Pollsters have messed up in Florida the past two election cycles — can we trust them this year?

Political dynamics in Florida have shifted dramatically in only a few years.

The dissatisfaction about public political polling in Florida reached its apotheosis on Election Night in 2020, when Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden by 3.3 points. That was even though at least five major pollsters had predicted in their last surveys before the election that Biden would win the Sunshine State by at least four points.

That prompted Justin Sayfie — a lobbyist now with Ballard Partners but best known for his “Sayfie Review” website, which has been aggregating the top political stories of the day in Florida for two decades — to announce that he would no longer publish any stories reporting poll results on his site.

“I think that they’re too unreliable,” Sayfie recently told the Phoenix (though the site’s “Blog Ticker” did post links to Orlando Sentinel stories on the Mason-Dixon poll last week looking at the governor and Senate races).

“I think that pollsters are having a harder time than ever figuring out who’s going to actually show up and vote.”

In the days leading up to the 2020 Florida presidential election, Emerson and Monmouth University separately had Biden up by six points over Trump, Quinnipiac had Biden up by 5 points, and Reuters/Ipsos and NBC News/Marist had Biden up by 4 points.

Well, anyone can have a bad night, right?

However, similar breakdowns happened before the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election: Quinnipiac’s last poll published the day before the Florida gubernatorial election had Andrew Gillum leading Ron DeSantis by 7 percentage points. Emerson Polling had Gillum up by 5 points; NRF-Harris had Gillum up by 3 points.

In both cycles, Republicans were obviously underrepresented in the polls. Opinions vary about why.


Longtime St. Petersburg-based political strategist and pollster Barry Edwards says that in part was because conservative voters don’t trust mainstream media sources and thus are more reluctant to answer questions from pollsters.

“There’s a perception by Republicans that if you express any Republican view that you’re a ‘MAGA’ or ‘Super MAGA’ and that you’re a fascist,” he says. “So, Republicans are very reticent about answering questions because they don’t want to be targeted for their views — so it’s taking on average three times longer to finish a poll.”

The theory gained resonance in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, following Trump’s stunning presidential victory. It resurfaced before the 2020 election and gained force when an online study found Republicans and independents were twice as likely as Democrats to admit to withholding their true preferences when queried by surveyors.

The question leading into this fall’s election is whether those pollsters have made adequate adjustments to ensure that they’re more accurate this time. Some pollsters who spoke with the Phoenix say that it’s more difficult than ever to conduct surveys.

“Today fewer people have landlines,” says Frank Orlando, who conducts polls for St. Leo University. “Fewer people will answer. There’s caller ID. There’s widespread mistrust of polls.”

Veteran Florida Democratic political strategist Steve Schale adds that there’s a lot of “self-selection” when it comes to who is responding to polls, meaning it’s more difficult than ever to conduct a “random” survey. Not only are there fewer people with telephone landlines, but many people simply won’t answer a call or text on their cellphone from a number they don’t recognize.

And then there’s people who participate via internet panels.

“They’re not exactly your ‘random sample’ of voters,” Schale says. “They’re people that consume this stuff.”

‘Likely voters’

Edwards says that, with just weeks before Election Day, pollsters should at this point only be sampling “likely” voters — not just registered voters.

“You need people who are going to participate in this midterm. If they only vote in the presidential — that’s one out of four voters or whatever — they’re not relevant to this turnout because they’re skewing the actual result that you’re going to have,” he says.

Those in the polling community agree that overall accuracy in polling has diminished in recent election cycles.

St. Pete Polls pollster Matt Florell attributes the problem to the fact that too many media outlets “publish a lot of the garbage polls” that he contends don’t come with enough caveats from reporters writing about them.

“For example, a Florida statewide poll with less than 300 respondents should be ignored by everybody, yet there were five of those this primary cycle in Florida that were picked up and published by multiple media outlets,” he says.

Florell has historically used “IVR” — interactive voice response telephone — polling using landlines since he began conducting political surveys in 2011 but, with an increasing number of Floridians dropping landlines every year, he says he can’t do IVR polling at all in smaller districts where it worked a decade ago.

Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling Strategy has been doing political public polling for nearly 40 years in Florida. He says that it costs more money to do polls these days because it requires more phone calls to reach people than it did 10 or 15 years ago. But he says that now that there are voter databases matched with cellphones, he doesn’t have many problems with landlines being phased out.

“I would say that 80% of my interviews are now done with people on their cellphones,” he says.

Coker acknowledges that there may be some hesitancy in certain quarters of the population to answer pollster’s calls, but believes the problem lies in lack of accountability for pollsters who get it wrong.

“If you’re some university think tank with a big endowment and a donor who wants to fund your operation, you can keep being wrong cycle after cycle, because there’s no consequence,” he says.

GOP majority

The dynamics are very different this year politically in Florida than even two years ago. Now, for the first time in the state’s history, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats — nearly 270,000, as of Aug. 31.

