CBS Rewrites History: The Presidential Polls Weren’t Wrong in 2016

By Scott Whitlock

CBS attempted to rewrite history on Monday with This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell and network Director of Elections Anthony Salvanto declaring that the polls in 2016 weren’t wrong. That might be a surprise to anyone who trusted the numbers in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Helping Salvanto promote his new book on polling, O’Donnell wondered: “People said that proved that the polls were wrong. But were they?”

“No,” he declared. O’Donnell cheered the revisionist history: “Yes, thank you! Anthony, explain to everybody!” Using the benefit of hindsight, Salvanto lectured: “All the signs were there.” He added, “Republicans were talking to us in the polls, but saying they weren’t sure if they were going to back Trump. Were we really shocked that they came home? They were conservatives.”

He continued to push the narrative that everyone kind of knew Trump might just win:

Democrats were telling us they weren’t enthusiastic. Well, we should have understood there, they might not show up. In fact, they didn’t. While it did surprise a lot of people, if you saw the whole picture, and I like to think that our viewers got a lot of that story, maybe you weren’t as surprised.

Except, of course, the polls were wrong. The Real Clear Politics (RCP) final average gave Hillary Clinton a 6.5 percent lead in Wisconsin. Trump won by 0.7. Trump was predicted to lose Michigan by 3.4 percent. He won it by 0.3. In fact, Clinton led in 24 out of the final 25 polls RCP averaged for that state. You can blame some of this on margin of error, but they all foresaw a Clinton win.

Other states were closer, but still underestimated the support for the Republican candidate. The final RCP average in Pennsylvania showed Clinton up 1.9, but Trump won by 0.7.

On election day, the popular FiveThirtyEight.com gave Clinton a 71 percent chance of winning. After the election, 538 writers Carl Bialik and Harry Enten explained:

The polls missed Donald Trump’s election. Individual polls missed, at the state level and nationally (though national polls weren’t far off). So did aggregated polls. So did poll-based forecasts such as ours. And so did exit polls.

It will take a while to figure out exactly why polls missed. Reviews by pollsters and their professional organizations can take months. “The polls were largely bad, including mine,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, wrote us in an email. “But if anyone thinks they have the answer right now, they are just guessing.”

But don’t tell all of this to CBS journalists. They say the polls were just fine.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Newsbusters and is reposted with permission.