Thursday, April 4, 2024

About those swing state polls

 to happen this year. At the moment at least, 2024 is looking pretty close, and up to now, Trump has been leading in most of the polling.

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Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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The new Wall Street Journal battleground polls are a good example. Here’s the gist:

Arizona - Trump-47 Biden-42 (Trump +5)

Georgia - Trump-44 Biden-43 (Trump +1)

Michigan - Trump-48 Biden-45 (Trump +3)

North Carolina - Trump-49 Biden-43 (Trump +6)

Nevada - Trump-48 Biden-44 (Trump +4)

Pennsylvania - Trump-47 Biden-44 (Trump +3)

Wisconsin - Trump-46 Biden-46 (Tie)

The first thing to take from this poll is that these are the states you need to watch. These battleground states are where the election will be decided. If you live in one of these states, I urge you to take your vote seriously and not throw it away on a third-party protest vote.

The second thing to note is that even though Trump is leading in all but one state, these spreads are very close. In fact, it’s closer than it appears because if you look at the fine print, you’ll find that the margin of error in the poll is four percentage points. When that potential error is applied, we find that instead of leading in six of seven states, Trump is only leading in two and that the remaining five are statistically tied. It’s too close to call.

If you’ve followed me very long, you may have seen my advice for reading polls. One of my top rules of thumb is to not put too much faith in any individual poll. Campaigns and partisans violate this rule all the time. If the poll is favorable, it’s absolutely trustworthy. If it’s unfavorable, all polls are garbage.

A better strategy for those who want an objective look at polling is to consult the polling averages from FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics. Taking the average helps to reduce errors and biases in polling as well as dampening the effect of outliers.

A second rule is to not concentrate too much on the numbers, even from the polling averages. This may seem counterintuitive, but what is really important about polling, especially seven months away from an election, are the trends. Is the gap closing or widening?

As we get closer to the election, FiveThirtyEight will roll out its predictive model, but this far out, I like RealClearPolitics for its graphic depiction of current and past polling. Let’s take a quick look at the battlegrounds through the RCP average.

Arizona - Trump +4.5 - Both candidates have gained in recent weeks but the gap is relatively stable.

Georgia - Trump +3.8 - The current trend shows Biden closing the gap.

Michigan - Trump +2.8 - Biden seems to be slowly closing the gap.

Nevada - Trump +3.2 - Again, Biden may be slowly closing.

North Carolina - Trump +4.6 - The trend shows the race tightening here as well.

Pennsylvania - Biden +0.1 - The RCP average shows a much tighter race than the WSJ poll. Biden led by 10 points in a recent poll, which is undoubtedly an outlier, but other recent polls show a tie.

Wisconsin - Trump +0.6 - This is another tossup with several polls showing ties.

The polling averages show a clearer picture of the muddled race and confirm that the battle for the swing states is very tight and getting tighter. Republicans should be concerned about the trend lines in many states, especially with the high potential for more bad news about Donald Trump on so many fronts.

A third takeaway is that a lot of voters are undecided. If we add the numbers for Trump and Biden in the WSJ poll, here’s what we get:

Arizona - 89

Georgia - 87

Michigan - 93

North Carolina - 92

Nevada - 92

Pennsylvania - 91

Wisconsin - 92

An astute observer will note that none of these numbers are 100 percent and some are quite far away from 100. There are still undecided voters and the potential for third-party candidates to take away from one or both major party candidates. A shift of a small percentage of voters can have a big impact in a close race.

Another piece of bad news that should be alarming for Republicans is Trump’s fundraising deficit. In the latter stages of the Republican primary, Nikki Haley was outraising Donald Trump and the same is true for Joe Biden. Biden has been outraising Trump for months and sources in Trump’s own campaign told Reuters recently that Trump will not be able to match Biden’s fundraising haul. The source blamed Biden’s “billionaire” donors but equally true is the fact that many wealthy conservative donors are keeping their wallets closed.

This matters because Biden’s cash advantage will give his campaign the ability to blanket the swing states with advertising in the closing stages of the campaign. If current trends continue, Biden will be able to shape the race and drown out Trump with his message as late-deciders are starting to pay attention.

As the race progresses and more polls are released, there are other details to consider as well. Pay attention to the fine print. Larger sample sizes are typically more accurate and have a smaller margin of error. Polls that survey likely voters are more accurate than polls that consider registered voters or adults. And not all pollsters are equal. Some pollsters are partisan outlets and some just do shoddy work. FiveThirtyEight rates pollsters on transparency and accuracy and publishes the data on their site. Don’t trust online straw polls that use voluntary participation.

At this point, Trump is leading in the polls, and first place is a good place to be. Nevertheless, he is a weak candidate with a tenuous lead. I have little doubt that the race will continue to tighten. I stand by my prediction that Biden will ultimately come out on top as progressives end their flirtation with third-party candidates and people start to actually listen to what Trump is saying rather than looking at him as a generic Not-Biden candidate.

But the flip side is that I won’t say that a Trump win is impossible. Biden could get unforeseen bad news that results in another fluke win for Trump. In the end, turnout matters… at least in the swing states.

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Another interesting poll came from Gallup this week. This isn’t a horserace poll but looks at how the two candidates are viewed by voters. The results are enlightening.

Neither candidate is well-liked, but Biden’s image has suffered during the past four years. Voters viewed Biden as more likeable, honest, and trustworthy while Trump was seen as a better manager and stronger leader. Interestingly, Trump was preferred for having good judgment in a crisis. Biden scored better on caring about people like you, but the two tied on intelligence and putting the country first.

From the Racket News

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