The Latest Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton Numbers Say More About Our Obession With Polling Than Anything Useful
According to new polling released Wednesday, Donald Trump is neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton in several key swing states, and beating her in two critical ones. The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, shows Trump with a three-point lead in Florida, a two-point lead in Pennsylvania, and a dead-heat in Ohio. Unsurprisingly, the poll has already sent the internet into a tizzy, with Trump leading the charge by tweeting "Thank you!" and "#CrookedHillary is not qualified." He appended his tweets with the hashtag "#ImWithYou" — which is supposed to be an appropriation of Clinton's "#ImWithHer," but instead makes it sound like Trump might be stalking you in your apartment. #ImWithYou...
Still, the numbers are disheartening news for the Clinton campaign, coming in the week they had hoped to show a united front with former rival Bernie Sanders. To add insult to injury, Politico's Steven Shepard and Nick Gass noted that the span of the Quinnipiac poll was "unusually lengthy," running from June 30 to July 11. As a result, it may be an "imperfect measures of a post-email investigation race."
Slate's chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie commented on Twitter that "Between the conclusion of the email saga, Bernie's endorsement, VP picks, and the conventions, polling is going to be silly until August." He went on to add that, while not urging that the poll be ignored altogether, it was important to recognize that "we're in the most volatile period of the year with regards to presidential polling."
The new numbers are sure to be a welcome boost to the Trump campaign and the Republicans, who hold their convention next week in Cleveland (despite having struggled to finalize their schedule of speakers and events). Trump has been lagging in most national polls and poll averages since the beginning of the summer, and FiveThirtyEight still forecasts that, at time of writing, Clinton has a 72.6 percent chance of winning the race (though this number is lower than Tuesday's 77.4 percent).
In fact, Democrats should brace themselves for the possibility of a post-Cleveland "convention bump," especially if there's a strong favorable response to Trump's vice presidential pick, which is also expected this week.
Perhaps the most notable fallout from Wednesday's Quinnipiac poll is the media response. To me, it seems like a veritable shark tank of exclamation mark-laden headlines, with little context given to the wider context of polling in the 2016 race.
What we should really be paying attention to is not what this poll reflects about the race, but how its release and discussion affects the race — does a morning news cycle of "Trump gaining/Hillary slipping" headlines impact people's perception of the race? It will be interesting to compare the reaction to the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls set to be released Wednesday night:
If anything, the most annoying thing about this poll is that it provides the illusion of data, when in fact, we just have to be patient. As Nate Silver tweeted previously, "For f**k's sake, America. You're going to make go [sic] on a rant about general election polls — in May?" Just a heads up, Nate: we might need you to do it again in July.