And, unlike the last two election cycles, there’s less big money being poured into the state from rich donors like Michael Bloomberg or Tom Steyer to stimulate Democratic voter turnout. That’s resulted in clear leads for Republicans going into Election Day.

The RealClearPolitics average shows DeSantis with a 7 percent lead over Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in the race for Florida Governor, and Marco Rubio with a 4% lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings in the U.S. Senate race.

Sayfie says that if the polls mostly turn out more accurately this cycle, he may reevaluate his philosophy on posting more stories on poll results on his site. But for now, “I just don’t have that confidence level.”


Mitch Perry reporting via Florida Phoenix.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida Phoenix

Florida Phoenix is a news and opinion outlet focused on government and political news coverage within the state of Florida.


  • Charlie Crist

    October 12, 2022 at 7:11 am

    If I win…there will be forced deportations of Trump supporters. Some will be sent to south Georgia, some to Mississippi, and some to Louisiana. We must get rid of these deranged animals to save Florida.

    • Hope

      October 12, 2022 at 9:13 am

      Don’t worry you have no chance.

      • Charlie Crist

        October 12, 2022 at 10:25 am

        You need a big salami run across your head…

        • Billy Rotberg

          October 13, 2022 at 9:44 am

          You have mental issues. Seek professional mental health.

          Thoughts and prayers.

    • Billy Rotberg

      October 13, 2022 at 9:48 am

      Poor widdle Joey Corsin. Confirmed snowflake coward hiding behind a fake “Charlie Grifter Christ” screen name.

  • Paul Passarelli

    October 12, 2022 at 8:53 am

    Some of us actually *ENJOY* a well constructed & honest poll. The problem is that most of the pollsters are far from thorough and innately biased in their poll taking.

    The thing is that the polling industry is fully aware of these shortcomings and they even have a term of art for it: It’s called Push Polling, and it can be used to provide the poll client with virtually any desired result from what is assumed to be an ‘impartial’ poll.

    The greatest & “most respected” of these polling organizations is Quinnipiac University. Which leans at least as far to the Left as the Southern Poverty Law Center, while claiming to be non-biased.

    With the “Q” if a Republican or Libertarian tries to hire them, and they accept, to poll ~5,000 respondents, they will initiate anywhere from 7,500 to a maximum of 15,000 contacts, many of which will be no-answers, hangups, walk-aways, or incomplete sessions. When they reach their target number they will present the invoice & the results and “shade the error bars” away from the conservative.

    When a Democrat asks them to poll 5,000 respondents, they will inquire what the current expectations of the result are and what the *desired* results are, in a “purely hypothetical way”. The University will install an extra 200 calling lines, contact a minimum of 25,000 people in the field, and have their poll takers use extra care when speaking to the public. The answers will be tabulated live in real time and polling will continue until the “results” are closely in line with the expectations. The error bars (both sets) will be necessarily broadened for the public release of the data and sharply highlighted for the client’s confidential results.

    The net result is that a Q poll is as much a Democratic Party Campaigning tool, as hundreds of minutes of premium on-air time in the markets where is is used.

    Combine this with the medias biased tendency to hawk the Dem’s Q poll results several times a day in the news cycle, and it is apparent why conservatives do not trust the process.

    • Tom

      October 12, 2022 at 9:32 am

      Paul, I’ve said that for years!

      Quinnipiac is as partisan Dem pollster you can find. CBS, USA Today, Marist lean towards Dems, and Dem polls like PPI are pathetically partisan Dem polls. They all sample higher Dems and or independents who lean Dem.

      Rule of thumb with these polls, if Repub. are tied or a few pts behind they are likely winning. If they have a lead, it’s likely larger.

      The generic ballot for Congress tends to always lag for Repub., 3 to 5 pts. If GOP is within 2 or 3, they are likely ahead by 3 or so.

      NBC/WSJournal is gold standard, ABC/wash post has improved, more balanced. Mason Dixon is high value, balanced.

      The local newspaper polls, or local networks are splash polls, heavily Dem polls.

      Bottom line, they are all a soft barometer. Elections are based on turnout. Period.

  • Tom

    October 12, 2022 at 9:52 am

    3/4 of them Paul are Dem leaning polls.
    Quinnipiac, USA Today, Marist are bad.
    Most purposefully over sample to Dems or Dem leaning independents. Party polls are inflated, progressive polls, are heavily inflated for Dems.

    Rule of thumb, if Repub. is even or down a few, likely winning by 2 to 4. For instance, Herschel walker is likely ahead by 3, not losing by 2.

    NBC/WS journal is high end, ABC/Wash post is improved. Mason Dixon pretty good.

    There appears there is a undercount with GOPers not answering.

    Regardless, as a political analyst, student of politics, Congress and Presidency I always take any poll as snap shot, which tend to lean Dem.

