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Survey issues

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The polls were wrong again, and much of America wants to know why.

Dozens of pre-election polls have suggested Joe Biden will beat President Trump by a wide margin, but the race has instead narrowed to one or two percentage points in a handful of states. Polls also indicated that Democrats would do much better than they did in congressional races.

So, what happened? Here are six key points:

1. In recent years, Republican voters seem to have become less willing to respond to surveys. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, given Trump’s attacks on the media, science, and other institutions.

2. This phenomenon does not only concern white working class people. Pollsters were careful to include more of these voters in their samples than they did four years ago, when polls also failed, but that did not solve the problem. One likely reason: even within demographic groups – say independent, older, middle-income white women – people who responded to polls this year were more democratic than others.

3. It’s not just about Trump. The polls were missing in several Senate races even more than the presidential race, meaning they did a particularly poor job of finding people who voted for Biden at the top and a Republican lower in the ballot .

4. Most of the easy solutions are probably not real solutions. Since polling day, some campaign agents have claimed their private polls are more accurate than public polls. It seems more false than true. Biden, Trump and both parties campaigned as if their own polls matched public polls, focusing on some states that weren’t really competitive and ditching others that were close.

5. Surveys have always been more precise over the past four years than they have been for most of the 20th century. As pollsters get more information about this year’s election and what went wrong, they will try to fix the issues, as they have in the past. A new challenge: in the age of smartphones, survey response rates are much lower than they were before.

6. We journalists can better convey the uncertainty of the polls. Polls will never be perfect. It is too difficult to capture the opinions of a large, diverse country. And in today’s heavily divided America, small poll errors can make underdogs look like favorites and vice versa. All of us – journalists, campaign strategists and the many Americans who have become obsessed with politics – must remember this. We just received another reminder.

And my colleague Nate Cohn, who knows more about this topic than almost anyone, points out that a significant part of the mistake involved Hispanic voters. Nate also discussed the polls on “The Daily” and “The Argument” podcast episodes.

Somewhere else: Sarah Isgur of The Dispatch says the issue does not concern Trump voters who lie about their preference. Charles Franklin of Marquette University suggests that the pandemic may have affected turnout in surprising ways. Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster, notes that polls in many states will always be “incredibly close” to the end result.

The election

The virus

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Modern love: A man finds himself caught in a global romance scam.

The future of the planet: Climate change will be at the heart of Biden’s presidency. Here is what he plans to do about it.

Lives lived: Lucille Bridges braved abuse from white protesters as she and her 6-year-old daughter, Ruby, walked to an all-white school in New Orleans in 1960, crossing one of the most rigorously defended color lines in the world. South. Bridges died at the age of 86.

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These are tough times for live theater. The pandemic has shut down Broadway and many local theaters since March, leaving actors, stagehands and others out of work and fans missing shows. But there’s one way the theater is managing to thrive right now: Broadway has become a bigger source of TV entertainment.

An incomplete list of recent and upcoming releases includes “The Prom”, “The Boys in the Band”, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, “West Side Story” and “Wicked”. The movie version of “Hamilton” was so popular it helped drive up Disney Plus registrations, The Verge reports. And in a Broadway premiere, a musical focused on Diana’s life, Princess of Wales is set to debut on Netflix before the stage production opens.

Why is this happening now? One reason is “streaming services’ insatiable desire for content, even niche content,” writes Alexis Soloski in The Times. There is also more mixing across theater, film and television than in the past. Playwright Jeremy O. Harris, who wrote “Slave Play,” signed a deal with HBO this year; Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who originally wrote and performed “Fleabag” as a play for a woman, signed one with Amazon.

Some critics fear that the film versions will cannibalize live ticket sales. But no movie can fully replicate the experience of a live performance. Just look at the horrified social media reaction to last year’s film version of “Cats”.

The Times recommends: “What the Constitution means to me,” plays Heidi Schreck on the impact of the document on our daily life.

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