Polls have never been so plentiful (or profitable for the pollsters), and results are typically used in attempts to promote or derail a candidate. Polls often implode as they did with the recent election of Matt Bevin for governor of Kentucky.
That doesn’t mean polls have no value. They do. Currently news on polls drives coverage of the 2016 election. I spent some time looking at data and analyses. Five things stand out for consideration and some questions arise as well.
Does the GOP have an edge in the 2016 presidential election?
Is this the era of the outsider?
Democrats are still reeling after the Kentucky governor upset. What was supposed to be their candidate’s wide margin victory turned out to be a landslide and a historic moment for Republican Bevin. How could polls be so wrong?
Currently the top four candidates in the presidential Republican camp remain consistent—Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Ted Cruz. All of those candidates began their campaigns without the blessing of party power brokers. I consider each of them an outsider.
Conversely, Democrats’ likely nominee is the consummate Washington insider as is that party’s second place candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Current national matchups
A new Quinnipiac poll finds Democrat presidential hopefuls challenged far more strongly by Republicans than some national media admit. Several Republican candidates would trounce either Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders if the election was held now. Quinnipiac said in a presidential matchup, Dr. Ben Carson would beat Mrs. Clinton by a 10 percent margin. Other matchups included:
- Clinton gets 46 percent to Trump’s 43 percent;
- Rubio tops Clinton 46 – 41 percent;
- Cruz gets 46 percent to Clinton’s 43 percent;
- New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie tops Clinton 46 – 41 percent
Results were similar for Sanders who isn’t likely to dethrone Mrs. Clinton for the nomination.
Can you trust national polls one year ahead of the election?
That question yields a mixed bag of answers. An interesting analysis of historic matchups by Pew Research in 2007 found, “Early general election presidential trial heat polls have a poor track record.”
In October, 2011, Republican Mitt Romney led incumbent president Barack Obama by 4 percentage points. Obama’s superior media messaging relying in part on left-leaning national outlets helped deliver a second term for 2012, however.
It’s possible some polls, if they were inaccurate or comprised unsound respondent blocs, could have skewed the results in a false way for Republicans just as the recent Kentucky rout showed in the Democrats’ loss.
How accurate are polls for the primaries?
Nate Silver, guru of polling and analysis, says not very. I think this is partly because primary models vary from state to state. Silver said in a 2014 article:
“[P]olls of primaries are much less accurate than polls of general elections. Perhaps this isn’t emphasized enough. It seems that every election cycle, people are surprised by how wild and inaccurate polls of the primaries can be, and equally shocked at how stable and reliable polls of the general election are.”
At odds with Silver’s take, somewhat, is a fact check done by PolitiFact:
“Five contenders — Bob Dole in 1996, Bush and Gore in 2000, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 — all scored high in the earliest polls and went on to win their party’s nomination.”
What issues are most important to voters?
Answers to that question depend on the pollster, but most surveys put the economy top of the list, and most voters in my opinion boil that down to their own household economy.
The last 8 years have not been kind to the middle class. Any candidate able to convince voters he can change that will have an edge.
Terrorism, healthcare, and immigration are also issues voters routinely rank as important.
The website pollingreport.com provides an assortment of polls on issues voters give high priority to.
In the end, though, other factors will also matter. Which Republican can debate and beat the Democrat by siphoning independent votes? Who can earn the American voters’ trust? Who is likable? Whom do we identify with?
Just as important in today’s fractured country and world—who will unite us and who will keep us safe?
(Analysis by Kay B. Day/Nov. 5, 2015)
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