Clinton-Trump matchup: Conflicting polls from USA Today and Reuters

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(Credit: London Allen, photos Gage Skidmore, official Secretary of State portrait)

On July 5, two different media organizations announced contradictory trends in the presidential election contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: “Clinton expands lead over Trump to 13 points: Reuters/Ipsos poll,” and “USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll: Clinton’s lead over Trump narrows to 5 points.”

Neither media story refers to other polls, each treating its own poll as though it alone provides insight into the general election. More importantly, each story misleads the reader about the significance of the results.

Reuters compared its latest poll with one it conducted only a week before, so the trend period was clearly valid (contrast with USA Today below). But the difference in the results was small. The trend showed Clinton leading 44% to 35% on July 1, and by 46% to 33% a week later. Yes, Clinton’s lead had increased from 9 to 13 points, but the difference in each candidate’s level of support was just 2 percentage points. That was hardly a major change, if a change at all, given typical random variations from one poll to the next.

USA Today compares its new poll, showing Clinton leading by 45.6% to 40.4% with a similar poll two months earlier, as though no polls had been conducted in the interim and the only comparison worthwhile reporting is their own dated poll. That earlier poll had Clinton leading by 50% to 39%. The new results point to a 4-point drop for Clinton and a 1-point drop for Trump, since April. But comparing today’s polls with polls in April hardly seems relevant for understanding the dynamics of the election.

Unfortunately, ignoring all other polls is typical for media outlets that produce their own polls. People genuinely interested in what the polls have to show should ignore any single media poll and instead look at the aggregate of polls provided by, among others, HuffPollster and RealClearPolitics. As of July 7, the former showed Clinton leading by 46.1% to 39.5%, while the latter had Clinton up 45.6 to 40.6.

Though both aggregates show a similar lead for Clinton now, they suggest different trends, with the RealClearPolitics graph much more volatile than the HuffPollster graph. Presumably, they will converge as Election Day nears. In either case, they provide more useful information than the announcement of any single poll.


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Clinton-Trump Matchup: Conflicting Polls from USA Today and Reuters

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One Response

  1. MZ says:

    Yes, a wise article. USA Today in particular engaged in some real dishonesty in comparing their 2 polls 2 months apart. Ipsos actually did something slippery as well, a month back, when it trumpeted a tightening poll as evidence that Orlando had hurt Clinton/helped Trump. Their poll had shown Clinton’s lead moving from 13% to 11.6, all well within the margin for error, and used that as evidence for a tightening race, a story they soon abandoned. Any long-term poll follower will dismiss individual polls and average for the 33 pollsters in the field. In fact, if all one did was average out the polls for the election period, they have been uncannily good at predicting the winner and the margin to within a point. Huffpost pollster is a little more helpful than RCP, because RCP excludes a few pollsters for ideological reasons, mainly left-leaning, and does not exclude right-leaning pollsters like Rasmussen, which is widely known to have a pro-GOP skew (currently the ONLY pollster showing Trump with a lead among the 33 pollsters). Huffpo includes all the pollsters, so I trust their numbers a little better. They currently have Clinton with a 5.9% lead as of today, July 10. As they note, based on the overwhelming number of polls showing her leading, there is a greater than 99% certainty that she leads right now. Her lead has consistently been 5-7% aggregating…and 538, which also has done a superb job calling the last # of elections says that if the election were held today, Clinton would be an 83% favorite to win…Things could certainly change, with probably a slightly greater likelihood that Clinton wins a landslide than the polls tighten to a Bush-Gore cliffhanger, but for now, we can say with strong certainty that Clinton has a comfortable lead in aggregate.

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