So You’re Freaking Out About the Latest Polls. Here Are Some Important Things to Remember.

Consider this your long, deep breath before reading the next set of numbers.


Recent national polls show presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump locked in an increasingly tight race. That’s freaking out Democrats, and allowing the Trump campaign some relief after the Republican nominee’s numbers dropped significantly after the conventions.

But what are polls actually an indication of? And how do you know which poll you should trust?

What even is a poll?

Should you really be freaking out right now?

Thankfully, we’ve got some great experts in this new video from the We The Voters project, a new web-series about the US elections. Clare Malone and Harry Enten are senior political writers at FiveThirtyEight, the news and politics data analysis site headed by statistician Nate Silver. (Silver rose to fame after accurately predicting the outcome of 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 elections, and then all 50 states in 2012.) Using easy-to-understand analogies, Malone and Enten illustrate how polls work and what makes certain polls more representative than others.

Watch the video for a few key takeaways, but here’s a pretty important one: Be aware of how polls are presented. A poll might be nonpartisan in itself, but the outlets that report them are free to deploy their own spin.

Or, the candidates themselves can self-servingly select which polls they choose to showcase. Case in point:

As NPR points out, most poll numbers show that Trump didn’t “win” Monday’s presidential debate. Instead, Trump used online reader polls, which are less scientific, to boast that he did. On Tuesday, a Fox News executive reminded Fox producers that online polls “do not meet our editorial standards,” according to a memo obtained by Business Insider.

And of course, you shouldn’t rely on just one poll. Generally, you should be looking at a number of polls to get an overall picture of how a candidate is doing—unless you want to flat-out deny reality, like this top Trump adviser:

Stay tuned for more from We The Voters, a new digital, nonpartisan campaign to inform voters of key issues this election season.

Fact:

In-depth journalism that investigates the powerful takes real money and is so damn important right now.But it doesn’t take a Mother Jones investigation to know that billionaires and corporations will never fund the type of reporting (like they do politicians) we do that exists to help bring about change. Instead, our mission-driven journalism is made possible by people power, and has been for 46 years now since our founding as a non-profit.

In “TITLE TK” Monica Bauerlein writes about the perilous moment we’re in, and why it’s so important that we raise $325,000 by the time November’s midterms are decided so we can be ready to throw everything we have at the big issues facing the nation no matter what happens. Please help MoJo’s people-powered journalism with a donation today.

$400,000 to go!

payment methods

Fact:

In-depth journalism that investigates the powerful takes real money and is so damn important right now.But it doesn’t take a Mother Jones investigation to know that billionaires and corporations will never fund the type of reporting (like they do politicians) we do that exists to help bring about change. Instead, our mission-driven journalism is made possible by people power, and has been for 46 years now since our founding as a non-profit.

In “TITLE TK” Monica Bauerlein writes about the perilous moment we’re in, and why it’s so important that we raise $325,000 by the time November’s midterms are decided so we can be ready to throw everything we have at the big issues facing the nation no matter what happens. Please help MoJo’s people-powered journalism with a donation today.

$400,000 to go!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate