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Michigan Elections FAQ: How good are Michigan polls?

People walk into a voting location
Polls of Michigan voters failed to predict former President Donald Trump’s 2016 win but were more accurate in 2020. (Bridge file photo)
  • Bridge is answering questions from readers throughout the campaign season
  • One reader asked if Michigan polls can be trusted
  • A lot depends on methodology, whether polls properly reflect Michigan’s electorate and the pollster’s reputability

Bridge Michigan is inviting readers to ask questions about politics and elections as part of our 2024 Voter Guide. Ask your own question here.

One reader asks: How good are Michigan polls? 

The short answer: Results vary. 

In 2016, presidential polling infamously showed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton leading in Michigan's general election by an average of 3.6 percentage points ahead of Election Day, according to RealClearPolling. Instead, Republican candidate Donald Trump won by .6%. 

Pollsters in 2016 also failed to predict Clinton's loss to Bernie Sanders in Michigan's presidential primary.

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In 2020, the final RealClearPolling average of polls conducted in Michigan showed President Joe Biden leading by 4.2 points over Trump among Michigan voters. Biden ultimately won by a narrower 2.8 points.

It's important to keep in mind that polls are snapshots in time, meaning polls gauging voter opinions weeks or months before Election Day won’t always match final results.

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Not all pollsters and their methodologies are the same, either, and some have a political agenda. 

The political news website FiveThirtyEight — now a subsidiary of ABC News — ranks pollsters on a three-star rating system based on their overall accuracy and transparency in how their polls are conducted. 

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Commonly-cited Michigan pollsters you’ll see often include EPIC-MRA (ranked 2 out of 3 stars), Mitchell Research (ranked 2 out of 3 stars) and Glengariff Group (ranked 1.5 out of 3 stars). 

Mitchell's most recent presidential poll of Michigan voters, conducted in early June, showed a statistical tie between Biden and Trump. 

Because of Michigan’s political importance as a swing state, national pollsters also often conduct surveys of Michigan voters. FiveThirtyEight’s top-ranked pollster, New York Times/Siena College, conducted a survey of likely Michigan voters in late April and early May. It showed Biden up one point among likely voters, which was within the margin of error. 

Here are some polling variations to watch out for: 

  • Margin of error: The larger a poll’s margin of error is, the less accurate it is. Any poll with a margin of error more than plus or minus 5 percentage points should be viewed with skepticism, especially considering margins of error can in some cases be larger than reported due to nonresponses or other polling errors. 
  • Methodology: Are the polls being conducted online or over the phone? Are prospective voters being surveyed via robocall or with live participants? Is the poll weighted to adjust for the general population? All these factors and more can play a role in a poll’s overall accuracy.
  • Who is taking the poll: Some groups of people are more likely to participate in surveys than others, including college graduates and older adults. In some cases, that discrepancy can’t be fixed by weighting the data, an issue that helped contribute to inaccuracies in Michigan polls leading up to the 2016 general election. 

Want more information? Below are some places to find the latest polling and more ways to decipher whether polls are accurate. 

Read other Bridge Election FAQs here, to learn more about candidates, ballot proposals and voting rules. Ask your own question here.

Presidential race in Michigan

U.S. Senate race in Michigan

Tips for reading polls

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