Second Thoughts: Our Beloved Presidential Candidates?

One of the most common mistakes we all make is to assume that everyone in the world secretly thinks exactly the same way we do. “Oh sure,” we say, “they may express a different opinion in public, but that’s only because they’re afraid of the PC police, or the media has poisoned their minds, or they just don’t know all the facts. But believe you me – whatever I think is true, rest assured everyone else is thinking the same thing. They’re just not as courageous as I am, to say it out loud.”

This is a reassuring belief. Trouble is, it isn’t true. The world is full of diverse opinions – and if the numbers say you’re in the minority, there’s a pretty good chance you’re actually in the minority.

Listen to Aaron’s commentary.


Case in point: Gary Johnson.

Now, we all know how this presidential election is going. We’ve got two extremely unpopular candidates. The two most unpopular presidential candidates in history, in fact. Nobody likes Donald Trump. Nobody likes Hillary Clinton. And so, this year, more people are taking a look at Gary Johnson – and that’s got his supporters excited. (I assume you know this already: if you yourself are not a Johnson supporter, you probably have some Facebook friends who are.) Johnson’s the best candidate in the race, they say, and everybody knows it. And yeah, he’s only polling 6, 7, 8 percent – but obviously that’s just because we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking third parties are wasted votes.

“Man,” they say, “if all the people who preferred Gary Johnson actually voted for him – he’d win!”

That’s the line. And it kinda makes sense. I mean, nobody likes Clinton and nobody likes Trump – so it stands to reason that if everyone who dislikes both Clinton and Trump voted for Johnson, he’d win in a landslide.

Except for one thing:

It isn’t true.

All year long we’ve been telling ourselves that everyone hates both Clinton and Trump. But the fact is – hard as it may be to believe – the vast majority of us do, in fact, like one of those two candidates.

Here’s the latest national survey from Public Policy Polling: 52 percent of us have an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, and 55 percent of us have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. But 44 percent of us like Clinton, and 39 percent of us like Trump. That adds up to 83 percent. True, there’s a little bit of overlap – those rare crazies who somehow like both Clinton and Trump – but even then, three out of four Americans do like at least one or the other. We assume they’re universally despised – but if you dislike both candidates, you’re not in the majority. Only about 25 percent of us agree with you.

So if the Gary Johnson fans get their way – and everyone who hates both Clinton and Trump actually goes out and votes for their guy – he’d still only end up with 25 percent of the vote. That’s pretty good for a third-party candidate – but it’s still a distant third.

Of course if you like Gary Johnson, by all means vote for him. If you really don’t have a preference between Clinton and Trump, vote for Johnson instead. But don’t assume everyone else is secretly on your side and just too chicken to act. Sadly, that ain’t true. And it’s never true – not for you, not for me. We have to live in a diverse world, whether we like it or not.

(And hey, that’s partly what this election is all about in the first place.)

Duke Beats Trump, But Trump May Still Beat Clinton

North Carolina continues to be a tight battleground state in the race for President – and the fact that the race is tightening nationwide only makes our state that much more important.

In the latest survey conducted by Public Policy Polling – this one commissioned by the National Employment Law Project – Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 45-44 in North Carolina. (This particular survey did not include Gary Johnson or Jill Stein as options.) Trump and Clinton each win 79 percent of the vote from members of their own party; Trump holds a 48-29 lead over Clinton among independents.

There are clear demographic gaps as well: Clinton leads Trump by 13 points among women (52-39), while Trump leads by 14 points among men (50-36); Trump has a huge lead among white voters, 59-29, but Clinton leads among African-Americans by an even more staggering margin of 90-1. (Clinton leads among Hispanic voters too, but by a narrower margin of 47-33.)

Nationwide, PPP’s August survey shows Clinton with a 5-point lead on Trump, 42-37 (with 6 percent for Johnson and 4 percent for Stein). The 5-point margin is unchanged from PPP’s July survey – but the number of undecided voters doubled in the space of a month, from 5 percent in July to 10 percent in August. That’s unusual for a presidential election: typically, the number of undecided voters declines as Election Day draws nearer.

More results from PPP’s August national survey here.

