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Roanoke College expert breaks down the process behind political polls, and why it’s not an exact science

More demographics are now considered to better represent voters

Officials say
Officials say

ROANOKE, Va – There have been plenty of changes to the way political polls are conducted since the 2016 presidential election, including here in southwest Virginia. Some changes have been made to better represent voters.

Dr. Harry Wilson has been overseeing the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College for almost three decades.

The institute conducts polls throughout the year, which Wilson says is not an exact science.

“It’s not a guarantee, it’s never a guarantee,” Wilson said.

Most recently, the institute released a poll painting a picture of what the presidential race in Virginia will look like. The poll predicts Joe Biden will defeat President Trump in Virginia by 11 points based on the nearly 800 Virginians polled.

While Biden is also ahead of Trump in several other national polls, Wilson says it does not always accurately predict an election.

“There’s always a margin of error with polls. Polls are a snapshot in time; they are not a prediction of an election outcome, and there’s always that margin of error, in our case it was plus or minus three and a half percent,” Wilson said.

The poll numbers are similar to when President Trump trailed Hilary Clinton in the 2016 election. Wilson says certain groups of people may have not been accurately represented in 2016 polls nationwide. So now poll workers take into account new information like age and education level.

“Where the polls were off in 2016 were in some of those battleground states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, where they all had small leads for Clinton, and Trump won each of those states by very small margins,” Wilson said.

With the election coming up on Tuesday, Wilson said he wants to remind the community his only agenda is helping represent voters in Virginia.

“What I want far more than anything else is to be right, far more than anything else,” Wilson said.

To view the full results of the institute’s polls, click here.

About the Author:

Annie Schroeder joined the 10 News team as a reporter in June 2020 and is no stranger to Southwest Virginia.