POLITICS

How To Survive The Onslaught Of Final Polls

There will be a lot of them. Don’t follow every little bounce.

The end of the election cycle always coincides with a massive batch of poll releases. Most pollsters want to get their final measures out and capitalize on peak interest in polling numbers before Election Day.

That means we’ll be swimming in data on Monday. Here are a few tips for coping:

Remember that only a few states matter.

At this point, you can probably ignore polls in states like California and Alabama. We know where those states are headed. The states that matter most are Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio.

Trump has to win all of those to have a chance at 270 electoral votes. The only one that looks rosy for him is Ohio, although some mixed evidence shows New Hampshire might be at the tipping point as well. Florida is worth watching because it’s always close ― confirmed by a Sunday morning CBS poll that showed a tie in the state. North Carolina and Nevada have large minority populations that are pushing them toward Clinton. But new polls in each of those states would provide valuable last-minute information.

Other states that have been potentially in play this year are looking fairly solid. Iowa, Georgia and Arizona will probably hold for Trump, and Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are consistently on Clinton’s side.   

National polls look stable overall.

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released their final national poll on Sunday, showing Clinton leading by 4 points in a four-way race and by 5 points head-to-head against Trump. Several other major national pollsters put out updated tracking poll numbers, too. The ABC News/Washington Post tracker puts Clinton up by 5 points regardless of whether third-party candidates are included. The steadier Politico/Morning Consult poll shows Clinton leading by 3 points in a four-way race. A tracker from IBD/TIPP that has trended more conservative than other polls showed Trump up by 1 point in the four-way race, but Clinton is up by 1 point in a head-to-head matchup.

All of these are in line with what recent polling has shown, with the exception of the IBD/TIPP poll. It’s one of very few to show Trump leading, along with the USC/Los Angeles Times poll that shows Trump ahead by nearly 6 points. HuffPost Pollster doesn’t use the USC/LA Times poll, though, because instead of asking a normal ballot test question, such as “If the election was held today, who would you vote for?” it asks respondents to state the chance that they’ll vote for a given candidate ― a fundamentally different question.

Most national polls show Clinton up by a few points. HuffPost Pollster’s charts give her a 5.1 percent advantage in head-to-head polling with only Trump listed as an opponent, and a slightly smaller 4.6 point edge when third-party candidates are included in the question.

Look at the polling aggregates.

Perhaps the most important key to keeping your sanity with all the polls coming in is to not follow every single poll and every little bounce in the numbers. Polling aggregates are your friend.

I don’t say that to minimize pollsters’ hard work ― many of them do high-quality surveys and deserve credit for that. But when there’s an overwhelming amount of polling data coming at you, the best way to deal with it is to let someone else deal with it. If you’re trying to keep up with multiple 50-state polls on top of the dozens of other polls released each day, you’re going to have a bad time.

So pick your aggregator. HuffPost Pollster carefully curates the polls we put into our aggregate, making sure they release all the information we need to establish that they’re making a credible attempt to measure voters’ opinions. And, as with the USC/LA Times poll, we’ll also make sure the way polls ask the questions are comparable.

Our aggregate calculation works to minimize the effects of outlier polls and reflect the trend of the polling. The model tries to find the most likely true value of opinion within a bunch of polls that say different things.

FiveThirtyEight also uses a model-based approach that moves more easily when new polls come in. They include all publicly available polls. If you prefer a simple average, RealClearPolitics is your aggregator. They include some polls that HuffPost Pollster doesn’t, and exclude some that we include, so the numbers are different. 

Pick your favorite, and stick with the aggregates over the next couple of days.

Most importantly: Don’t panic, vote.

And make sure all your friends and family do, too.

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