Stop freaking out about this new poll


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Donald Trump is excitedly tweeting about a new poll that says he might have a chance in the 2020 election. Numerous media outlets are playing up this new poll as if it represents a fundamental shift in the race. Here’s the thing: it’s not. All you have to do is look at all the other poll numbers.

Here’s a hint about how the media works: several presidential polls are conducted each week. They don’t usually change much. Various news outlets – particularly cable news – like to create the illusion of movement, because they know that’s what’ll keep you tuned in. This week they report Trump’s best poll number of the bunch, and they claim it’s evidence he’s on the rise. Then next week they report Trump’s worst poll number of the bunch, and they claim it’s evidence he’s in trouble. Then the next week after that they report his best poll number again.

All you have to do is look at the polling averages to see how little movement there is from week to week in a presidential race. This is a Biden +6 race right now. It was a Biden +6 race a month ago. It was a Biden +6 race two months ago. But if MSNBC were to simply report that “The Biden vs Trump poll numbers have once again not changed this week,” you’d get bored and change the channel.

The polls can tell us a lot, when they’re viewed through the proper filter. If you’re going to look at them at all, look at the averages, not the individual polls. The further any given poll is from the average, the more likely it’s going to turn out that the poll in question is wrong. And if you’re going to watch cable news, you have to accept that any time they quote an individual poll number, it has to be ignored.

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