Why are there more undecided voters now? PPP director Tom Jensen says he thinks it’s because the two major candidates are extremely unpopular. (In fact, their already-low approval ratings are still in decline.) Clinton’s approval rating is only 41 percent (with a 52 percent disapproval rating) – but Trump is even more unpopular, with only 33 percent of voters approving of him and 60 percent disapproving.

(How unpopular is Donald Trump? PPP tested him head-to-head against other notably unpopular things and found he’s slightly more popular than junk mail, mosquitoes, and Ryan Lochte – but less popular than public restrooms, the middle seat on an airplane, and Duke University.)

Tom Jensen discussed the latest national numbers – as well as the NELP-commissioned North Carolina survey – on WCHL with Aaron Keck.


Other recent survey results:

  • PPP continues to find that Trump voters distrust the democratic process to a shocking degree: though there’s still no evidence of widespread voter fraud, 59 percent of Trump voters nationwide believe that about 10-25 percent of the votes that get counted are fraudulently cast. (And 67 percent of Trump voters believe that if Clinton is ultimately declared the winner this fall, it will only be because the election was rigged.)
  • In addition to the predictable demographic gaps, there’s also a gap between voters who’ve visited a public library this year (54-37 for Clinton) and voters who haven’t (53-39 for Trump).
  • 67 percent of voters believe Donald Trump should release his tax returns – but it’s not clear whether his refusal to do so will actually sway any of their votes.
  • What might sway voters is how the candidates stand on a minimum wage increase. In North Carolina, Republican incumbent Richard Burr narrowly leads Democratic challenger Deborah Ross, 46-43, in the race for US Senate. But 72 percent of North Carolinians support an increase in the federal minimum wage, 62 percent support increasing it to $15 per hour – and Ross actually takes a lead on Burr, 45-42, when voters are informed that Burr opposes a minimum wage increase. (Fair warning on that result, though: it’s from the survey that was commissioned by NELP, which favors a $15 minimum wage.)

Tom Jensen and Aaron Keck also discussed the results of PPP’s recent survey in Utah – which showed Trump with a sizable lead on Clinton, despite being unpopular among Mormon voters – as well as the state of the gubernatorial race in North Carolina, where recent polls show Roy Cooper with a lead on Pat McCrory.

PPP Survey: If Trump Says It, His Supporters Will Believe It

Two and a half months from Election Day, national surveys generally show Hillary Clinton with a steady lead on Donald Trump.

But many Trump supporters don’t believe it – instead they’re insisting that the polls (yes, all of them) are biased.

Earlier this week, some people took that belief to a new level. A website called RealTrueNews claimed to have discovered a secret “internal memo” from Public Policy Polling finding Trump with a 65-point lead on Clinton in Florida (not a typo) and discussing how best to cover up the “truth.” The “memo” is obviously a phony – among other things, it includes an obscenity-laden paragraph about how to obtain “Bernie-grade weed” from other polling outfits – but PPP director Tom Jensen says they spent the day handling tweets and emails from people who actually believed it was true.

“It’s really a commentary on the credulity of Trump supporters that so many think this memo could be real,” PPP said on Twitter.

But Jensen also says it’s not a surprising commentary. In poll after poll, he says, PPP has found that Trump supporters are convinced that most Americans favor their candidate – and that any survey suggesting otherwise must be biased. And all year long, PPP has found that Trump’s supporters are willing to agree with just about anything he says, no matter how extreme.

PPP’s actual survey this week, for instance, looked at voters in Texas – where 71 percent of Trump supporters say that “if Clinton wins the election…it will just be because the election was rigged.” (Specifically, 40 percent of Trump supporters believe the election will be rigged by ACORN – even though that organization no longer exists.)

Tom Jensen discussed the Texas survey – and the fake Florida poll – on WCHL with Aaron Keck.


The bad news for Donald Trump is that even in red-state Texas, he doesn’t have that many supporters – at least not right now. PPP’s survey does show Trump leading Clinton there – but by only six points, 44-38. (Mitt Romney won the state by 16 points in 2012.) And Trump’s lead appears to be limited to senior citizens: he’s up 63-33 on Clinton among seniors, but Texans under the age of 65 favor Clinton, 49-45. (And among voters under 45, Clinton leads Trump 60-35. Jensen says that’s not just the usual generational gap – it suggests Texas may become less of a GOP lock over the next couple decades, particularly considering the state’s growing Latino population.)

