What we can really learn from the controversial Trump poll

The most ridiculous number in the poll was its findings for young voters

Ahmed Baba
Monday 25 September 2023 17:52 BST
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<p>Joe Biden and Donald Trump</p>

Joe Biden and Donald Trump

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll has claimed to find that Donald Trump is leading President Joe Biden by 10 percentage points, 52-42 percent in the 2024 election. The findings sparked an immediate backlash among voters, pollsters, and journalists. The concern isn’t over Trump’s lead but the poll itself.

In their article outlining the poll results, The Washington Post made a point to note that their poll is “significantly at odds with other public polls,” sampled an “unusual makeup of Trump’s and Biden’s coalitions,” and is “probably an outlier.” They’re right. The numbers don’t make any sense.

Every credible poll over the past month has found that Trump and Biden are, at most, in a neck-and-neck tie at around 46 percent. A September 7-11 Quinnipiac University poll of 1,910 Americans found Biden leading Trump 47 percent to 46 percent. An August 25-31 CNN poll of 1,503 Americans found that Trump was leading Biden by 1 point, 47 percent - 46 percent, among registered voters. A recent September 9-12 Fox News poll found Trump leading by 2 points. While those numbers are concerning as is, it does not indicate a 10-point lead for Trump.

The most ridiculous number in the poll was its findings for young voters. The Post-ABC poll found that Trump leads Biden among voters under the age of 35 by an unbelievable 20 points. This is totally out of step with recent election results and polls that consistently find Biden leading among young voters by double digits. This big of a swing in the direction of Trump is incredibly dubious.

As a 30-year-old who hangs out with other people under 35 of all backgrounds, I can certainly say that’s not what I’ve seen on the ground. Young people do not support a climate change-denying authoritarian facing 91 criminal charges. Pollsters need to find better ways to reach young people than their traditional methods.

The controversial poll also found that Biden’s lead among non-white voters was only 9 points when Biden usually polls between 12-24 points among that demographic - a fact The Washington Post pointed out. Time after time, they made caveats to their own poll, perhaps realizing how flawed it was and the reception it would receive.

The poll comparisons I’ve outlined are well known among experts. Political scientist Larry Sabato called for people to ignore the Post-ABC poll, condemning it as a “laughable” and “ridiculous outlier,” leading Sabato to ask, “How could you even publish a poll so absurd on its face?” That’s a good question.

The New York Times Chief Political Analyst Nate Cohn went into more detail on the platform formerly known as Twitter, posting: “I do have a fairly major quibble with ABC/Post here: if you release consecutive ‘outlying’ poll results -- R+7 in May, R+10 today -- you don’t get to dismiss your results... If it happens twice in a row in the same race, it’s clear that this is the result of some element of your approach, and either you either need to decide you’re good with it and defend it or you need to go home.”

While looking at polling averages can be useful to gauge the direction of public sentiment, it’s been made clear over the past decade that polling shouldn’t be taken as gospel. The most recent example is the imaginary red wave predicted in the 2022 midterms. As we saw, that was not the case, with Democrats expanding their Senate majority and Republicans under-performing in the House. Recent performance is often the best indicator of future performance, so Democrats have reasons to be hopeful.

Democrats have been dominating in recent special elections. A FiveThirtyEight analysis found that in 30 special elections across the country this year, Democrats have outperformed expectations by an average of 11 points. It’s not just special elections. Axios also pointed out that Republicans are underperforming in federal, judicial, statewide, and local elections across the US.

Another positive indicator for Democrats is a Daily Kos analysis that found in 18 state legislative elections conducted in the first half of this year, Democrats have exceeded the 2020 presidential outcomes by an average margin of six points. That Daily Kos analysis was covered by The Washington Post at the time in May. Ironic.

With the American people being increasingly concerned about the state of democracy and worried about attacks on their human rights, it’s understandable that the Republican Party is doing so terribly in election after election. After Donald Trump’s 2016 win, Republicans have been historically underperforming.

It can be difficult to gauge where the 2024 race truly stands. At this point, we’re over 400 days away from the election day and Donald Trump has a road paved with criminal trials and potential convictions ahead of him. A lot can change between now and then.

While these polls can be scary, I’d recommend not getting too worked up over them. Yes, it’s concerning that someone as corrupt as Donald Trump even appears to stand a chance in 2024, but that’s the nature of our polarized electorate.

I’d take solace in the fact that recent elections give us the best insight into where the country currently stands. 2024 will definitely be a tough fight, but there’s no use in getting demoralized over polls with flawed methodology. Reality is a better electoral indicator than polls.

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