POLITICS

How To Read Polls From Now Until November

They will sometimes be all over the place. Don’t panic; just look at the averages.

Right on cue, the post-Labor Day polling bonanza has begun. For those who are tuning in to the presidential election for the first time, welcome! This is when we start getting tons of poll releases every day, many of which will show different numbers.

Those different numbers will be confusing. They can confound even the most savvy poll followers. And even when polls show the same numbers, they can be interpreted differently depending on analysts’ biases and what they want you to see. So how do you navigate this crazy world of numbers?

My advice is unchanged from January, when I first published this to-do list:

The first item is self-explanatory. Don’t get caught up in the excitement over any one poll. Recent research shows that media organizations will gravitate toward hyping unusual poll results that go against the averages ― so be extra careful with any “surprising” results.

Looking at the poll’s methodology can be a bit daunting if you’re not familiar with polling practices, but what I mean here is you should simply look for basic information about how the poll was conducted. If pollsters don’t tell how they did the poll, you shouldn’t give it your attention at all. Some very basic elements polls should tell you are the dates the poll was conducted, who sponsored and actually collected the data, how they contacted the people they polled and what steps were taken to make the poll representative of all voters.  

The polling averages are your best friend for the next 9 weeks. HuffPost Pollster combines publicly-available polls that meet our criteria (which are mostly based on disclosing methodological information) into a single estimate of the polling trends. We do this for every major election contest in which there are five or more polls that meet our criteria. That includes the presidential race in each state where polling is available, Senate races, gubernatorial races and even an overall look at House of Representatives vote shares. Our charts show you in one glance where the race stands, where it’s been over the time that it’s been polled and how much variation there is in the polling. In the main chart for the presidential race, you can easily see when Donald Trump has come up in the polls and the race currently tightening, but also that Hillary Clinton has never trailed in the averages.

And, of course, the final admonition is a reminder to not panic over the polls. Whether your desired electoral outcome happens will be determined on Nov. 8, not in polls beforehand. The polls give us information about the state of the race, but the conclusions are always uncertain until votes are cast and counted. Be sure to vote.

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