More on the presidential race in Texas here.

And PPP’s survey also finds widespread support for progressive/Democratic policies on a variety of issues across party lines: 72 percent favor an increased minimum wage; 63 percent want the Senate to hold Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland; and 83 percent want people on the government’s terror watch list to be banned from buying guns. Considering Texas’ gun-friendly reputation, there’s a surprising level of support for several gun-control policies: 89 percent of Texans also want to see background checks on all gun purchases, and there’s even plurality support for an assault weapons ban (48 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed).

More on PPP’s Texas survey here.

Trump Got Post-RNC Bounce, But Will It Last?

Even in this wild, loopy, unprecedented election year, some things never change.

Historically, the week after every major party convention, the party’s presidential candidate gets a fairly sizable bump in the national polls. (No surprise – conventions are basically week-long infomercials for the party, and human beings are susceptible to good advertising.) That proved to be the case last week too: this year’s Republican National Convention was unconventional in many ways, but Donald Trump’s post-convention bounce (about 3-4 points, give or take) was right in line with past candidates in previous years.

Supporters of the opposing party got worried – also no change from previous years – but pollsters say not to worry: Hillary Clinton will probably get her own post-convention bounce when polls start to come in next week.

Earlier this week, Public Policy Polling released a survey of voters in Ohio – the host of the Republican convention, and an important swing state in its own right. (No Republican has ever won the presidential election without winning Ohio – and in fact, the last candidate of any party to lose Ohio and still get elected was John Kennedy, 56 years ago.) PPP’s post-RNC survey showed Trump with a narrow lead over Hillary Clinton, 42-39, a seven-point swing from June – but PPP director Tom Jensen says there’s a lot of good news for Clinton in the survey too.

For one thing, Jensen says, nearly one in five Ohio voters still haven’t made up their minds between the two major candidates. Nearly half of them say they’re supporting a third-party candidate (Gary Johnson polls 6 percent, Jill Stein polls 2 percent) – but the rest say they’d choose Clinton over Trump, by an 18-point margin, if they were forced to make a choice today.

Undecided voters also favor Barack Obama over Trump by a 30-point margin, Jensen says, so Clinton needs only to win over those voters who support the current administration. (That was clearly one of the primary goals of this week’s DNC.)

Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck on Thursday, a few hours before Hillary Clinton’s DNC address.


PPP’s Ohio survey also found that both Trump and Clinton have consolidated their respective bases: notwithstanding the “Bernie or Bust”-ers and the #NeverTrump-ers, 82 percent of Republicans say they’re voting for Trump and 84 percent of Democrats say they’re voting for Clinton. (The survey was conducted before the DNC, so that latter number may have risen: Jensen says parties typically unify around their nominee after conventions.)

Visit this link for more numbers from PPP’s Ohio survey. (PPP is currently conducting a post-DNC survey of Pennsylvania, where the Democrats held their convention.)

Local Dems In Philly For DNC, Excited For Hillary

Acknowledging the historic nature of her nomination (“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit”) and frequently calling out her opponent (“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons”), Hillary Clinton on Thursday officially accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

And inside the Wells Fargo Center, Orange County was very well represented.

DNC delegates from Orange County include Jeff DeLuca, county party chair Matt Hughes, County Commissioner Penny Rich, and State Representative Graig Meyer – and in addition to the official delegates, numerous other local residents were on hand as observers, including Margot Lester of the Word Factory.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck has been speaking to members of the Orange County delegation all week. On Thursday, before Clinton took the stage, he spoke with Rep. Meyer and Margot Lester to get their thoughts about the week so far – and their feelings about the upcoming general election campaign.

Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Graig Meyer…


…and with Margot Lester.


Visit and tune into WCHL all campaign long for more local election coverage – and visit this page to hear Aaron’s conversations from earlier this week, with Jeff DeLuca and Matt Hughes.

Local DNC Delegates Praise Clinton And Sanders, Preach Unity

Though the glass ceiling she’s really trying to break is still one floor up, Hillary Clinton has now officially become the first woman ever nominated by a major party for U.S. President.

That was the development on the second day of the Democratic National Convention, Tuesday evening in Philadelphia.

Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Bill Clinton; the night also featured speeches from the “Mothers of the Movement,” seven women who have lost their children to gun violence or incidents with police. But observers are paying just as much attention to the delegates offstage – as many Bernie Sanders supporters are still reluctant to back his primary-election adversary, and a few of them vocalized their displeasure on the convention floor Monday.

Tuesday, though, was much more of a show of unity (though a small group of Sanders delegates still staged a walkout in the afternoon). Sanders himself led the way, offering a full-throated endorsement of Clinton on Monday night and working throughout the week to rally his supporters around the nominee.

WCHL is airing CBS News’ primetime coverage of the DNC, from 8-11 pm through Thursday. Visit this link for our live online stream.

Orange County is well-represented at the DNC this week: among others, Jeff DeLuca is on hand as a Sanders delegate, while Matt Hughes is there as a Clinton delegate.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with DeLuca and Hughes on Tuesday – as well as Mark Jewell, the president-elect of the North Carolina Association of Educators, who’s also on hand as a Clinton delegate.

Jeff DeLuca:


Matt Hughes:


Mark Jewell:

Election 2016: PPP Says Don’t Freak Out About Polls – Yet

It’s still too early to be sure how the Republican convention has affected the presidential race, but it’s probably safe to say Donald Trump will get a fairly significant bounce in the national polls. That’s what we typically see in the days immediately following a national party convention – and while the RNC had its chaotic moments, Trump himself gave a speech that was generally well-reviewed. (Relative, at least, to his usual efforts.)

But should this be a major concern for Democrats and #NeverTrumpers? Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says no – at least, not yet.

Jensen says PPP is still finding the 2016 race shaping up much like the 2012 race, with Trump and Hillary Clinton polling about the same, from state to state, as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama did four years ago. Trump will get a post-convention bounce in the polls – he’ll likely take the lead in some surveys, if not all – but Clinton will almost certainly get a post-convention bounce of her own in a week.

And even though Election Day is rapidly approaching, Jensen says it’s still too early for the polls to be a reliable indicator of the final outcome. (Pre-RNC polls showed Clinton with about a four-point lead on Trump. That’s roughly the same lead Obama had on John McCain at the same stage in 2008, the same lead Obama had on Romney at the same stage in 2012 – and the same lead John Kerry had on George W. Bush at the same stage in 2004.)

Tom Jensen spoke last Thursday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck, a few hours before Trump’s convention speech.


Jensen says one thing is pretty certain, though: North Carolina will be a pivotal swing state in the presidential race, possibly even the decisive state. (So expect a lot of candidate visits – and irritating campaign ads – in the months to come.)

Public Policy Polling Finds Dead Heat Presidential Race in North Carolina

North Carolina has been a close race in the past two Presidential and that trend is continuing.

Public Policy Polling found in a survey released Thursday that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton remain dead even at 43 percent, with Libertarian Gary Johnson at four percent, Green Party candidate Jill Stein at two  percent and seven percent undecided.

Trump leads Clinton 48 percent to 46 percent in a head to head match up and Republicans lead 47 percent to 45 percent on the generic Presidential ballot. Johnson, even at four percent, is clearly hurting Trump.  Sixty-four percent of Johnson supporters say they would choose Trump over Clinton if they had to choose between the two.

There is not a lot of evidence that Republican voters in North Carolina have any desire to dump Trump. He currently has a 72 percent favorability rating among voters in his party.  He leads Clinton 85 percent to six percent among GOP voters in the full field compared to the 89 percent to six percent advantage a generic Republican Candidate has among GOP voters in the state.

According to the results of the polls, Clinton may have more work to do in unifying the party in North Carolina. Clinton leads 79 percent to 12 percent among Democrats where Trump has an 85 percent to 6 percent lead in his party.

Among Democrats and Independents who have a favorable opinion of Bernie Sanders she is getting 74 percent of the vote to 11 percent for Trump, five percent for Stein, four percent for Johnson and four percent are undecided.

