First, a word from Sam Wang from the Princeton Election Consortium. What constitutes a good poll?:
Holidays are over. I see that journalists, including poll aggregators, are still focused on the Presidential horserace. As Zenger at Electoral-Vote.com has pointed out, sites such as FiveThirtyEight are under economic pressure to attract traffic. And there is nothing to attract eyeballs like a crazy Presidential race. Still, from a substantive standpoint, it might be more appropriate to spend efforts on, I dunno…issues? See this excellent critique of media coverage by Jeff Jarvis, which includes a good hard whack at the media obsession with “balance” and polls – basically, tricks to let reporters escape engaging head-on with substantive issues. If journalists insist on horserace coverage, at least focus on downticket races in Senate, House, and even state legislatures – and maybe write about some issues along the way. These races will determine the power dynamic in 2017 under the new President, whoever she may be.
Just to remind everyone, variations in this year’s race are quite narrow, consistent with the last 20 years of partisan polarization. Polarization has made both the GOP and Democratic nominees unacceptable to nearly all supporters of the other party. In addition, Donald Trump is radioactive to about one-fifth of his own party. As a result, this year’s race is full of melodrama, but numerically stable. In 2016, the Princeton Election Consortium’s state poll-based aggregate has only varied between a median outcome of 310 and 350 EV for Hillary Clinton.
The Meta-Margin, which is defined as the front-runner’s effective lead using Electoral College mechanisms, is a very low-noise and stable measure – as opposed to single polls, which can be all over the place. You should generally ignore single polls, especially ones that surprise you. The Meta-Margin has varied between Clinton +2.5% and Clinton +6.5%, and is now at Clinton +4.0%, close to the season average of 3.8%. If it left the 2.5-6.5% range, that would be interesting. That has not occurred yet.
Oh, who are we kidding? The lazy media only does horse race coverage. Just as a thought experiment, I would love to see one election cycle where no polls are allowed, and the media is forced to actually report on something other than polls and the horse race. It’s never going to happen.