Even if you’re the poll-watching type, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never heard of the Democracy Institute.
The Anglo-American think-tank, which is associated with the libertarian Cato Institute, was one of the only pollsters to correctly predict two seismic political events. As Jim Rossi at Forbes pointed out, “[t]he Democracy Institute is a relative newcomer to political polling – but it correctly forecast Brexit and Trump’s historic 2016 upset.”
Yet, the group’s 2020 presidential polls aren’t included in either of the two major polling average indices, RealClearPolitics or FiveThirtyEight.
There’s no denying the Democracy Institute’s polling represents an outlier — but there are plenty of outliers within both indices, outliers which can’t lay claim to predicting either Brexit or the 2016 election. The major difference seems to be that its polling has consistently shown President Donald Trump ahead of Democratic nominee Joe Biden, both nationally and in major battleground states.
In Forbes’ words, it’s the “only” poll that “shows Trump leading.”
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So how is the organization coming up with numbers so markedly different than those from almost any other pollster? In an interview with Forbes published Tuesday, Democracy Institute polling director Patrick Basham said “there is a misreading of the electorate, based on many assumptions that are not likely accurate.”
“Some polls may just be off, some are advancing an agenda, and there is an intertwining of the two,” Basham told Rossi.
“With most of the mainstream polls — New York Times, CNN, the university polls – a fundamental assumption is that the electorate — aka turnout — will be much, much larger than 2016,” he told Forbes, saying those outlets estimate “10-30 million more [voters], that’s 25-30 percent larger. That makes it essential that polls capture many, many more Democrat voters.”
Instead, Basham said the Democracy Institute’s polls weight for lower turnout and try to “estimat[e] shy Trump voters or secret Trump voters.”
The outfit’s most recent poll, released earlier this month, showed Trump still leading Biden nationally, 46 percent to 45 percent. This was within the poll’s margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points; it was conducted among 1,500 likely voters between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.
The survey actually had Trump trending downward from August poll, where he held a 48 percent to 45 percent lead nationally over Biden; that poll was taken in the final two days and immediate aftermath of the Republican National Convention.
However, the group’s latest poll showed the president ahead in several major battleground states, including Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
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