    Just saying.

    • Charlie Crist

      October 12, 2022 at 10:24 am

      👆 Talking about things he only dreams up…doesn’t have analytical capacity, logic, and reasoning skills. In other words, just pulling things out of his asshole 🍩

      • Tom

        October 12, 2022 at 11:05 am

        I own you Joey.

        • Charlie Crist

          October 12, 2022 at 12:28 pm

          You don’t own anything you clown. You full of shit buddy.

          • Tom

            October 13, 2022 at 4:20 am

            Joey Corsin, manure guy.

          • Billy Rotberg

            October 13, 2022 at 9:46 am

            You just got owned again, clown.
            Why do you hide behind a fake screen name, coward?
            What are you scared of?

  • PeterH

    October 12, 2022 at 1:06 pm

    Today’s Republican Party needs to wake up! The Democratic Party needs to maintain common sense policies with moderation and avoid extremism.
    Independent voters are today’s voice of reason and decide elections.

    Gallop has polled nationally asking a simple question of Party affiliation….. here are the results:

    Democrats 27%
    Republicans 27%
    Independents 43%

    In Florida there are a total of 14,256,184 registered voters. Of this amount 4,143,819 are unaffiliated independent voters, 5,157,343 are Republicans and 4,955,022 are Democrats.

    Independent voters are generally moderate in fiscal issues, liberal in social issues and for the most part college educated. Appealing to the middle wins elections. Independent voters decide elections.

  • Paul Passarelli

    October 12, 2022 at 5:32 pm

    you wrote: “Appealing to the middle wins elections.” which is a truism.

    Unfortunately it’s the Democrats & the Leftists that want to decide what defined the middle ground. And from this Libertarian’s point of view, the Dems definition of what is ‘middle of the road’.

    The fact is that since I’m a registered Libertarian, I’m part of that 4.1M, and I can tell you with a high degree of conviction that there are almost ZERO policies, planks, or positions that the Democrats put forth that I endorse. Once in a while they hit on an issue that is of little personal importance to me, i.e. the decriminalization of pot. I find the stuff to be an obnoxious weed, and have close to zero tolerance for recreational users. But the fact is that the War on Drugs was lost decades ago, and those resources could be better spent.

    • Paul Passarelli

      October 12, 2022 at 5:39 pm

      {edit — cut & paste error}
      “…the Dems definition of what is ‘middle of the road” {continued}
      is fatally one sided and ultimately destructive to the American Dream.

      In the grand scheme I see most, but not all, Republicans as impotent & weak. While I see virtually every Democrat as dangerous, vindictive, unbalanced, vengeful, dishonest, and evil. While many are downright stupid. As demonstrated when they deny those traits or refuse to recognise the traits in the Democratic leadership.

  • Billy Rotberg

    October 13, 2022 at 9:51 am

    “Charlie Christ” fake screen name from Joey Corsin. Just another Liberal nut job off it’s meds, again.

    • Tom

      October 13, 2022 at 10:32 am

      Billy, I’ve destroyed this jack off fraudster. Corsin is a chinese bot degenerate, knows nothing. Total ass scratcher.

      Yes, I own him. He can’t control himself related to me. Total loser.

      Keep up the good work Billy, stay engaged. These dumtards are clueless.

  • Leonard

    October 15, 2022 at 8:37 am

    What good is a poll if you have to discount the results? Yet—we are now at a point where you have to accept the fact that almost every poll is understating Republican support by 5+. Rasmusson seems to be the closest to accurate this cycle…they currently have Rs at 7+ in the generic Congressional poll which is probably close to accurate. After this happening cycle after cycle you have to conclude that the polls that consistently understate R support for a candidate are deliberately trying to suppress R votes.

  • martin

    October 15, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    FYI: there is no such thing as the “democratic party”. There is the democrat party however.
    Now, back to the topic at hand. As a registered Republican, and Trump voter in the last two presidential elections, I along with many other Republicans simply refuse to respond to pollsters.
    Why? For the simple reason that democrats have lost their minds, and will look to cancel anyone for having the nerve to disagree with them. I have my doubts about the long term ability of these polling organization to keep their information gathering secure.

    Therefore, many of us have no reason to respond to these polls. We answer our polling questions in the actual voting booth. And we will all be laughing as we watch the Giant Red Wave on election night displaying the results.

  • Gary in Tampa

    October 15, 2022 at 3:19 pm

    I hate both parties equally. They’re both beholden to the extreme of their respective parties both locally and nationally due to one word: Gerrymandering.
    Until gerrymandering ends and more moderate voices of reason have a say, it’s sad a race to the bottom. I’ve voted Dem and Republican over the years. Now it’s hard to find a reasonable candidate who is focused on real problems and on working for their constituents and not hot button social issues. America is going down the proverbial toilet and it’s because of hyper partisan political hacks that only seek power for themselves.

Comments are closed.


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