So You’re Freaking Out About the Latest Polls. Here Are Some Important Things to Remember.

Consider this your long, deep breath before reading the next set of numbers.


Recent national polls show presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump locked in an increasingly tight race. That’s freaking out Democrats, and allowing the Trump campaign some relief after the Republican nominee’s numbers dropped significantly after the conventions.

But what are polls actually an indication of? And how do you know which poll you should trust?

What even is a poll?

Should you really be freaking out right now?

Thankfully, we’ve got some great experts in this new video from the We The Voters project, a new web-series about the US elections. Clare Malone and Harry Enten are senior political writers at FiveThirtyEight, the news and politics data analysis site headed by statistician Nate Silver. (Silver rose to fame after accurately predicting the outcome of 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 elections, and then all 50 states in 2012.) Using easy-to-understand analogies, Malone and Enten illustrate how polls work and what makes certain polls more representative than others.

Watch the video for a few key takeaways, but here’s a pretty important one: Be aware of how polls are presented. A poll might be nonpartisan in itself, but the outlets that report them are free to deploy their own spin.

Or, the candidates themselves can self-servingly select which polls they choose to showcase. Case in point:

As NPR points out, most poll numbers show that Trump didn’t “win” Monday’s presidential debate. Instead, Trump used online reader polls, which are less scientific, to boast that he did. On Tuesday, a Fox News executive reminded Fox producers that online polls “do not meet our editorial standards,” according to a memo obtained by Business Insider.

And of course, you shouldn’t rely on just one poll. Generally, you should be looking at a number of polls to get an overall picture of how a candidate is doing—unless you want to flat-out deny reality, like this top Trump adviser:

Stay tuned for more from We The Voters, a new digital, nonpartisan campaign to inform voters of key issues this election season.

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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