There is the old political adage that says, “When you’re explaining, you’re losing.” There is another one similar to that. When a candidate says, “I don’t pay attention to the polls,” it likely means said candidate is behind in the polls.
2012 was a banner year for “ignoring” the polls. So many Republican voters were convinced polls were “skewed.” They believed the professionals tasked with doing this kind of work every day were either making mistakes or rigging the polls in favor of Barack Obama. In the end, the polls were right. Barack Obama won and by a larger margin than the RCP average.
Many conservatives swore off questioning the validity of polls after that election.
That was until the summer/fall/winter of 2015 and the winter/spring of 2016. When Donald Trump got into the race, conservatives were once again ready ignore to polling data that did not fit their narrative. I freely admit I was one of them. I didn’t think much of Trump’s polling numbers and believed that voters supporting other candidates would “come to their senses” in time to hand Trump a loss. It didn’t happen. The polls were right.
New Hampshire: RCP average was 17 points in favor of Trump. Final result? Trump won by 19
South Carolina: RPC average was 13 points in favor of Trump. Final result? Trump won by 10
In Florida, Trump was regularly leading by 18-20 points. I had several Florida based GOP operatives tell me there was no way Trump was leading by that much. “Not a chance.” “No way in hell.” “Oh please. That’s a joke.”
Trump won by 19.
Trump supporters were happy to throw poll results at you all day long. And they had every right to. The rest of the field was complacent and everybody thought Trump would self destruct.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016. During the month of August, Hillary’s RCP lead was anywhere from 6-7 points. Trump was actually falling below 40% in some polls. The predictable result was Trump supporters attacking the polls as rigged, fake, bought for by the media, etc. Trump surrogates began saying “The polls don’t matter!” in favor of bragging about crowd sizes and social media followers. It was absurd for people who took so much stock in the polls when they favored Trump, to now dismiss them out of hand.
They did. But here we are, less than a month later and suddenly, there is a different tune being played. Instead of being down by 6-7 points in the RCP average, a little over 1 point separates them both. Three polls for Ohio released in the last five days show Donald Trump with an average lead of 4 points. That is not insignificant.
Yet now it is Hillary surrogates saying the polls don’t matter. That is a big mistake. One poll showing Trump leading in Ohio can be waved off as an outlier. Two polls showing a lead will make you go, “Hmmm.” Three polls showing Trump has a lead in Ohio means one thing: Trump has the lead in Ohio.
Trump is leading by 4 points in each of the last two polls taken in the state of Florida.
What surrogates and supporters on both sides need to remember is this: Polls are not a precursor of what is going happen. They are merely a snapshot in time. That said, after a time, trends begin to form. Is this run by Donald Trump a trend? It’s still a little too early to tell as it has only been two weeks. However, if leading into the first debate, Trump is close or even ahead by a small margin and does well?
Look out, Hillary.