Dem 51
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GOP 49
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A Tale of Two Polls

A recent story from Mediaite is headlined: "Harvard Poll of Young Voters Finds Biden with Wide Lead Over Trump, But Just 9% Think Country Is Moving in Right Direction." The story notes:

President Joe Biden holds a wide lead over Donald Trump among registered young voters, according to a new Harvard poll.

The biannual Harvard Institute of Politics Youth survey was released Thursday, first shared with Politico, showing Biden pulling 50% support among voters 30 years or younger compared to Trump's 37%. Among voters most likely to vote in November, Biden leads with 56% compared to Trump's 37%.

Biden easily topped Trump in support in the survey, but the data also showed young voters are not happy with the direction of the country.

Meanwhile, a recent story from Politico is headlined "Trump cuts into Biden's lead among young people, poll finds." The story explains:

Former President Donald Trump is cutting deeper into President Joe Biden's lead among young voters, according to a new poll.

Biden leads Trump, 45 percent to 37 percent, among people ages 18 to 29 in a Harvard Youth Poll released Thursday, with 16 percent undecided. That 8 percentage point margin is much smaller than at this point in the 2020 election. At that time, Biden was leading Trump by 23 percentage points among young people.

So, is Biden doing pretty well with younger voters, or not so well at all? It becomes even more confusing when you take note that both stories are about the exact same poll.

We pass this along, in part, because it's a very good reminder of the old line about "lies, damned lies, and statistics." It's relatively easy to massage poll results to tell a story, or to tell a near-opposite story. Mediaite used the numbers for registered voters (Biden gets 50%) and likely voters (Biden gets 56%). Politico used the numbers for all voters (Biden gets 45%). Needless to say, if you have to choose, then likely voters is going to be the most instructive of the three. And if you do that, then Biden's lead over Trump is 19 points, which is statistically indistinguishable from the 23-point lead Biden had over Trump at this time 4 years ago. Put another way, if you use the most relevant of the three numbers, then the entire angle of the Politico story vanishes into thin air.

The other reason we pass this along is that there are really no polls right now that are all that useful, since the election is still pretty far away, but there are some polls that are particularly un-useful. And we would have a hard time thinking of a more un-useful poll than this Harvard Youth poll. First, young people are the single most unpredictable demographic when it comes to whether they will vote or not, which means we're way, way, too far out to be polling them. Second, the Israel-Palestine situation (see above for more) is a massive wild card that could profoundly impact the youth vote in one direction or another. Until we know how that works out (or we know that it's not going to be worked out prior to the election), then polls of young voters are not much more meaningful than putting on a blindfold and picking numbers out of a hat.

On top of that, as if to seal the deal, the pollster asked the "right direction" question. This is the foremost example of a question that seems to convey useful information, but that actually tells us absolutely nothing when it comes to the election. For example, could someone believe: "This country is moving in the wrong direction, and the only solution is to elect Donald Trump, who will get these immigrants under control and will Make America Great Again"? Yes, they could. Could someone believe: "This country is moving in the wrong direction, getting closer and closer to a fascist takeover, and the only solution is to reelect Joe Biden, who is the only candidate who believes in democracy?" Yes, they could. So, absent a bunch of follow-up questions (which virtually never happens), the "right direction" question produces results that are absolutely meaningless.

Note that, on the whole, we like polls. Heck, they're the raison d'être for the site. But man, there's a lot of crap out there right now. (Z)

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