Polls mean nothing and polls mean everything. Polls are useful tools of manipulation and speculation, at best.
In 2016, every major poll demonstrated to the electorate that Donald J. Trump could not, and would not, be able to defeat Hillary Clinton. Media bought it, the candidates bought it, mostly, and worse, the American electorate bought it.
More candidate polling is done today than at any other time in history. Polling of the current field of Democratic candidates for President leaves us bewildered and confirms the validity of our inherent distrust of polls.
The Iowa polls tell me, and us, that the DNC race for the nomination is up-in-the-air, it’s a horse race down to the wire.
In the week of January 9-12, MSNBC cited a Monmouth poll showing Joe Biden leading the pack in Iowa, confirmed by a Des Moine Registry poll.
With a margin of error of 4.9%, the poll is invalid on the day it was compiled. And that is our problem as the electorate. Polls are merely a spot-in-time indicator.
Since polls are indicators, they require an aggregate analysis to establish a trend. Lining up polls, consolidating polls, and averaging polls is the only safe method for accurately establishing a projected trend.
Here’s another poll by “Election Predictions dated January 22, 2020, showing the same general conclusion as that of the MSNBC’s poll.
Yet, on January 10, 2020, the Des Moines Register, considered by some to be one of the more accurate predictors of Iowa elections, indicated, “Bernie Sanders leads the Iowa Poll for the first time, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses.”
The Iowa caucus polls tell us we have no clear leader…in this sense, the polling is accurate. In fact, trending is the only reliable purpose of polls.
To demonstrate, yesterday, January 26, 2020, CBS News Battle Tracker polling flipped the entire Iowa race on its head, turning the tables on Joe Biden and establishing Bernie Sanders as the leader. The margin of error is 3.9% and this, once again, makes the race to the wire razor thin.
Here are my three principles for using polls:
- Principle One: Polls should never tell you who to vote for. They should ONLY update you.
- Principle Two: Composite polls (averages of multiple polls) are more accurate trend indicators.
- Principle Three: Polls that are the closest to the general election tend to be more accurate.
Can we rely on polls? If so, which ones, and when? Polls shouldn’t tell us who to vote for since they reflect the voting preferences of others. Try to find polls that are averages of multiple polls, as these will tend to indicate more accurate averaging of various opinions.
Finally, polls that are run closer to election day will usually, but not always, be more accurate. But once again, in 2016, the day of the Presidential election, polls indicated and the media assured Us all that Hillary Clinton would be elected.
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