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A poll showing Trump 10 points ahead of Biden is being ridiculed. Here’s why

A new survey from The Washington Post and ABC News depicts a dire scenario for DemocratsDonald Trump up over Joe Biden by a solid 10-point margin.

But both Democrats and polling experts in the media are decrying the survey as an outlier. So what does that mean, and should the Biden campaign still be worried?

An outlier is any survey result that varies significantly from the statistical mean to the extent that it can sometimes skew the average.

The answer to the second question is a little less clear-cut than some of Mr Biden’s cheerleaders would admit. Yes, the Post/ABC poll is an outlier, by almost any definition of the word: Most national polling shows the race between the two politicians in a dead heat, with neither having a clear advantage once the margin of error is factored in.

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A 10-point advantage for the former president is not currently reflected in any other polls from respected polling outfits, and the RealClearPolitics average of polls currently gives Mr Trump a 1.6-point advantage even with this newest survey included.

There’s also the issue of the Post/ABC poll itself. The surveys produced by the collaboration of those two outfits appear to have produced survey results that could be considered outliers before, an issue pointed out by the New York Times’s polling expert Nate Cohn, who noted that he had previously eviscerated the Post/ABC poll’s credibility after noticing peculiarities with Mr Biden’s numbers among nonwhite and young voters in the results.

Larry Sabato, elections guru with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, offered a more direct criticism: “How could you even publish a poll so absurd on its face? Will be a lingering embarrassment for you.”

But that doesn’t mean the general finding of the poll — namely, that Mr Biden is currently behind his opponent — is wrong. The incumbent president remains encumbered by concerns about his age that Donald Trump, fairly or unfairly, has not faced to the same extent. And the GOP remains fixated on an effort to tarnish his son’s image and accuse both President Biden and Hunter Biden of shady, backroom deals involving foreign interests (which have not been proven).

Mr Trump, meanwhile, retains loyalty among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, whom some pollsters noted appeared to be oversampled in the Post/ABC poll. He continues to face strong opposition from Democrats and other independents in other polling, however.

The poll’s finding of Mr Biden’s approval rating among independents (36 per cent) is also in line with other polls, including a Reuters/Ipsos poll from August which found it only a few points higher.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump are tied in most polls (Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Donald Trump are tied in most polls (Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images)

It’s clear, then, that the president cannot simply brush away any concerns about the strength of his candidacy as statistical anomalies.

There are real concerns reflected not just in this poll but others that are far more in line with the statistical norm. To get a clearer picture, Democrats and journalists should stick to analysing polls of the key swing states that the president will need if he hopes to win reelection — like Wisconsin, where an Emerson College poll last week found him up by 1 percentage point, or Arizona, where he trails his 2020 rival by the same margin, according to the most recent Emerson poll in August.

As ABC’s Gary Langer wrote in an analysis of his outlet’s new survey result:

“Since many results are negative toward Biden, it follows that he’s lagging in 2024 support...those sentiments are real, have been consistently negative in recent surveys and clearly mark Biden’s challenges ahead.”