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The Rush to Polling Judgment

2020-08-31 10:45:25

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Four years ago, Donald Trump rallied from a summer deficit in the polls to win the presidency. In the wake of this year’s Republican convention and the continuing chaos in some cities, many people — both his supporters and detractors — seem obsessed with the notion that he will do so again.

And he may. Trump could certainly win re-election, especially because he would not need to win the national popular vote to do so.

But there also seems to be a rush to declare that he has emerged from his convention in a much stronger position than he was before it. As G. Elliott Morris, who writes about polling for The Economist, tweeted over the weekend, “I see that people desperately want a post-RNC bounce news cycle.” As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote, “There is a lot of ‘the pendulum is swinging away from Biden’ speculation based on rather little actual evidence.”

The pioneering psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman came up with an idea decades ago that explains the rush to declare a Trump surge: availability.

The idea of availability is that people assess the likelihood of an event occurring based on how easy it is to imagine. And that often leads to errors.

Since Trump won a comeback victory in the most recent presidential election, it’s very easy to imagine him doing so again. The possibility is highly available to our brains.

In truth, the evidence of a recent Trump bounce is somewhere between mixed and weak. In two polls — by Morning Consult and Yahoo News/YouGov — Joe Biden’s lead over Trump has shrunk modestly (to six percentage points, in both). But an ABC News-Ipsos poll found no change, and a poll by the University of Southern California showed that Biden’s lead had grown slightly. In FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, Biden leads by 8.2 percentage points.

I often rely on Nate Cohn — who writes about polling and helps design Times polls — to help make sense of confusing times, and here’s his advice:

1. Trump has a serious chance to win re-election. (Most people seem to be doing a good job of remembering this.)

2. Post-convention polling bounces usually fade. So for a post-convention bounce to be good for Trump, it would probably need to show that he was doing better than trailing Biden by six points.

3. Polling is often messy immediately after the conventions, and you’d be wise to wait until after Labor Day to come to any conclusions about whether the campaign had changed.

Last night, Nate tweeted: “I think people sense that the issue environment has changed in a way that *could* benefit Trump: crime/unrest is more salient; COVID less salient. I think that’s plausible. Whether it’s true, consequential, or lasting is all speculation.”

Biden said Sunday: “I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.”

Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general, curtailed the F.B.I.’s investigation into President Trump’s personal and financial relationship with Russia, The Times’s Michael Schmidt reports in a forthcoming book.

Rosenstein limited the investigation, even though some career officials thought Trump’s Russia ties posed a national security threat. And Rosenstein instructed Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, to conduct an inquiry into election interference, but not into the president’s affinity for Russia.

The U.S. fossil fuel industry faces an existential crisis as the planet grows warmer and renewable energy becomes more common. In response, oil companies have spent billions to pivot to producing plastics, which are made from the same chemicals.

But the gap was even larger at the Republican convention:

There is still a week until Labor Day — enough time to make pickles, an excellent accompaniment to grilled main dishes, for the long weekend’s festivities.

Almost any seasonal vegetable can be preserved in a brine of vinegar and salt. It’s easy, and you’ll impress your friends with your newfound cottage-core skills. Add pickled green beans to a summer salad. Serve pikliz, a hot Haitian side dish, with roasted pork or burgers. Or for an unexpected dessert, preserve peaches with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and vanilla beans.

For the next eight weekends, a Ford F-250 decorated in red, white and black will shuttle musicians from the New York Philharmonic to three unannounced locations in New York City for impromptu performances. The Philharmonic is calling the pop-up concert series NY Phil Bandwagon.

“This is the thing, to groove off each other,” one Philharmonic musician said of playing with her colleagues again. “It’s not the same when we’re at home doing things over the internet.”


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