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Polling

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It’s just a tool, they said. But really, the needle is a metaphor.

The needles as of 1 p.m. on November 4. Screenshot: NYT

I wrote yesterday in defense of the New York Times’ election needle, the maligned data visualization that anxiety-ridden election-watchers can’t stop refreshing, no matter how hard they try. (You can find it here, probably still quivering away, should you so dare.) As penance for confessing my deeply unpopular opinion — which only grew more unpopular on the left as election night wore on and the needles pointed stubbornly toward Trump — I have been assigned to perform a brief postmortem on its performance in the cold light of the morning after.

With the caveat that votes are still being counted…


If enough older voters join the young, they will deliver the White House to Joe Biden

A group of older voters assemble to plan grassroots campaigning for Joe Biden in Pensylvania. Photo: Mark Makela/The Washington Post/Getty Images

“Every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers,” the historian and social theorist Lewis Mumford wrote in The Brown Decades, his 1931 book about post–Civil War America. Something similar is happening in the United States today, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2019, we argued in The Atlantic that the “coming generation war” will be the defining story in U.S. politics in the 2020s. Millennials (born 1981–1996) and Generation Z (born after 1996) are the most progressive in history — and they show no sign of moderating as they age. Within a decade, these two generations…


‘Polls are not prophesies’ and other things we refuse to learn

Photo illustration; image source: Bettmann/Getty Images

For many, the shock of Donald Trump’s upset victory in 2016 still hangs over this presidential election. Though polls suggest Joe Biden has a decent lead over Trump, plenty of people question whether it’s wise to listen to such forecasting in the first place. But such questions ignore a perhaps uncomfortable truth: that polling has never been perfect. As American University professor W. Joseph Campbell details in his new book, Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections, polling has a “checkered history” in U.S. elections due to a variety of factors, including inconsistent statewide polls and untrustworthy…


What you should know about the surveys stalking the 2020 election

Photo: Heidi Gutman/Getty Images

Kamala Harris faced many challenges in her presidential campaign before ending it this month, including doubts that she was “electable.” She wasn’t alone.

Last month, the news cycle was awash with breathless commentary in the wake of a November 4 New York Times UpShot/Siena College poll, published under this provocative headline: “One Year From Election, Trump Trails Biden but Leads Warren in Battlegrounds.” The poll came out as Warren had been surging in the polls to a position challenging Biden’s front-runner status in the Democratic presidential primary for the first time. …


Tune out the pundits. Polls showing Trump in trouble mean almost nothing this far from Election Day.

Image via CBS News

Do the polls really show Donald Trump is headed for big trouble in his reelection campaign? That’s what you might think from watching coverage of early polls of the 2020 general election. In reality, though, it’s just too early to learn much from surveys testing how Trump would fare against various Democrats. Unfortunately, media reports frequently fail to convey this uncertainty, which may lead people to underestimate Trump’s chances.

How do you fill air time more than a year before the general election? One common approach is to engage in breathless hype around the so-called trial heat polls that pit…

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