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Poll on voters’ opinion of Biden laptop story doesn't tell whole story
If Your Time is short
The poll question was limited to a subset of people who were following the laptop story, or 37% of the total sample.
This subset leaned Republican, compared with the U.S. general population.
53% of the subset represents only 19.6% of Americans.
At a recent House subcommittee meeting, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tried to make the case that if stories about a laptop belonging to President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, were more widely publicized, more people would have changed their votes in the 2020 election.
"According to polling, of the people that were made aware of the Hunter Biden laptop story, 53% would have changed their vote, including 61% of Democrats," Stefanik said. "This is the definition of election meddling."
Stefanik tweeted a video of her speaking at the meeting, and wrote: "53% of Americans made aware of the Hunter Biden laptop story would have changed their vote in 2020." Her claim was shared on Truth Social by former President Donald Trump.
Biden won with 51% of the popular vote, so we were curious about a claim that 53% percent of informed voters would have switched their votes.
Congressional Republicans want to heighten public awareness of the laptop’s contents, which include personal and professional materials belonging to Hunter Biden. The GOP is also investigating business dealings by Biden family members and social media companies’ policies, saying they suppress conservative viewpoints. Stefanik represents New York state’s North Country and is House Republican conference chairman, part of the House’s GOP leadership team.
The laptop was left at a Delaware computer repair shop, and some of the laptop’s contents were reported by the New York Post in October 2020, weeks before the presidential election. The laptop story was suspected to be Russian-planted disinformation, but subsequent reporting shows that does not appear to be the case.
Twitter blocked users from sharing the story. Executives at the tech giant now say that was done in error. Since the 2020 election, news organizations such as CBS News, The New York Times and The Washington Post have independently verified at least some of the laptop’s contents.
This timeline of events has upset conservatives, who argue that the suppression cost Trump the election. TIPP Insights, which describes itself as a "right-leaning polling outfit," conducted a poll Dec. 7 to Dec. 9, 2022, more than two years after the election, asking people about the laptop story. Stefanik’s claim comes from this poll, said her spokesperson, Palmer Brigham.
TIPP Insights, which has been lauded for correctly predicting elections, started with a pool of 1,351 survey respondents and asked them whether they were following the laptop story. Respondents who said they were following the story — 37 percent, or 501 people — were then asked about the possibility that they would have voted differently in 2020 had they known the laptop was not disinformation.
They were asked: "How likely would knowing before the election that the laptop contents were real and not ‘disinformation’ have changed your voting decision?"
Stefanik’s claim — that 53% of people made aware of the laptop story would have changed their vote — adds together the 28% of respondents who said they were "very likely" to have changed their votes, and the 25% who said they were "somewhat likely." Rounding out the pool were 17% who said they were "not very likely," 25% who were "not at all likely," and 6% who were "unsure."
But more Republicans had been following the story than Democrats. Among Republicans, 46% told pollsters they were following it closely or somewhat closely, 35% of Democrats said they were, and 34% of independents said they were. The smaller pool’s party affiliation was 37% Democratic, 36% Republican, and 26% independent. The latest Gallup survey on affiliation shows that nationally, 30% of people identify as Democrats, 27% identify as Republicans, and 40% call themselves independents. The original pool of respondents was 39% Democratic, 29% Republican, and 29% independent.
Among the 137 people who said they were "very likely" to change their vote, 58 of them, or 42%, were Republicans. Were these people who voted for Biden in 2020? The poll doesn’t say, but it seems unlikely. Trump received support from 94% of Republicans who voted in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.
So, the result is illogical: If many members of this group were to change their vote because of the laptop story, they might well have changed their vote from Trump to Biden, which given the partisan nature of voting in 2020, wouldn’t make sense.
We called the pollster, Raghavan Mayur, and asked, how could 53% of informed voters say they would switch their vote when Biden only won 51% of the popular vote? That could not be answered, because that would require further questions not included in the poll, Mayur told us. Were the voters who said they would switch their vote all Biden voters? Would they have switched to Trump? The poll can’t tell us.
Mayur declined to comment on Stefanik’s claim. He noted the poll’s larger-than-usual margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, because of its small sample size. (Margins of error get smaller as sample sizes get bigger.)
