Episode 26: Polling 2016

What to do with the barrage of 2016 polls?

Something happened. We lost two years. It’s already 2016, and the presidential election is here – as in right now.

That must be the case. There’s a new poll out almost every day. One poll after another declares Hillary Clinton is in the lead for the Democratic nomination. Another only a few days ago declared Rep. Paul Ryan has a lock on the Republican nomination.

But wait. Check your calendar. No matter how much buzz there is in the news media about the 2016 presidential polls, it’s actually 2014 – and it’s more than two years before the nominees are selected and President Barack Obama’s successor is declared.

So what’s with all 2016 polls, and how much should you be paying attention?

“They attract attention, for sure,” Carroll Doherty, director of political research at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, says. But “they don’t tell us a lot. … They tell us name recognition, and not much else.”

In poll speak, that means the results at this point are not predictive of what will happen in 2016. There’s that little problem of what social scientists call “intervening variables,” and what the rest of us describe as “things happen.” In other words, there still is plenty of opportunity for strong candidates to get derailed (think “bridgegate”) and weak ones to develop political muscle.

Doherty emphasizes that Pew, which labels itself as a non-partisan “fact tank,” is not in the 2016 polling business at this point.

Why? Well, Doherty points out that Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani looked strong in the summer of 2007, which was later in that cycle than February 2014 is in this one, and neither won the party nomination, not to mention the White House. Plus, he’s more focused on that little event coming up this November known as the midterm election.

So what are you to do with the barrage of 2016 polls?

DecodeDC’s latest podcast provides some guidance and perspective – along with mention of some possible candidates you definitely would never think of.

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