Why You Should Ignore the Polls
Stop torturing yourself and get off the Pollercoaster
Two weeks until the election, the “Pollercoaster” is in full effect. Every day brings a barrage of new polls and a fresh wave of terror about the outcome of the election. The polls are tightening in races that seem in hand, and they are widening in longer-shot races in which we thought we had a chance. Even the polls with positive news for Democrats are dismissed out of legitimate fears that they are biased against Dems. Political reporters are relishing the opportunity to make Democrats suffer. On Sunday, the conservative political analyst who writes the weekly Axios newsletter used the term “Red Tsunami” to describe what might be coming.
As a person who is deeply concerned about the future of the country and has a tendency towards high blood pressure, this is not a great situation. If you are like me and are getting nauseous on the “Pollercoaster,” I have some advice:
Get off. Not only is it okay to ignore the polls, it’s advisable. It’s time to stop torturing ourselves.
What’s the Point?
I should probably mention that this is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” posts. As a professional podcaster/newsletter writer/sometimes political advisor, I am professionally obligated to pay attention to the polls. Not that I could quit them anyway. In the “pages” of this newsletter, I will attempt to focus on broader trends as opposed to the horse race polling that fluctuates day-to-day.
I am not telling you to dismiss the polls that you don’t like or engage in unskewing the bad ones. I am telling you to ignore them all. For everyone other than the ad-makers and decision-makers at the party committees and Super PACs, the polls serve no purpose. None. Zero. Zilch. They are mood-altering statistical drugs.
No one knows what’s going to happen in this election. It’s one of the most unusual in history. This election is happening in the middle of a strange economy and less than two years after an attempt to violently overthrow the government. The public broadly supports the Biden agenda and is vehemently opposed to the Republican effort to overturn Roe v Wade.
Polls are not supposed to predict what will happen. They are supposed to be a snapshot in time with a relatively wide margin of error. Even the best polls have an MOE of +/- three points. That’s a spread of six points. Almost all of the major Senate and governor’s races are happening in states where Joe Biden won by less than a point. These races were always destined to fall within the margin of error. Whether a poll shows Mandela Barnes up one or down one, it means the same thing — the race is too close to call.
All of that presumes that the polls are working the way they should. And as we know painfully well, the polls are probably wrong.
Put another way, we are all freaking out about an inherently imprecise (and possibly broken) measurement.
Anxiety into Action
If you are a regular reader of this newsletter, I will make two overly broad (but almost certainly correct) assumptions about you. First, you (like me) pay way too much attention to the polls. Two, you are deeply committed to defeating the Republicans in this election. Most — if not all of you — are regular donors and volunteers and working your butts off.
Ask yourself this question — how will the latest poll affect what you are going to do over the next 13 days? Will you volunteer fewer hours, donate less, or encourage fewer friends to vote?
We are in the final stretch. There is nothing left to do but persuade and mobilize.
Go to Vote Save America and channel that poll-driven anxiety into action. We may have multiple ways that you can help up and down the ballot and across the country.
The FiveThirtyEight polling average is irrelevant to our work. Others try to predict the future. It’s our job to design, create and curate it.
Always remember that there is a diverse, pro-democracy, pro-truth, anti-MAGA majority in the country. If we turn them out, we win. If we don’t, we lose. No polls (or Nates or needles) will change that fact.
100% needed this. In fact, I went back to my inbox to see if you had a new post after I read Nate Cohn’s latest from yesterday.
The thing keeping me going is the Kansas abortion referendum. With polls relying so much on modeling, there’s no way they can predict something based on a current phenomenon - the first election since Jan 6 and the overturning of Roe.
Thanks for this, Dan. Action counts most here and helps build resilience against all the noise.
That said, the number of Dem emails and texts that quote these polls is insane. I get the DSCC, Democrats.org, and local campaigns need to raise funds to fight here, but shouldn't they also be touting the talking points more fully? Money is important but driving a more positive echo-chamber on the actual action points you've laid out seems a better play.
Maybe I'm just an idealist?