What Can Polls Prove?

By Armand Butera

The American public, and the world at large, has been standing in the eye of a violent political storm for some time. The 2016 Presidential Race has been anything but uneventful in the eyes of the media and the 24-hour news cycle. Yet just like someone stuck in the middle of a raging twister, the American people are subject to a real lack of clarity.

While it is clear that the two major candidates for the position of President of the United States are Secretary Hillary Clinton and “business man” Donald Trump, the media is none too reliable when it comes to showing who may have the upper hand. While bias can be the reason for some political networks’ inability to properly report political news, another reason is simply the vast amount of varying news and changes that surround one of the most hectic presidential races to date.

Polls are a supposed accurate representation of what is going on during the election, but are in a constant state of flux. A prime example can be seen in the online reporting made by political network CNN, which has habitually posted about the state of polls over the past few weeks. Statements as recent as Sept. 4 have put Clinton in a marginally superior two-point lead over Trump, with the final results being 42 and 40 percent respectively.

But what the American public must ask, aside from who is winning in the polls, is where the information about the polls is coming from. When it comes to political information and news, source is just as important as substance. Where the information is derived from gives it a certain measure of credibility, and the most recent polls reported by CNN are no exception.

In a recent article posted by CNN journalist Daniel Politi, the writer cited a recent FOX poll as one of the main sources of data for the article. FOX is not only an opposing network, but is known for its political bias and is almost constantly being questioned by other media outlets for shoddy reporting and false information.

Such information can raise more questions than it does answers, one of which being the question of where voters and students can find accurate polling information. For people in need of such information, they need not look any further than FiveThirtyEight, a website devoted to delivering accurate polls and political news.

FiveThirtyEight is a website created by famed statistician and political analyst Nate Silver, and was founded on Mar. 7, 2008. Since its debut, the website has been one of the main sources for accurate polling. While its content is not limited solely to politics, many of its recent articles have understandably focused on the 2016 Presidential Election.

One of the many features FiveThirtyEight has is its Pollster Rating, which is a compilation of well known polls and individual assessments on each one’s credibility and passed success or failure on accurately reporting election news. Each poll is broken up into categories, including poll accuracy, races called correctly and their predictive nature. There are some polls, such as the ones from Quinnipiac and Monmouth University, that have been graded highly by the site, while other polls, such as Millersville University, fall short.

As of Sept. 4, the website places Clinton at a 4.2% lead in national polls, having 47.5% of the collective polls in her favor, and Trump having 43.3%. FiveThirtyEight consistently reports new data on the ever-convoluted subject of polls, as they vowed to do so every day through Nov. 8.

That is the refreshing aspect of the website. The subject of the Presidential Race, however, is undoubtedly confusing. Silver, as well as all those involved in the project, is determined to chip away at it in search of the truth. At times, it may not be what the public wants to hear, yet the site continues to take pride in its work in delivering the truth to the public.

Such is the case in Silver’s June article entitled, “The State Of The Polls, 2016”. In it, the analyst says “the evidence is somewhat mixed” when addressing whether the state of polls is as damaged as the public believes. However, in the article Silver does address the “methodological standards” all clear and accurate polls go through, consiting of thorough research efforts and multiple screenings of information.

Early into the article, Silver stays, “We’d encourage you to explore the data for yourself,” which coincidentally sums up this article as well. In a day and age where there’s an overabundance of information and not all of it is correct, it’s imperative to seek out actual answers. This election year may be wrought with confusion and misinformation, but it does not mean we, as voters, have to remain ignorant.