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HOW TO READ AN OPINION POLL

By Pete Moore On October 28th, 2020

You don’t read a poll. Only the willing self-delusional look at election polls. Public polling is designed, more than anything, to influence public opinion and not take its temperature. They are political publications and rarely neutral. A candidate’s behaviour reveals much more about the state of play because internal polling is honest and much more accurate.

Today the New York Times tells us that a NYT/Siena College poll has Joe Biden with an 8-point lead in Michigan over President Trump. That’s a fair lead. Trump won Michigan (just) so Biden needs to flip it. If 8-points is firm then that’s good for him, because he needs to campaign in Pennsylvania and Florida. So he can leave Michigan and campaign where it’s more marginal, yes?

Well Joe Biden and Barack Obama will campaign together in Michigan on Saturday. What does that mean? It means the campaign internals are telling them that they are not 8 points in front in Michigan. They don’t get to drag former presidents up to Michigan if Michigan looks good.

So that’s how to read a public opinion poll; you don’t bother. Locally, trust your own eyes and ears. Further afield, the candidates’ behaviour is far more revealing.

47 Responses to “HOW TO READ AN OPINION POLL”

  1. Polls aren’t everything.

    Not all eligible voters show up on Election Day, or before. You need to fire ’em up.

    You don’t want to take it for granted, like sleepy Hillary did. Run as if you were ten points behind, even if you think you are ten points ahead. Blast through the finish line, don’t stroll past it.

    And Mr. Biden campaigned in GA the other day.

    Where should he be campaigning?

  2. Trump is campaigning in Georgia which has not voted Dem since Bubba won in 1992.

    Here is what the polls are saying tonight.

    If the polls are exactly right: Biden wins 357 : 181
    If the polls are as wrong as in 2016: Biden wins 335 : 203

    https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/presidential-polls-trump-biden?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

  3. I think that many here are in a state of denial.

    The country will render a resounding verdict on what everyone here knows has been a failed presidency in six days’ time.

    The verdict will be all the more severe because of a Trump campaign that has been incompetent in the extreme, even worse than lazy Hillary’s would be stroll to a coronation.

  4. And Mr. Biden campaigned in GA the other day.

    Steady on. We’ve seen the video. “Campaigned” is doing a lot of lifting there.

  5. How you figure Pete? You mean because he didn’t leave behind a virus hot spot like the turnip does?

  6. Mask-wearing is actively discouraged at Trump rallies. Because the Dear Leader has indicated his displeasure and constantly mocked his opponent for wearing one and claimed that people who wear one are just trying to get at him. “Me, me, me!!!”

    Meanwhile the White House has been trying to cover up its second outbreak in a month, this time among Pence’s team of mask refusniks:

    “WASHINGTON — “Covid, Covid. Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” President Trump groused at a rally in North Carolina on Saturday, expressing dismay that the deadly coronavirus pandemic had come to dominate the final days of his struggling re-election campaign. He made up a scenario: “A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it. ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.’”

    But just seven hours later, the White House made its own Covid headlines when officials acknowledged that another coronavirus outbreak had struck the White House, infecting Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and four other top aides — and raising new questions about the Trump administration’s cavalier approach to the worst health crisis in a century…”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/25/us/politics/pence-trump-coronavirus.html?searchResultPosition=2

  7. Mask-wearing is actively discouraged at Trump rallies.

    And the sheep adopted that position from the get go

    Why think for yourself when a charismatic politician has done the thinking for you?

    Covid Covid Covid!

  8. “ Locally, trust your own eyes and ears. Further afield, the candidates’ behaviour is far more revealing.”

    And the republican insiders have filled the Supreme Court vacancy ahead of the election result which is most revealing.

    Even they have no faith that he will win. So they can’t rely on him to fill it afterwards.

    And in so doing have hurt his poor chances further.

    As for polls if you want to claim bias some will have bias in the other direction. But by now is there any poll that does not show clear blue water between Biden and trump? If there was we would have heard about it.

    As for influencing voters if you want to influence voters and assuming polls actually do significantly influence voters at all, then producing a poll that tells them it’s in the bag and they needn’t bother voting would probably not be the way to do it.

  9. Mask-wearing is actively discouraged at Trump rallies.

    How would the NYT know? It doesn’t send staff to his rallies. More BS from the NYT.

