Pre-election polls in numerous countries this year have widely missed their marks, often by underestimating support for candidates on the ideological fringes. The polling failures in countries like Britain, Poland and Israel point to technical issues that could well foreshadow polling problems in the United States, many analysts believe. “The industry has a collective failure problem,” said John Curtice, the president of the British Polling Council and a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. Partly this is the result of changing methodologies. “It’s now a mix of random-digit dialing — that is, telephone polls — and Internet-based polls based on recruited panels,” he said. Both modes present potential problems. Opinion polls in advance of Britain’s general election in May severely underestimated the number of seats that Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party would win. After the election, the polling council called for an independent inquiry into what had caused the error. The council plans to release its findings in mid-January, a report that will be closely read by pollsters in Britain and around the globe.
Days after the British election, Polish voters elected Andrzej Duda of the far-right Law and Justice Party as president; no major poll had given him a lead. Poland’s Association of Market and Opinion Research Organizations is investigating what led to the collective flop. Similar slip-ups occurred in the Greek referendum on austerity, the national elections in Israel and Turkey, and elsewhere.
The British and Polish post-mortems are unlikely to yield a satisfactory answer, said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center. “It’s not clear that there’s any single, consistent story running through this,” he said.