In the weeks ahead, we’re sure to hear about dramatic results! or shocking details! from presidential or statewide polls.
Over at FiveThirtyEight, they’ve 13 Tips For Reading General Election Polls Like A Pro.
All thirteen are instructive, but tips 1 and 2 are especially useful guidelines:
- Beware of polls tagged “bombshells” or “stunners.” Any poll described thusly is likely to be an outlier, and outlier polls are usually wrong. Remember those American Research Group polls that had Republican John Kasich climbing rapidly in primary after primary? They were pretty much all wrong; stunners usually are. That said, sometimes they’re right, such as the Des Moines Register poll that projected a large Joni Ernst victory in the 2014 Iowa Senate race, when other polls showed a tighter race. So don’t dismiss outliers, either.
- Instead, take an average. I don’t just say this because it’s what we do at FiveThirtyEight. I say it because aggregating polls, especially in general elections, is the method that leads to the most accurate projection of the eventual result most often. Put simply, it’s the best measure of the state of the race….
The full list of tips is well worth heeding. There’s no need to be buffeted about by sketchy surveys and dodgy data; these two months will have their share of both.