Here are three things journalists can do to better communicate polls to the public and increase confidence in the democratic process:
1. Report individual polls as they come in, of course — but put them in the context of other polling. Real Clear Politics averages the polls for each race and is accessible to anyone online.
2. Drop the decimals. Polling is a blunt instrument, and publishing results to the tenth of a percent creates an illusion of precision that polling simply doesn’t have.
3. Along the same lines, take margins of error more seriously. If the error margin is plus or minus 3.5 percent, that means the result is within a seven-point spread.
Instead of reporting that Candidate A leads Candidate B 51 percent to 47 percent, report that A polls within a range of about 47-54 percent and B within about 43-50 percent.
That tells the public that the candidates’ standings actually overlap. That’s important to know.
Despite complaints that the polls were “wrong” or “rigged this year,” they actually did a pretty good job.
Pollsters correctly predicted Biden as the winner of the popular vote. His margin of victory is around 3 to 4 percent, right where the Real Clear Politics average of polls predicted it to be.
State polling, and thus the Electoral College outcome, is more difficult. Even there, the predictions weren’t that far off.
Nate Silver’s “538” predicted Pennsylvania would be the Electoral College tipping-point state for Biden. It was.
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