Just two days ago, Quinnipiac released new swing-state polling that rattled the political world: Donald Trump, the results said, is narrowly leading Hillary Clinton in Florida and Pennsylvania, and the two are tied in Ohio. Add third-party candidates to the mix, and Trump’s lead is even larger.
The reaction to this polling report was practically an earthquake. Democrats panicked, Republicans beamed, and pundits began saying it’s time to rethink previous assumptions and consider the possibility that Trump may be elected president in the fall. The data was treated as one of the week’s bigger political stories.
I have a hunch the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, which is no less important, will generate far less attention.
In Colorado: Clinton leads Trump, 43% to 35%.
In Florida: Clinton leads Trump, 44% to 37%.
In North Carolina, Clinton leads Trump, 44% to 38%.
In Virginia, Clinton leads Trump, 44% to 35%.
“With 66 electoral votes at stake in these four states, Donald Trump is playing catch-up against Hillary Clinton,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said.
It’s possible some of the chatter is the result of human nature: unexpected results seem more interesting than predictable results. The conventional wisdom is that Clinton is ahead, so when Quinnipiac challenges our assumptions, it’s perceived as wildly important, while polls that show Clinton with comfortable leads in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia seem routine.
But the fact remains that such perceptions aren’t a constructive way to look at polling, and when the media only makes a fuss about surveys that show Trump doing well, it’s an imbalance that might even shape the public’s understanding of the race.
The bottom line remains the same: there’s nothing wrong with giving individual polls a close look, but don’t cherry pick the data. Keep the averages in mind, especially at a time in the race when a great deal of volatility is expected.
In this case, averages that include the new NBC News data show Clinton ahead in three of the four states polled – Colorado, Florida, and Virginia – while averages still show Trump leading in North Carolina.