    His rallies only discourage people from being cucks and pussies. Of course there’s total compliance with that.

  10. How would the NYT know? It doesn’t send staff to his rallies.

    But they have a subscription to Fox.

  11. Frank –

    And the republican insiders have filled the Supreme Court vacancy ahead of the election result which is most revealing.

    “Insiders”? What manner of shadyness it is to comply with the law!

    It was a legal and constitutional obligation. Is the latest bombshell that the Administration and the Senate did their job?

  12. It’s worthwhile comparing current poll results with those for the corresponding time in 2016.
    Six days before the 2016 election, HC was only 1.6 points ahead on poll average and her numbers were falling (and she still won the popular vote). Today JB is about 7 or 8 points ahead on average and his numbers are pretty steady.

  13. Pete Moore

    You don’t read a poll. Only the willing self-delusional look at election polls. Public polling is designed, more than anything, to influence public opinion and not take its temperature

    Yes, opinion polls are complete rubbish. Except when Pete agrees with them of course.

    http://www.atangledweb.org/?p=75525

    http://www.atangledweb.org/?p=75217

  14. Pete

    Here is a report in the NYT of a recent Trump rally. Ignore the text (it’ll just annoy you) , just scroll through the pics and see how many masks you can count. Or black faces. (Spoiler alert: none, of either.) Some of the pics have a disturbing tone about them, as in leader-worship, arms raised. But heh, that’s democracy!

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/12/us/politics/trump-maga-rally-play.html?searchResultPosition=6

  15. It was a legal and constitutional obligation. Is the latest bombshell that the Administration and the Senate did their job?

    Not in 2016, when they denied Obama’s SCOTUS pick for nine months, because the election was soo close you see.

    Time to pack the court. Let’s increase it to 13 and steamroller four nominations through by the end of February. And end the filibuster. And immediately admit DC as the 51’st state. And ask the Californians to vote if they want to split into North California and South California and get two extra senators. If it’s good enough for Dakota …

  16. Some of the pics have a disturbing tone about them, as in leader-worship, arms raised.

    What, you expect jazz hands at a Trump rally?

    The NYT won’t let me see that piece. It demands capitalist profit for access. Therefore I don’t know where the rally took place. But I tell you one thing, the “Trump and Trumpistas are racists” line is not exactly iriginal, and no-one cares.

  17. Not in 2016, when they denied Obama’s SCOTUS pick for nine months, because the election was soo close you see.

    D’you know that was lawful too, and in line with Democratic precedent?

    What is the problem that the left has with people acting lawfully and constitutionally? It’s almost as if they see the law and the constitution as a barrier to their ambitions …

  18. But I tell you one thing, the “Trump and Trumpistas are racists” line is not exactly original

    Touchy! I merely commented that they were all white. I seriously doubt if more than 5% were racists.

  19. D’you know that was lawful too, and in line with Democratic precedent?

    As is adding states to the Union and increasing the size of the SCOTUS. Both are totally within the power of Congress as laid down in the constitution.

    So no doubt you and Patrick won’t be complaining about either of those when they come about next year.

  20. Pete,

    “ “Insiders”? What manner of shadyness it is to comply with the law!
    It was a legal and constitutional obligation”

    My point was nothing to do with that they did it but when they did it.

    They could have made it an election issue, some voters would surely have come out for that, but no. Instead they did Trump up like a kipper and he’s too stupid to realise it.

    They know he’s (probably) toast.

  21. Adding states and adding justices are both very constitutional Peter… 9 is a precedent, but precedents are meant to be broke. Washington DC however CAN NOT become a state Without passing a constitutional amendment to change the original constitution…. damn crusty ols piece of paper…..

    Article I, Section 8 provides explicitly for a national capital that would not be part of a state nor treated as a state, but rather a unique enclave under the exclusive authority of Congress — a neutral “district” in which representatives of all the states could meet on an equal footing to conduct the nation’s business.

    That National Capital specified in the Constitution is Washington D.C.

  22. Ok Patrick

    Then let’s go for North California and South California. And NYC as a state. That would be two new states and four new Dem senators. The present senate is a GOP gerrymander and you know it.

  23. //If the polls are exactly right: Biden wins 357 : 181//

    Well then, why even have an election? The NYT has spoken!

