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Digging Into Those Presidential Polls

September 7, 2016

Polls and what they mean in this election year has been a topic everywhere in the past weeks.  Recently even this blog has received comments from, Peter, an internet friend of CP, about a Wisconsin poll.

I love to see the polls as much as anyone and try to maintain the truth that any poll is only a snap shot in time.  But as we are now past Labor Day there is a growing recognition that polls matter more now for two reasons.

The most obvious first reason is that the hour which Election Day starts is fast approaching.  The cycle every four years at this time starts to produce a tightening of the polls.   I will be the first to admit that there is some concern for how narrow some of the state polls are given considering what a dreadful and totally unprepared candidate Donald Trump happens to be.   Hillary Clinton has made a couple of blunders–the main one not using the month of August as productively to press her case as I would have hoped.

The seasoned pros may be right that many voters take that last full of summer to vacation, head to the beach, attend baseball games, and just turn out politics.  I certainly did many of those things myself during August but in my heart I think Clinton lost some steam by removing herself from a public campaign style.

The poll numbers for Trump slumped after the GOP convention due to all sorts of purely inexcusable statements such as those about the Khan family, but it is also true to say that after the remarkably cohesive and uplifting Democratic convention Clinton’s poll numbers have also come down from her post-convention bump.

The second reason that polls matter more now is that larger number of  voters are becoming engaged.   So when I see that some polls show a tightening in the race (and I mentioned that is natural) I also know that with any poll from the late last full month of summer into Labor Day weekend is going to produce less than precise measuring of how the race for the White House really stands.  So it is really the polls from here on out that will most concern me.

But even then I must caution what those polls mean based on how they are conducted.  I am not trying to rationalize future polls but just adding a fact by writing that pollsters are going to start shifting from models polling registered voters to those polling likely voters.  That is a huge change but also the best way to judge the direction we as a nation are headed.  Who will actually make the short trip to their polling place in November is what counts and concentrating on them is vital.   And as in the past I am confident that those voter models will show us the winner by the time we get to Election Day.

Since all polls do not switch from registered to likely at the same time means readers of polls will need to be mindful of that they are reading as we march forward.

One thing is for sure.  This is producing much fun for politicos with each new poll.

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