Election Polling

I have been watching the polling of the various candidates for president in 2016.

What I find remarkable is that the opinions shift so quickly.

I understand sampling error and how it can effect outcomes, but what I am asking in this thread is for a discussion on how individual opinions can shift so quickly.

I understand how massive social forces can effect opinions, which explains how G.W.Bush could go from an approval rating of high 80’s and low 90’s right after 9/11 to normal levels (even sub majority) right before re-election. Polling after massive events can have significant effects.

But, in the recent presidential primary contests, I have noticed some pretty substantial shifts in views and I am wondering a fundamental question:

Absent some sort of massive polarizing event, what are the social forces you all think effect significant switches in support for particular candidates?

I must admit, I generally vet a few candidates, both Republican and Democratic, based on their overall history, voting patterns and stances. Then, I generally do not shift from those unless there is something significant which emerges that makes me challenge those conclusions.

Did Hillary just say she would end any form of public health care? That is strange, I must re-analyze her position.

Did Carson just say he is ok with gay marriage? That is strange I must re-analyze his position.

But, I do not see these massive changes currently in the candidate’s views based on objective analysis of their positions or backgrounds. So swings in the polls are less understandable.

How does a person who said “God I live Trump”, suddenly switch to “God I love Carson, or Kasich, or Rubio”?. Pardon my use of Republicans for this example, I did so as they seem to be the predominant group with the most shift right now.

I can understand if a person who was staunchly against A, was suddenly discovered supporting A in another forum, would gain ire. That is a game changer I think we can all agree on.

But, I do not see that emerging as the pattern in shifting polls, or humbly maybe I am not seeing it.

So partisanship aside, what social forces do you think are the most powerful in affecting significant shifts in polling?

Is it access to media? i.e popularity?
Is it repetition of ideas? i.e appeal to authority?
Is it, well, I am generally curious. I will refrain from any other assertions because I am genuinely curious as to what social forces you all think may effect the outcomes of early polling.

Thank you and looking forward to the discussion.

There’s a recent article in the New Yorker arguing that polls are useless and actually bad for democracy.

At this stage of the campaign voters are still sampling the candidates.

If you like caramel ice cream, you might like Ben and Jerry’s Salted Caramel, until you sample Salted Caramel Brownie Ale, or Wayne’Swirled, or Karamel Sutra, or Nutty Caramel Swirl.

there’s media polling and then there’s ‘internal polling’. One is disposable, feed the media narrative, bogus exploitation, the other a carefully crafted set of revealing questions.

And that’s in a simple two-horse race. When you get into the realm of tactical voting it’s a genuine science. What we see in the media isn’t geared up for that, and they wouldn’t pay for it anyway - it just fills some space for a day.

Opinion is more volatile in primaries because voters are choosing between candidates from a party they already like. Sanders vs. Clinton or Rubio vs. Trump is a dilemma for a lot of partisan voters. Once you get to Clinton vs. Rubio or something like that, opinion will be a lot more stable.

I think the problem is that you’re assuming they “love” a candidate. Their support for a candidate may not be so strong, it’s just stronger than the others. So if they say “I’d vote for Rubio” it means that’s their first choice, that’s all. And if their support is not that strong, it’s not hard to imagine why they’d easily switch to another.

I disagree. Plenty of public, media-reported polls are just fine. Nothing bogus about a simple question like “who would you vote for if the election were today.” Not revealing about what will happen later, of course, but not “bogus.”

The problem is that polls tell you how people respond to the polls. Election polls tend to follow the actual voting, but there is no voting this early on, and the polls probably don’t have a choice for “I’m leaning this way but could easily change my mind”. Then add to that the effect of polls on people’s polling choices, people do tend to jump on the bandwagon in both polling and voting, so early results of leaders inflates their numbers with people wanting to pick the winner rather than expressing their actual choice, if they have one at all. I’ll be somewhat surprised if the poll numbers we see now for leading GOP candidates resembles the results by mid-March.

True, but it’s not that far away if you’re talking about the primaries. If you do a poll of likely Republican voters in Iowa, for instance, it’s going to be useful info.

Well then you are the exception.

Its still very early. Right now many of the voters don’t know much about the candidates so their opinions are in the process of forming and they might go from,

“Trump will get rid of the immigrants I like that”


“Wait, Trump just called POW’s losers”


“Well my minister says Carson’s a good christian, and while running the government is hard its not exactly brain surgery”


“Pyramids used to store grain???”

Also, as the New Yorker article discusses, the polls are being used for purposes for which they were not designed. Such as picking which contenders end up on the debate platform.

That’s at least adding to the entertainment factor as candidates try to out-crazy each other. The best part will come when they all claim that they don’t pay attention to the polls.

The usual loser-talk is “The only poll that matters is the one in November.”

Excellent point, also made by others in one way or another. So, if there was a leaning category it may help explain that.

What I am also interested in is the bandwagon social force. I think this a point for both R and D this year. It was almost assumed for years that Hillary was the candidate, so I would imagine that social force has to be quite strong to overcome for Sanders. I also see this with the R candidates as they shift from Trump suddenly to Carson.

Very interesting, thank you for your input.

Good point, but you must admit, sometimes you see people who really express a strong appreciation for a candidate and then switch. I mean, if Trump does not win, there were a LOT of people who were pretty enamored with him. Maybe not love, but boy they were pretty close to it.

Perhaps I am the exception, but I am well aware of Hillary, Trump, Sanders, Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Kasich and many others. I must admit Carson was a little hazy, but I did know a lot about them.

Let’s be honest, Hillary and Trump and Cruz and Rubio are all very much public figures and most folks (if they choose to care) should know what they want to know about them. Perhaps that is it, the vast majority of people simply do not pay attention to these matters until they are right before them, sort of the “what do I want for dinner” folks who ask that question only after they entered the grocery store.

Is it true, in your opinion, that a significant portion of the electorate does not concern themselves with their leadership until they are in the store and required to make a choice?

If I had to express a preference this far out, I would certainly not give it the thought I will to the actually election in 11 months. That means my preference is likely to be the last candidate who I heard say something I liked without considering all of the other things he/she has said and done. I have no proof but I think most people are like that this far out. That would mean the polls are identifying trending interest that doesn’t necessarily translate into votes next year. I think it eliminate potentially viable candidates just because they don’t have early buzz and their funding dries up. I thought Scott Walker had a shot, not because I like him but because I thought he would appeal to the primary voters. In the national election I think he would have a better chance than any of the outsiders currently trending.