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A big problem with political polls

Polls are coming out daily for the upcoming US federal election. But I want to talk to you about a big problem with polling. After a person tells a pollster who they intend to vote for, it involves finding out how strong the person’s support for that particular candidate or party actually is.

Many years ago, I worked for a political party in Canada. And of course we did a lot of polling. Now the political landscape is a bit different in Canada than the US. In Canada, we have three viable political parties, a conservative party (often goes by different names in different provinces), a Liberal Party ( left leaning) and the NDP (extreme left).

So, when our party polled, the first question it asked is this: If an election was held today, who would you vote for?

But this was not the important question in our polling. The second question we asked was by far the most important question and it went like this:

“Who is your second choice?”

If the person answered the second question, it told us that their first choice was far from solid. It suggested that the person was seriously thinking of changing their mind and probably would if provided a good enough reason.

Now in the lead up to the US federal election, I suspect the pollsters are asking the first question. However, because they don’t have a significant third alternative party, asking the second question “Who is your second choice” doesn’t make sense.

As a result, it is difficult to determine how solid a person’s support is for the political party or candidate they chose.

But I recently saw a poll that had a second question and it reminded me of that second question asked in Canadian politics, and it had an interesting result.

First, the pollster asked who people would vote for if an election was held today. The biggest percentage, 47%, said they would vote for Biden compared to 45% for Trump.

But there was also a second question. It was “Who do you think your neighbour will vote for”? The biggest percentage said their neighbours would vote for Trump at 43% versus 36% for Biden.

Curious result. But I wonder if the answer to the second question is not so much a reflection of their neighbour’s voting preference, but rather how solid the person’s voting choice is?

Breitbart explains:

A plurality of registered voters believe their neighbors are voting for President Trump in the upcoming presidential election, a Harvard/Harris survey reveals.

The survey, taken September 22-24 among 1,314 registered voters, asked respondents who they believe their neighbors are voting for. A plurality, or 43 percent, said Trump, followed by the 36 percent who said Biden and 21 percent who remain unsure.

Trump’s seven-point advantage speaks to the lingering belief in the Silent Majority, which many vocal Trump supporters believe will show up in droves, come November 3:

READ: Poll: Plurality Voters Believe Their Neighbors Are Voting for Trump

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