Public opinion expert and pollster Peter Hart presented his lecture “The 2020 Election: The Challenges and Changes Facing Political Polling” at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 20, 2019.

Peter D. Hart is regarded as one of the top analysts of public opinion in the United States, and a leading shaper of national trends and political messages. Sometimes called the dean of this generation of pollsters, Hart has covered election night news since 1964. He founded Hart Research in 1971, and since 1989 has been the pollster for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. His political clients have included leaders in the forefront of American politics over the past half century, from Hubert Humphrey and Jay Rockefeller, to Edward Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

For the past 30 years, he has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. He has taught public opinion and public policy at Duke University, the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, Berkeley. In the fall of 2013, he was a Shorenstein visiting fellow teaching at the JFK School at Harvard University.

Patrick McLean, Director of Albion College’s Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Science, introduced Hart and presented the connection between Gerald R. Ford, Albion College and Hart. Then-Congressman Gerald R. Ford was a member of Albion College’s Board of Trustees during the 1960’s, and founded the Ford Institute at Albion College in 1977. His pollster, Robert “Bob” Teeter, was an Albion College alumnus, and Teeter’s close friend was Peter Hart, and they worked together on NBC News and Wall Street Journal polls.

To begin, Hart illustrated that the 2016 Presidential Election final polls were indeed correct, in his opinion and point of view, as they stated that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump because the polls measured the popular vote. Hart gave the reasons why the polls miscalculated in not seeing that Donald Trump would win overall particularly because the polls overlooked that the voters were really voting against Hillary Clinton. With voters that had negative views on both Clinton and Trump, by Election Day, a resounding increase of those voters decided to cast that ballot against Clinton by voting for the alternative which was Trump.

The second big miss by the polls from 2016 was breaking down the regions of the country not just by the main four regions of the country – East, West, South, and Midwest -but by regions such as the ‘Rust belt’ covers the East and Midwest via states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Polling showed increased numbers of voters had negatives views on Clinton, and for Trump more voters were decreasing their negative views on him shortly before the election.

Hart touched on other factors of polling and elections including: the public shouldn’t put too much consideration on the impact of scandals as voters sometimes already have their mind made up; the advancements of polling technology from in-person to via phone and presently via the web; early presidential campaign polls are based merely on name-ID; and the economy and how Americans feel the country is doing (are we on the right or wrong track) are two trends that can forecast the Presidential Election.

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