If we ever needed a more appropriate symbol of the current political climate, it’s the one that arrived on the front page of the Washington Post announcing the latest results from its polling unit.
The headline was full of dire warnings for President Joe Biden: “Post-ABC poll: Biden faces criticism on economy, immigration and age.”
Fair enough. But the subhead is one for the ages: “A finding that shows Trump leading Biden by a wide margin does not match other recent polling, however, suggesting it is an outlier.”
Does the Post mean to say its poll isn’t to be believed?
Yes, that’s what it’s saying:
The Post-ABC poll shows Biden trailing Trump by 10 percentage points at this early stage in the election cycle, although the sizable margin of Trump’s lead in this survey is significantly at odds with other public polls that show the general election contest a virtual dead heat. The difference between this poll and others, as well as the unusual makeup of Trump’s and Biden’s coalitions in this survey, suggest it is probably an outlier. [emphasis added]
The obvious question: is it really an outlier? Or is it more likely that, as with every other poll very conducted, this accurately captured a snapshot of the electoral at the time the poll was conducted (Sept. 15-20)?
The Post takes great pains, and spills a large number of words, to argue the former. For example:
Looking at some of the support levels among different demographic and political groups also points to reasons for caution on this finding. For example, in the new poll, men favor Trump by 62 percent to 32 percent, a margin of 30 points. In May, Trump’s margin among men was 16 points.
Among voters under age 35, Trump leads Biden in the new Post-ABC poll by 20 points. Some other recent public polls show Biden winning this group by between six and 18 points. In 2020, Biden won voters under age 35 by double digits. Among non-White voters, the poll finds Biden leads by nine points. In four other public polls, Biden’s lead among non-White voters ranges from 12 points to 24 points.
And so on.
But let’s give the Post and ABC News a slight benefit of the doubt: yes, this poll may indeed be an outlier compared to other polls from other organizations.
But if we look at some of those other results, we see, for example, that in a Harris X poll of registered voters for The Messenger conducted Sept. 13-19, Trump led Biden 46 percent to 41 percent.
It’s not out impossible that in the rather broad pool of registered voters, Trump may, indeed, have an advantage.
The key about polling at this stage, however, is to look at state polls of likely voters from polling units unaffiliated with any campaign. Those will give a better sense of where the essential first step to any general election campaign – the nomination fights – is heading.
As for the national polls…outliers may, and really should be, dismissed. Unless other polling outfits comes up with similar numbers. Then what we haven’t isn’t an outlier, but a real story developing that could affect racers up and down the ballot.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Republican Standard. It first appeared in American Liberty News.
Norman Leahy has written about national and Virginia politics for more than 30 years with outlets ranging from The Washington Post to BearingDrift.com. A consulting writer, editor, recovering think tank executive and campaign operative, Norman lives in Virginia.