vision 2020

Good Pollsters Don’t Always Agree

Polling maven Nate Silver. Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for AWXII

Yesterday the whole hep political world revolved around discussions of some new data from the New York Times/Siena College polling combine, with analysis from the Upshot’s Nate Cohn. To make a long story short, the data and analysis (based on polling of key 2016–2020 battleground states) suggested that (a) Donald Trump is in much better shape for reelection that is commonly assumed, and (b) that the fast-ascending Democratic candidacy of Elizabeth Warren is displaying some potential general-election weaknesses.

Today, as though intended to provide balm to freaked-out Democrats, the ABC/Washington Post polling combine released a new national poll showing Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders all trouncing Trump in a general-election trial heat by double-digit margins (Biden up by 17, Warren by 15, and Sanders by 14). And also today, Nate Silver introduced and released the latest edition of FiveThirtyEight’s unique pollster ratings. And guess what? Both NYT/Siena and ABC/WaPo got the coveted A+ rating (five out of 532 polling outfits got that gold-standard rating).

No, the latest very different-seeming results from these pollsters don’t provide an apples-to-apples comparison: The NYT/Siena polls are state-level and ABC/WaPo is a national poll. As Cohn noted, though, they do suggest different states of the political world:

He goes on to tweet extensively about the particular things his outfit does to try to get at a better sample than other pollsters harvest. But you know what? We really won’t know who is right until objective reality weighs in. In the meantime, it’s smart to take any one poll with a shaker of salt, and rely on polling averages wherever possible.

Good Pollsters Don’t Always Agree