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The Value of Presidential Polls – In June

The most recent Fox News poll indicates that presumptive Democrat nominee Joe Biden has widened his lead over President Trump in the November presidential election.  The poll was taken between June 13 and June 16 from a national sample of 1343 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.5%. The poll reports that if the election were held now, Biden leads the President by 12 percentage points – Biden receiving the nod at 50% with Trump falling to 38%.  Except for the poll conducted in April of this year, Biden has led the President in this poll dating back to March of 2019.

Predictably, the President jumped onto social media to react.

Just as surprisingly, unless I missed it, a search shows that Biden has not mentioned the polling on his own Twitter account, leaving others to comment.

You can see the complete poll results here.

An interesting contrast can be found in today’s Rasmussen job approval poll, which is conducted from a sample of likely voters, which is considered to be a more accurate barometer than a sampling of registered voters.

Comparing the two polls, the Fox poll has an overall approval rating for the President of 44%.  The Rasmussen poll of likely voters sets the President’s approval rating at 47%. One fascinating component is approval among black voters.  In the Fox poll, only 13% of registered black voters approve of the President’s performance. Compare that number to the 36% of likely black voters who approve of the President’s performance in the Rasmussen poll.

There are a number of factors which drive voter behavior.  To an amateur political scientist, factors which drive a voter to choose this that candidate are fascinating.  Sometimes, left without any other information a voter will simply choose the first name on the ballot.  Other time, a voter will vote a “straight ticket,” choosing candidates solely of one political party over another.  In Georgia, a voter used to be able to make that punch that “straight ticket” choice at the top of the ballot and be done with voting. I do not recall seeing that option lately. Some voters choose a candidate because of likability. Which candidate would you most like to have a beer with? Some voters vote with their pocketbook. “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Two such factors, voter enthusiasm and voter fear, are discussed in the Fox poll. Voter enthusiasm is a measure of how excited the voters are about supporting a particular candidate, and voter fear describes how fearful the voters are that the other candidate might get elected.  According to the Fox News report on the polling:

Biden supporters are far more likely to say fear that Trump might win is behind their vote choice (63 percent) than to say it is enthusiasm for Biden (31 percent).  The opposite is true among those backing Trump, as almost twice as many of his supporters say enthusiasm is the motivation (62 percent) rather than fear Biden could win (33 percent).

It will be interesting to see how the polling moves as the campaigns emerge from the COVID-19 shutdown.  Trump will be back out on the road at a rally in Tulsa on Saturday.  There are reports that as many as a million people have requested tickets.  Biden has begun to emerge from the basement where he has been largely insulated from the rigors of the campaign trail.  The country is still feeling the effect of COVID-19. Urban areas have been rocked by protests, some of which have turned violent, in the wake of excessive use of force incidents involving black suspects. Is the economy beginning to rebound or not?

All of that is to say that it is a long time till November, and elections can turn on a dime.

Maybe it’s just me, and although polling makes for great partisan headlines and fodder for discussion in the blogosphere and on social media (whatever happened to conversation around the water cooler?), it is difficult to place a lot of value on polling in June on a presidential election that is still over four months away.

Continue the conversation on Twitter @resurgent or @jaljr.

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