01/26/2015 08:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

HUFFPOLLSTER: What 2016 Polling Tells Us, And What It Doesn't

Early general election trial heats tell us little, but pollsters have other questions to ask. Chris Christie's negatives are higher than those of past nominees. And what's the point of the margin of error, anyway? This is HuffPollster for Monday, January 26, 2015.

GENERAL ELECTION 2016 POLLS DON'T PREDICT MUCH, YET - Jason Linkins: "[L]eading up to any presidential election, there will be months in which the head-to-head polling of the race is very accurate and other months in which it's very inaccurate. I've prepared a little guide here, ranking the 10 best months for polling accuracy for the next presidential election, in order from least to most accurate.

10. March 2016
9. April 2016
8. June 2016
7. May 2016
6. July 2016
5. August 2016
4. September 2016
3. October 2016
2. November 2016
1. December 2016

As you can see, if you're a reporter and you want to obtain the most accurate possible snapshot of who is going to win a presidential election from a pollster, the best time to call him up is between twenty and fifty days after the election....At this point, you may be wondering, 'Well, if polling is so inaccurate until you get very close to an election, why do they continue to do it?' The short answer is that pollsters ask many questions that are more interesting than 'Who would you vote for in this head-to-head matchup?' The answers just don't make for banner headlines." [HuffPost]

BUT EARLY NEGATIVES MAY BE A BARRIER TO CHRISTIE - Harry Enten: "We’re a long way from knowing who will be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. Early polling data, however, can give us a sense for who fits the profile of past nominees, and who doesn’t. Since 1980, two types of candidates have won presidential nominations when an incumbent president wasn’t running in their party: those who were unfamiliar to voters early in the campaign, and those who were both well known and well liked....no prior nominee had a net favorability rating more than 10 percentage points below where you’d expect given his name recognition. Christie is 25 percentage points off the pace. His net favorable rating among Republicans in an average of YouGov polls so far this year, a December Monmouth University poll and a late November Quinnipiac University poll is just +19 percentage points. That was despite 77 percent of Republicans being able to form an opinion of him." [538]

'WHAT'S THE POINT OF THE MARGIN OF ERROR?' - After a online debate over the margin of error succumbs to a technical glitch, Columbia University political scientist and statistician Andrew Gelman posts his thoughts about the value of the margin of error: "[W]e often don’t need the margin of error at all. Anything worth doing is worth doing multiple times, and once you have multiple estimates from different samples, you can look at the variation between them to get an external measure of variation that is more relevant than an internal margin of error, in any case. The margin of error is an approximate lower bound on the expected error of an estimate from a sample, and that such a lower bound can be useful, but that in most cases I’d get more out of the between-survey variation (which includes sampling error as well as variation over time, variation between sampling methods, and variation in nonsampling error). Where the margin of error often is useful is in design, in deciding how large a sample size you want to estimate a quantity of interest to some desired precision." [Gelman]

-Sponsors reschedule the webinar debate on the "margin of error' for Wednesday, January 28. [Peanut Labs]

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MONDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-A rise in George W. Bush's favorable ratings could help his brother, notes Andrew Kohut. [WashPost]

-Jonathan Bernstein surveys the field of 19 active Republican candidates.

-The Upshot charts the shrinking middle class. [NYT]

-African Americans see the lack of diversity in this year's Oscars as part of a longstanding problem. [YouGov]

-The U.S. still lags other nations in its percentage of female leaders. Pew



Hillary Clinton