    Hint. Polls don’t vote. Voters do.

  24. We’ll see Charles
    I somehow don’t think we’re going to wake up to the headlines post election
    “Shy guys win it for Trump”
    Coy bashful demure not what springs to mind when you hear cries and yells of
    Lock em up at the rallies ,
    Hey ho what ya gonna do , inject em all with the wuhan flu
    America’s finest no doubt 🤣🤣🤣

  25. Charles

    The situation in the hospitals in El Paso does not seem good at all.
    https://www.1011now.com/video/2020/10/26/coronavirus-cases-overwhelm-hospitals-el-paso-tex/

    I see that Trump had Nigel Farage as a speaker at a campaign event in Arizona today. When the country is reeling from a pandemic, and from the lack of a good national response, And the economic carnage on the back of that, he brings him the brexit guy. Farage spoke longer than the embattled Senate candidate McSally. Maybe Trump wants the USA to leave the EU.

    This isn’t a campaign strategy, it’s the lack of a campaign strategy.

  26. This is the best ad ever by Springsteen
    If you’re not moved by this you’re dead inside . Period
    Charles ?
    Response ?

    https://twitter.com/springsteen/status/1321507795150106624?s=20

  27. Charles

    Well then, why even have an election? The NYT has spoken!

    Hint. Polls don’t vote. Voters do.

    That’s very true Charles, polls are not always a reliable indicator of an outcome.
    I remember one election in the UK, where the polls predicted a landslide victory for one side and the other side won.

  28. Phantom,

    Yes, El Paso is in a bad way with Covid right now. All hospitals are full. There is a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am. My own doctor is sick with it. We’re staying home as much as possible.

  29. Kurt, unimpressed with the Springsteen poem. It has all the direness of “born in the USA” without the catchy tune.

  30. You take care.

  31. “I remember one election in the UK, where the polls predicted a landslide victory for one side and the other side won.”

    I’m intrigued as to which one.

  32. “Washington DC however CAN NOT become a state Without passing a constitutional amendment to change the original constitution…. damn crusty ols piece of paper…..”

    Not entirely true. The constitution requires a national capital, and it sets a maximum size of that capital, but it does not require the size to be met. While granting statehood to the entirety of what is now Washignton DC would be unconstitutional granting land from DC to a state would not be unconstitutional. What is today the city of Alexandria in Virginia used to be part of DC before 1847, when DC returned all land south of the Potomac to Virginia. So the proposed DC state would keep a substantially reduced national capital (probably the White House, the Capitol, and other major federal buildings) while the remainder would be granted statehood.

    There is nothing in the constitution that would prevent such an action.

  33. Charles

    Yes, El Paso is in a bad way with Covid right now.

    Try and keep the safe as you can mate.

  34. “Yes, El Paso is in a bad way with Covid right now. All hospitals are full. There is a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am. My own doctor is sick with it. We’re staying home as much as possible.”

    You look after yourself Charles.

  35. Seamus.

    I’m intrigued as to which one.

    Dam. I knew someone was going to ask me that and I can’t remember. As you notice from my comment, I can’t even remember which way round the political parties were.
    I do remember it was an election quite a while ago though.
    I think this type of incorrect prediction has been made more than once:

    https://www.ft.com/content/a2c3980a-502c-11e7-a1f2-db19572361bb

  36. The closest I can think of is the 1992 election. The polls were out by about 9% (from a 2% Labour lead to the actual result being a 7% Tory lead). But that wasn’t the big shock. Because even if the polls had been accurate it still would have been a small Labour majority or a hung parliament (as opposed to the actual result of a small Conservative majority). Despite this the overwhelming expecation was that Labour were going to absolutely thump the Tories in the election. So the polls were out but the punditry were out even more.

  37. Theresa May launched the (unnecessary) 2017 election on the back of opinion polls giving the Tories a majority of around 100. During the campaign the polls tightened, no doubt in response to the most disastrous Tory campaign ever, but on election day the Tories were still expecting a comfortable majority.

    When the exit poll came out at 10.30 that night correctly predicting that they had lost their small majority from 2015, May must have been as sick as a parrot. She was a zombie PM from that moment.

  38. //You look after yourself Charles.//

    Thanks Seamus and Dave!

