Tue, Jul

Reading Election Polls 101: It’s Not Even Close


MARC'S ANGLE - As an election polling geek, I have watched countless cycles down to the polling minutiae and despite cable news outlets and pundits obsessing each time on “the polls are wrong”, the national polls are generally close. The aggregates of the polls are even more accurate.  The surprises really come from the faulty analysis or the focus on an outlier repeated in the media as if it were truth, creating such shock and surprise.  

But this piece should hammer some points home so you can better analyze polls and not be deluded by a talking head’s hyperbole or the minutiae of day-to-day polls simply catching “margin of error” fluctuations.  

First, the national polls are meaningless as far as election outcome because we have an electoral college where all 50 states each have the ir own election. Every state has a certain number of electoral votes to allocate. 48 states have a winner take all system. Two states, Nebraska and Maine, allocate votes by congressional district and a statewide winner. But since both states have a small number of electoral votes (5 for Nebraska and 4 for Maine), they only matter in super close races. The blue district in Nebraska and the red district in Maine cancel each other out anyways.  

That said, national polls are a great gauge of where the “center of gravity” is. Note that if the Democrat is up 2 points, this points to a close electoral college outcome as we saw in 2016. The electoral college gives voice to small states.  

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the state polls which will actually determine our presidential winner. State polls are much more inaccurate. States like Nevada are notoriously off due to the difficulty of polling casino workers who work late nights and lots of rural folk who are hard to reach.  

However, state polls do give us a rough gauge, as long as we take them with a grain of salt.  

What is more important is the big picture: what states are close and within the margin of error? And what are the margins in red states and blue states, not just the purple ones? 

The winning candidate should be over performing even in states friendly to them. And the margins should be smaller in states unfriendly to them. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Trump’s margins were bigger in 2016 in red states than in 2020 when he lost. Biden was polling way better in blue states than Hillary was doing in 2016.  

In this election, we see a return to 2016 type margins for Trump in red states, slim leads in purple states (staying stable despite news events that were supposed to move them like the felony convictions or even the debate). And most importantly, Trump is only 9 points behind in New York, is close in New Jersey and is tied in Virginia, Minnesota and New Hampshire.  

The latter states are not even ones he needs to get to 270 electoral votes. This reminds me of 2008 Obama election when he was starting to poll within margin of error in states like Missouri and Montana. Though he lost those states, he came very close. He outright won Indiana and North Carolina, which are typically red states.  

Public opinion in an election year usually has been formed and hardened over the course of 4 years. It is very unlikely to move, based on sensational media news. Especially with 2 candidates who are well known quantities, the polling is set to remain stable and has been consistently favorable to Trump.  

If there were to be any movement, we are seeing new blue states open up to supporting him. This is the case if undecided voters break for him, which is the likely scenario. 

(Marc Ang ([email protected]) is a Southern California based community organizer, the President of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in Orange County and founder of Asian Industry B2B. He has a heart for promoting quality education, practical societal solutions, business-friendly legislation, charitable causes and law and order. Marc has made front page news on LA Times and New York Times for his activism and leadership in the SoCal Asian community. He is also the Vice President of the American Independence Party in California. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” was released in 2022 through Trinity Broadcast Network.)