps out of the archives. Dated Nov. 1, 2000, it reads “Bush 305, Gore 171, Toss-Up 62.” Florida, where our nightly polls had shown us holding a five-point lead, is labeled “Lean Bush.”

That map proved wrong just six days later.

New Mexico (“Solid Bush”), Michigan (Lean Bush) and Wisconsin (Lean Bush) were ultimately won by Al Gore, as were all the “toss-up” states. Florida (Lean Bush) became the focus of a historic 36-day recount. What happened? Undoubtedly there was some polling error (we lost Michigan by five points) and some category error (we should have classified New Mexico as Lean Bush based on our final polling).

But a big culprit, in Florida and many other states, was our losing a majority of so-called late deciders in the final days of the race. This 11th-hour swing toward Gore was revealed in election-eve surveys commissioned by our team’s polling and media chief, Matthew Dowd, who worried about the impact of an unwelcome November surprise that had seemingly reversed our momentum going into the final weekend — the revelation of Gov. Bush’s three-decades-old DUI arrest....

Read the full piece in the Washington Post.