Are you feeling increasingly nervous about the presidential election?
There are lots of reasons why you might be feeling this way, and truth be told, some nervousness had set in with me, too. After all, messages like “the race is tightening!” suddenly started to swarm all media. I know I find it hard not to react to that.
But I started to wonder WHO was saying this. I’ve written before about how important it is to get information from a variety of trustworthy sources. I started to ask myself, what information are people basing this notion that the “race is tightening” on? So I went digging.
I looked at a variety of people whose expertise is looking at polling and election data and devising probability models. (People like G. Elliott Morris, Rachel Bitecofer, Nate Silver, Nate Cohn, Natalie Jackson, and Charlie Cook.) And pretty universally, they are all saying that the fundamentals of this presidential race have not changed. Because their expertise is about amassing a lot of data and looking for trends, they aren’t phased by a single poll (no matter how reputable), even though that one poll might set off a firestorm elsewhere. They simply add that poll into their model to see what it does.
So here are some things that I read that I want to share with you:
🔹 There have been very few polls done in the past couple of weeks. No live-polling, one online poll, and a handful of polls from biased firms. So, we really don’t have a lot of new information, especially post-convention.
🔹 There’s a difference between a change in polling and a statistically significant change in polling. Media and pundits often just report on the change and do not account for whether that change is within the margin of error or not.
🔹 For those concerned that the recent reporting of violence in Wisconsin and Oregon could benefit Trump, polling analysts point out that back in June when there was a similar cycle of news covering violence, Trump’s standing in the polls worsened.
🔹 The high water mark for incumbent presidents is usually right after their convention. So, normally, you would expect Trump’s polling to be at the highest point right now. Yet, the polls show he’s behind Biden.
I think G. Elliott Morris summed it up nicely like this: “[M]assaging polls to extract horse-race coverage is not constructive. It is bad for democracy. It does not help people understand the true gravity of the election or the stakes of their decisions.”
And that really gets to the heart of the matter. Media and pundits and social media personalities need new stories and/or stories about conflict to drive clicks and eyeballs. They have an incentive to report on a change in one poll, and aren’t incentivized to tell us that the poll doesn’t change the race in any significant way. I know I sure needed this reminder.
I also think that our collective anxiety right now is partially due to making comparisons to 2016. We all remember what the fall of 2016 was like. Clinton was safely ahead in the polls, and had the clear advantage from a probability standpoint. And then she lost. Many of us woke up the morning afterwards with the sickening realization that we could have done so much more to help. Which, of course, sparked the activism and new organizations that we have today.
My message to you today is this: Although I know it isn’t easy, try not to let every new poll or media narrative distract you. Let’s focus on what we can control, which is the actions we are taking to activate and energize voters.
With that said, what will you do this week to get out the vote?
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