HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The nation’s general election is just 27 days away and a third of the U.S. Senate, every U.S. House seat and the presidency are in the balance
News 19 is your local election headquarters and with that in mind, we’re working to help make sense of the latest national polls in the presidential race.
News 19 asked our Political Analyst Jess Brown to lead that effort. We plan to continue to do the poll analysis weekly up to the Nov. 3 election.
With so many polls being published and plenty of skepticism around them — analyst Brown focused on the work of fivethirtyeight.com — started two decades ago by Nate Silver, who may be the most prominent statistician in the country who looks at and evaluates polls.
“In fact he has evaluated, as best I can tell, over 400 polls looking at over 15 years of data,” Brown said. “He developed a grading system and roughly 3 percent of all the polls he evaluates — he gives this ‘A grade’ to.
“He bases the ‘A grade’ on how transparent the pollster has been, the extent to which the pollster complies with the disclosure standards of the American Association of Public Opinion Research, he looks at the methods by which they word their questions, the methods by which they generate their samples, he looks at their track record — how accurate they have been when they make a projection late in the campaign — how accurate the actual results have they been.”
Brown said the criteria also weighs whether the polls manifest a consistent partisan bias for either Democrats or Republicans.
“He’s a pretty picky guy and he gives 13 current polling entities in the United States, this grade of ‘A’,” Brown said.
The A-graded pollsters are:
- Siena College (or Siena College/New York Times)
- Survey USA
- RKM Research
- Marist College
- Muhlenberg College
- Monmouth University
- Emerson College
- Selzer and Co.
- Suffolk University
- CBS/New York Times
- ABC/the Washington Post
- NBC/ the Wall Street Journal
- Fox News.
“Roughly 3 percent of all the polls he evaluates he gives this grade to,” Brown said.
That list of 13 pollsters includes 4 news networks, 3 marketing survey firms and 6 small colleges or universities.
The polls over the past two weeks show a pattern for President Trump that has lasted for quite a while.
“The president’s number appears to be unbelievably static over time,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter if I look at the polls in the last week, the last month, in fact, even the last six months. The president’s number seems to be stuck about the low to mid-40s. No matter which of the grade-A pollsters I go to, he seems to be frozen in place nationally.”
Those polls find President Trump trailing Democrat Joe Biden.
Five thirty eight.com “Grade A” Polls as of October 7 – Presidential Race – National Samples
6 of 13 have released data in last two weeks. (Sept. 21 through Oct. 7)
Brown says the president’s support has weakened compared to 2016 among seniors, veterans and active military voters, but there’s an even more troubling trend for his campaign.
“Educated women, college-educated women are essentially abandoning this president at the polls,” Brown said.
The polls also suggest an unusual possibility.
“I think we may have reached a point where the campaign doesn’t matter anymore,” Brown said. “I think there’s a possibility that such a high percentage of the electorate is now just absolutely frozen in place, either pro-Trump or anti-trump, that the campaign from now to election day, the debates from now to election day, may have less consequence than any presidential election we’ve seen in a long time.”
Regarding battleground states, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, which will likely decide the election, the combined polls show Biden up in four states and tied in Florida.
Brown said President Trump could still run the table in those states and win reelection.
But he cautioned that the Electoral College vote follows the popular vote about 90 percent of the time.
Regarding skepticism about polling stemming from President Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Brown said a closer look shows much of that criticism is unfounded.
“All pollsters today face problems that they didn’t have 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago,” Brown said, citing the American transition to cell phones, which makes getting interviews completed more difficult. “But they have not spent several years experimenting with new techniques involving online surveying and these techniques have been refined and honed, and great improvements have been made.”
Brown also said the criticism of pollsters related to the 2016 election is “uninformed.” Silver argued in early 2017, that Trump outperformed most polls by just 1 to 2 percentage points nationally, and 2 to 3 points in the swing states.
“The truth is the pollsters were more accurate in 2016, the major pollsters were more accurate in 2016 than they were in 2012,” Brown said. “Because their task ultimately, at the end of the game, is to estimate the national popular vote, not to estimate the Electoral College vote
“The pollsters were talking about certainly did accurate survey work in predicting winners in 2018, in the off-year elections.”
Brown said while polling is inherently more difficult today than it was 20 years ago, pollsters have developed a number of new techniques to try to get credible samples and do effective interviewing with likely voters.