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Why you shouldn’t yet trust general presidential election polling

Nov 06, 2023

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Multiple 2024 presidential election polls have already been published, but their results vary significantly. One consistent finding is that voters generally expect President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to be the nominees for their respective parties. A recent poll conducted by the New York Times and Siena College indicates that Trump is leading Biden in five of six swing states, while an October Marist Poll shows Biden ahead in the national race.

Straight Arrow News contributor David Pakman argues that the reliability of these early general election polls remains uncertain due to a range of factors from undecided voters to the potential entry of a third-party candidate.

The next question becomes, “What about the general election?” And anybody who is looking at general election polling right now, and telling us that the argument is clear for who is going to win, Biden or Trump — if those are the nominees — it is very much unclear for a couple of different reasons. 

Number one: It’s so early and a lot of the respondents are unsure at this point in time. You’ll often see Biden and Trump tied at 42. Well, 42 plus 42 is 84. That leaves 16% of the electorate unsure or potentially supporting someone else. That’s one reason why the current polling on the general isn’t super useful. 

The other reason is that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is now running independent. And assuming he stays in this race — although I’ve heard nothing from him for weeks now — but assuming he stays in this race, by the time we get to Election Day he will have siphoned off some portion, I believe, of the Trump electorate that is not yet [decided], that is currently in the polling of supporting Trump.

Well, Republican candidates are slowly starting to drop out of the Republican primary race. The latest to do so is Mike Pence. Mike Pence’s campaign was completely dead on arrival. It’s very hard to imagine that the voters who were chanting hang Mike Pence, are then going to say, hey, I don’t know, maybe I’ll vote for Mike Pence instead of Donald Trump. So pence’s campaign never really had a shot. And what we are quickly getting to is a mathematical question, nd also sort of a more strategic question about how, if and how, Donald Trump is being affected by the various criminal trials and the like, let’s deal with that second topic first. 

Donald Trump is now under criminal indictment in four different criminal trials. He has been found to be a civilly liable rapist. He is involved in multiple civil trials. He has gag orders against him. He is regularly attacking witnesses and court personnel and judges and his own former lawyer Ty Cobb actually suggested that Trump is likely to spend the night or a weekend in jail for violating the gag order before this is all said and done. Trump has even skipped multiple presidential debates at this point in time. And he only gains support. Trump most recently approaching 60% support among the Republican electorate. Think of that. That’s Trump with 60. And then all of the other candidates dividing up 40%. 

So is there a path here for anybody other than Trump? It really seems as though the answer is no. The strongest case you could make is I don’t know Nikki Haley in South Carolina, a recent CNN SSRS poll has Nikki Haley at 22% in South Carolina, that’s as good as she’s doing anywhere. The problem is that that’s her home state. Nikki Haley used to be governor of South Carolina, and even in South Carolina, she is able to get not even half of the support that Donald Trump has. That doesn’t bode particularly well, for anybody other than Trump. The most optimistic charitable hypothetical that has been brought up time and again, for someone other than Trump is something along the lines of well, if you can get 30 or 35% in one primary, and then that gets you attention, and then in the next primary, maybe you can get 55% and actually win the primary and then you can justify staying in, and then all of a sudden, it’s super Tuesday, and maybe you win a bunch of states. That’s still the most charitable, charitable and sort of optimistic approach here for someone other than Trump, but it just is not seeming likely. And in fact, if you go back to when Trump’s criminal trials started to be announced, March, April of 2023, Trump was polling only in the low 40s. At that point in time, he is now nearly at 60. So short of death truly short of death, it’s really difficult to imagine anything that will derail Donald Trump’s primary candidacy. 

The next question becomes, what about the general election? And anybody who is looking at general election polling right now, and telling us that the argument is clear for who is going to win Biden or Trump, if those are the nominees, it is very much unclear for a couple of different reasons. 

Number one, it’s so early and a lot of the respondents are unsure at this point in time, you’ll often see Biden and Trump tied at 42. Well, 42 plus 42 is 84. That leaves 16% of the electorate unsure, or potentially supporting someone else. That’s one reason why the current polling on the general isn’t super useful. 

The other reason is that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is now running independent. And assuming he stays in this race, although I’ve heard nothing from him for weeks now, but assuming he stays in this race, by the time we get to election day, he will have siphoned off some portion, I believe, of the Trump electorate that is not yet that is currently in the polling of supporting Trump. Why do I say that? 

Democrats who would rather RFK than Biden are already supporting RFK because he originally ran this this primary. He ran as a primary challenger in the Democratic Party. So there is no real opportunity for RFK to gain with the Democratic voters. However, there are Trump voters who might say, hey, you know, I’m anti Vax, but I’m worried about Trump’s trials or something. Well, I’ve got RFK so the longer RFK stay Isn’t this thing the more of a threat I believe he poses to Donald Trump. And that’s another reason why hypothetical general election polling today simply is not super useful to us. How will this look in three months once the primaries get going? We will have to look and see at that time

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