Five reasons not to freak out about the latest presidential poll

As a rule, you shouldn’t freak out about a single presidential poll.

There are almost six months left until the 2024 election, and everything from the verdict in Donald Trump’s hush money trial to the national conventions to some unforeseen event may have an effect.

That being said, there’s still valuable information that can be gleaned from polls, especially ones that zero in on the battleground states and key demographic groups.

But I’ve gotten a lot of questions from concerned Democrats about The New York Times-Siena poll released Monday showing Trump ahead in five key states, so here’s a short list of what you should know about it.

Polls are built on assumptions. A poll is a snapshot of the current views of the voters that the polling outfit thinks are likely to show up in the next election. In this case, the pollsters are expecting that voters who did not turn out in 2020 will make up 18% of the electorate in 2024. Personally, I think that’s too high and may be a major reason why it shows Trump doing so well. The poll shows Trump winning Nevada by an eye-popping 12 points. This is a state that went for Biden in 2020 and re-elected a Democratic senator in 2022. If my political instincts count for something, I’m going to say that’s not going to happen.

This suggests that voters are not looking to make big changes.

Respondents are generally happy. Typically, if you see the incumbent trailing in a poll, that’s a sign that Americans are unhappy. But a staggering 74% of respondents in the NYT-Siena poll say they are satisfied with how things are going with their lives. This suggests that voters are not looking to make big changes. The Biden campaign has six months’ worth of TV ads, emails, social media posts and campaign events to spread its message and remind them about how chaotic the Trump years were.

Biden still has a chance to win back support. Trump is getting most of the people who voted for him in 2020 and about 7% of Biden backers. But people who don’t like Trump aren’t going to change their mind. Biden still has a shot to talk with his former supporters, who are disproportionately young and people of color, about what he’s accomplished and what more he can do for them in a second term. It’s much easier to get someone to vote for you again than to convert a former critic.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. remains a wild card. The third-party candidate is getting his biggest support among young voters and independents, two groups that both supported Biden in 2020. The Biden campaign will need to continue highlighting Kennedy’s controversial and dangerous views on subjects such as vaccines and make the case that a vote for him is a vote for a Trump second term. Fortunately for the president’s team, about 60% of Kennedy supporters in the poll said they were open to voting for others, suggesting they still held an open mind.

Biden still has a shot. Even in a poll that I think makes some questionable assumptions, the race is still winnable for Biden. The fact that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley keeps getting about 20% of the vote in Republican primaries months after dropping out suggests that Trump is having a problem consolidating GOP support. Biden also has the advantage of a disciplined and well-funded campaign that’s not distracted by legal problems, a contrast with Trump. This poll may be good news for Trump right now, but Biden is still in a decent position for re-election.

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