  39. Sometimes the polls are systematically wrong, ie they make some mistake in sampling. I think 2016 in the US was like that.

    But it’s equally a mistake to judge polling on one prediction. They are probabalistic. A bit like a weather forecast that says there is a 90% chance of rain is not wrong if it doesn’t rain that day. 1 in 10 times it won’t rain when there is a 90% chance of it. You could however say something was probably wrong if it didn’t rain half the time they said there was a 90% chance of it. And of course polls have a margin of error as well.

    With this election it’s not impossible that Trump would win but it would be surprising if it happened and incredibly surprising if it happened and it wasn’t close. While if Biden won by miles it wouldn’t be a surprise at all. Plus many of the pollsters will have learned from 2016’s mistakes.

  40. “Sometimes the polls are systematically wrong, ie they make some mistake in sampling. I think 2016 in the US was like that.”

    I think sometimes the polls are like that. UK election polling in 2015 was like that. They ballsed up the sample sizes which meant they over polled Labour voters.

    The 2016 US election is not a good example, because from an accuracy point of view the polls were very, very good in 2016. There were major, major problems with the analysis of the polls (hence the people trotting out the “polls” said Clinton would win 99% nonsense). But the polls themselves were quite good. They said Clinton would win by 3. She won by 2. Well within the margin of error. The principle shift wasn’t even Clinton to Trump, but Gary Johnson to Trump, and Trump got a higher share of the undecideds. In fact exit polling showed those who made up their minds very late on broke heavily for Donald Trump.

    But as you say it is a probablility based thing. Trump had a decent enough chance of winning in 2016, even if Clinton was favourite. But it was probably 70-30. And things with a 30% chance of happening happen all the time. Trump’s chances this time around are lower. He’d need to polls to be out by a massive margin. But he still has a chance, albeit a small one.

    But as you point out margin of error, and polling error, go both ways. So it could favour Trump. It could also favour Biden. It favoured Trump in 2016. It favoured Obama in 2012. In fact the polls were 1% out (in Trump’s favour) in 2016. They were 3% out (in Obama’s favour) in 2012.

  41. Charlie Cook of the respected Cook Political Report wrote an article last night titled “Don’t expect a contested election.” The upshot is that he expects Joe Biden to win by a wide enough margin that the results will be unmistakable, and Trump won’t even have an angle for challenging them. There is a good chance that he’s right about this; the Cook Political Report is one of the best at calling results.

    https://www.nationaljournal.com/s/711037?unlock=SRT6SBVCJHPBFJTS

  42. If there will be any real movement, it must happen in the next four days.

    And that will require some very good campaigning on the part of Trump and his machine.

    The campaign message as delivered on Trump Fox News last night was pretty much all Hunter Biden Laptop stuff.

    That won’t cut it at all.

    It’s the virus, which is getting worse, and us looking into a tough winter. That’s the issue.

  43. If there will be any real movement, it must happen in the next four days.

    The BBC are reporting huge turnouts already, with the highest turout in more than a century predicted.

    We live in interesting times.

    The campaign message as delivered on Trump Fox News last night was pretty much all Hunter Biden Laptop stuff.

    That won’t cut it at all

    I agree and seriously hope they continue with this buffoonery.

    Yes, El Paso is in a bad way with Covid right now. All hospitals are full. There is a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am. My own doctor is sick with it. We’re staying home as much as possible

    I’ve just read this, like El Paso we’re also under an 11-6 curfew. Stay safe & well, Charles.

  44. Something is going on.

    Massive Texas will soon see more early voters then there were total voters in 2016.

  45. Gop masters of dirty campaign
    Nothing is sticking this year .
    When they go low we go high .
    Epitomises the difference between the two campaigns .
    Salmons Vs bottom feeders .
    Never witnessed such a stark contrast .
    C’mon Joe ..

  46. Charles can’t believe a sensitive intelligent man like you would side with the bottom feeders.
    I’m putting it down to oil in your blood ie Texas hats
    And give you a free pass .
    Feeling generous .
    Pat and petem no way
    a WWE body slam is their reward,
    they need hitting hard 🤭

  47. 15 super-sized slams: WWE Fury ( aka democrat revenge on election day + final numbers)

    https://youtu.be/Rp7jnjvzZT4