Presidential polls are meaningless

While mainstream sources from CNN to USA Today hail a ‘surge in the polls’ for GOP outlier Donald Trump, reality paints a much different picture. The most recent national presidential polls have Trump in second place to Establishment candidate Jeb Bush, with the USA Today poll even putting Trump in first. From various anchor desks projected into American homes, commentators tout these numbers as evidence that Trump’s inflammatory remarks regarding Mexican immigrants are resonating with American voters. Let’s break that down.

A) This early in the campaign, not much more than name recognition matters

Trump has been a national cultural (and sometimes political) figure in this country for the past two decades, and most Americans can imitate (or attempt to) his classic “ya fired” routine. By contrast, American voters have barely had a chance to hear from the other 31 (yes, you read that right) republican candidates, such as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker or Dr. Ben Carson or South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. In a field of often not-yet-recognizable names, it’s not hard to imagine respondents choosing Justin Bieber over Bobby Jindal.

B) A recent Gallup poll shows that three-quarters of potential voters don’t see Trump as a ‘serious candidate’

74 percent of respondents do not view Donald Trump as a “serious” presidential candidate, which is unchanged from October of 1999, when he fought for the Reform Party nomination. Also of note, only 3 in 10 of participants view Trump favorably, a new low for the candidate.

C) These national polls often have a damning margin-of-error

Often mentioned as a footnote, a polls margin-of-error is important to determining its worth. For instance, in the most recent USA Today poll, Trump is polling at 17% compared to Bush’s 14%, but the poll has a 5.25% margin-of-error. This means that you can add or subtract 5.25 points from any result and be just as accurate; i.e. this poll is absolutely meaningless, as are all other presidential polls this early in the race.

Why the mainstream media continues to air and emphasize polling data that does absolutely nothing in terms of informing the electorate is a question I won’t seek to answer today. But next time you hear a pundit going off half-cocked on the latest polling numbers, you’ll know just how worthless it all is.

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