Polls May Be Unreliable In Unprecedented Election

As the end of the primary season approaches, general election polls are increasingly being released and discussed. One interesting question that has come up is whether these polls are reliable, and whether the current election is unique from a polling perspective.

Democrat Hillary Clinton barely leads Republican Donald Trump in the latest RealClearPolitics average, but several polls have found Trump beating Clinton. The Hill reports today that “the overall impression is of a race that is, as of now, a jump-ball.”

Some of the more interesting recent polls, however, are not those directly asking about general election match-ups, but those investigating other aspects of the mood of the electorate.

While a Gallup poll released this week finds public perceptions of the two major parties “stable” at 36 percent favorability for the Republican Party and 44 percent for the Democrats, Gallup’s own analysis of the poll also notes that “both parties’ images have indeed taken hits from a long-term perspective. While majorities of Americans regularly viewed each party favorably in the 1990s and early 2000s, their ratings have dropped below 50% and have remained there for years.”

A recent report from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University, meanwhile, suggests that Trump and Clinton as candidates, rather than the two parties themselves, may be the source of unpredictability and widely varying poll numbers. According to the report, there’s evidence that the two may be “the least-liked presidential candidates in recent history.”

Indeed, these latest reports may not fully represent the current level of dissatisfaction with the two parties and their presumptive presidential nominees this year. Two other polls that I recently wrote about appear to show overall confidence in the political system declining from 20 percent to just 10 percent over roughly the last six months.

“As many people are likely to come to the polls this fall to vote against the candidate they dislike as to vote for a candidate they support — something that makes polling difficult,” reports Niall Stanage of The Hill.

A number of other pollsters and commentators have recently weighed in on the various issues involved and the complications of polling, including the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman J. Ornstein and Emory University political scientist Alan I. Abramowitz, Jon Cohen and Mark Blumenthal of SurveyMonkey, and Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

It seems that overall, in a presidential contest between two celebrity candidates, neither of whom are considered even remotely qualified for the office by large segments of the population, the only thing predictable about this year’s election will be its unpredictability.

“Among the party folks, you have the dynamic where Trump’s best asset is Hillary Clinton and Clinton’s best asset is Donald Trump. If you are a Republican, Hillary Clinton is a motivator. If you are a Democrat, Donald Trump is a motivator,” GOP pollster David Winston reportedly said. “But to those people who aren’t affiliated with a political party, that becomes a very different dynamic.”



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