We showed the poll to two polling experts.
The questions leading up to the question about changing votes used right-leaning framing of the laptop issue, said G. Elliott Morris, author of the book "Strength in Numbers: How Polls Work and Why We Need Them."
He pointed to this question: "If there was a concerted effort by the FBI, Intelligence Community, Democrat-controlled Congress, and Biden campaign, along with Big Tech, to frame the Biden laptop as ‘disinformation,’ do you agree or disagree the electorate did not have access to information that could have been critical to their decision at the polls?"
This framing primes respondents to answer subsequent questions in certain ways. It’s likely that when members of the already right-leaning group get the question about switching their votes, they’re thinking about how a prior question stated that President Biden and "Big Tech" hid information from them, priming them to say they are very or somewhat likely to switch their vote, Morris said. Using "Democrat-controlled" instead of "Democratic" is a longtime strategy by those on the right to downgrade their opponents.
Joshua J. Dyck, a polling expert at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell read the poll, and said that at best, 19.6% of Americans said they would have changed their vote, based on the total sample size, the size of the subset of people who said they were following the story, and the 53% of that group who said they were very likely or somewhat likely to change their vote.
"Are these people saying they would change their vote to Biden?" said Dyck, a professor and director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion. "Or are they engaging in expressive responding, by giving the answer which makes Biden look worse? It’s certainly the latter, but the poll is ill-equipped to tease out these discrepancies."
Polls that ask people about what their behavior would have been two years before and that ask voters hypothetical questions do not produce useful information, Dyck added.
"Overall, I would conclude almost nothing about the effect of Biden’s laptop on the 2020 election from this poll other than that many Americans seem to be interested in this issue today, especially a large subset of informed Republicans," Dyck said.
Stefanik claimed that "53% of Americans made aware of the Hunter Biden laptop story would have changed their vote in 2020."
The poll found that of a group of people who had been following the story, 28% would have been "very likely" to change their vote had they known the laptop was not disinformation, and 25% were "somewhat likely," a less-sure response than Stefanik’s claim implies.
However, the pool of respondents who answered this question leans Republican more strongly than the general population, so most of these voters would not have been voting for Biden in the first place. This makes the polling result illogical: Understood literally, if many members of this group were to change their vote because of the laptop story, they might well have changed their vote from Trump to Biden.
So her statement is not accurate. We rate this False.
Twitter, tweet, Rep. Elise Stefanik, Feb. 9, 2023.
C-SPAN, video, "Hearing on Oversight of Justice Department," (1:42:07 mark), Feb. 9, 2023.
Email, Palmer Brigham, spokesperson, Rep. Elise Stefanik, Feb. 13, 2023.
Email interview, G. Eliott Morris, data journalist and U.S. correspondent, the Economist, Feb. 14, 2023.
Email interview, Joshua J. Dyck, professor and chair of political science, director of the Center for Public Opinion, UMass Lowell, Feb. 14, 2023.
Phone interview, Raghavan Mayur, pollster, TIPP Insights.
Gallup, party affiliation survey, January 2023.
Pew Research Center, "National Public Opinion Reference Survey (NPORS)," party affiliation, Sept. 21, 2022.
Pew Research Center, "Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory," June 30, 2021.
Washington Post Fact Checker, "The Hunter Biden laptop and claims of ‘Russian disinfo’," Feb. 13, 2023.
Cook Political Report, 2020 National Popular Vote Tracker.
CBS News, "Copy of what's believed to be Hunter Biden's laptop data turned over by repair shop to FBI showed no tampering, analysis says," Nov. 21, 2022.
The Washington Post, "Here’s how the Post analyzed Hunter Biden’s laptop," March 30, 2022.
The New York Times, "Hunter Biden paid tax bill, but broad federal investigation continues," March 16, 2022.
CNN, "Twitter execs acknowledge mistakes with Hunter Biden laptop story but say no government involvement," Feb. 8, 2023.
TIPP Insights, "Info on Hunter Biden laptop could have swung the election," Dec. 13, 2022.
TIPP Insights, Hunter Biden poll information, December 2022.
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Poll on voters’ opinion of Biden laptop story doesn't tell whole story
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