If Clinton could win over just half of those holdout Sanders fans it would take her from the current 43 percent to 43 percent tie to a 48 percent to 43 percent lead in North Carolina.

Trump recently talked about how voters do not want a third Obama term, but in North Carolina (where Obama won in 2008 and lost in 2012) Obama leads Trump 49 percent to 48 percent in a head-to-head match up asking voters who they would rather have as President.

The same question was asked in Virginia last week and Obama had a 52 percent to 41 percent lead over Trump.

Testing for potential running mates for Clinton and Trump the poll continues to find that the Vice President pick has little bearing on the race.

The poll found that if Clinton picked Elizabeth Warren as her running mate, Trump leads 48 percent to 46 percent head-to-head. If Trump were to pick Richard Burr as his running mate, Trump leads 47 percent to 46 percent. Neither hypothetical moves the needle by more than a point.

Looking at the US Senate race, the poll finds Richard Burr with a narrow lead over Deborah Ross 40 percent to 37 percent, with libertarian Sean Haugh at five percent.

The poll finds that Burr is unpopular with only 30 percent approving of the job he’s doing compared to 40 percent who disapprove. However, Ross is an unknown with 62 percent of voters not having any opinion about her.

Voters of North Carolina appear open to the idea of replacing Burr but do not know enough about Ross yet to decide if she is the correct choice.

The poll also surveyed the public on the gun issues that the senate voted on this past week. 85 percent of voters in the state support background checks on all gun purchases, to only nine percent who oppose it.

For Republicans 82 percent support expanded background checks, 91 percent for independents and 84 for Democrats.

On the issue of barring those on the terror watch list from purchasing guns, 81 percent of voters support the legislation compared to nine percent oppose. There’s 89 percent support from Independents, 79 percent support from Republicans and 78 percent support from Democrats.

PPP director Tom Jensen wrote that he believes these issues play well for Ross along with the Supreme Court Vacancy.

According to the poll, 56 percent of voters in North Carolina think there should be hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination, to only 24 percent who are opposed.

There’s strong support from Democrats where 69 percent are in favor compared to nine percent opposed and for Independents where 56 percent are in favor compared to 25 percent opposed.

Republicans are more divided where 39 percent of Republicans are in favor and 42 percent are opposed.

The poll found that voters, by a 19-point margin, are less likely to vote for a Senate candidate opposed to hearings on Garland’s nomination.

The poll also asked voters on increasing the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. It found that 73 percent of voters support a minimum wage increase, compared to the 14 percent who think the wage is acceptable and nine percent who think it should be eliminated altogether.

There is 87 percent support from Democrats, 74 percent from Independents and 53 percent from Republicans on this issue.

See the full results.

Republicans Unite Around Trump, But Clinton Still Has Edge

Donald Trump won the GOP presidential nomination over the loud objections of more than a few leading Republicans. But as our collective attention turns to the general election, most Republicans appear to be falling in line behind the nominee – even if they’re gritting their teeth to do it.

A national survey this week from Public Policy Polling finds Hillary Clinton with a four-point edge on Trump, 42-38, with Libertarian Gary Johnson at 4 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 2 percent. (Johnson and Stein are actually pulling more votes from Clinton than Trump; take them away and Clinton’s lead would jump to six points.)

For all the talk about GOP disunity, though, Trump gets almost exactly as much support from Republicans as Clinton gets from Democrats. Clinton leads Trump 78-9 among Democrats, while Trump leads Clinton 78-7 among Republicans; 72 percent of Republicans say they’re comfortable with Trump as their party’s nominee, while 75 percent of Democrats say they’re comfortable with Clinton. (The number of Republicans and Democrats who say they’re uncomfortable with their party’s frontrunner? Exactly the same in both parties, 21 percent.)

Get more numbers from PPP’s presidential survey here.

Those numbers may be disappointing to Democrats who were hoping for a fractured GOP this fall – but PPP director Tom Jensen says there’s plenty of good news here for Democrats too. For one, the undecided voters in a Clinton/Trump matchup tend to be supporters of Bernie Sanders – Clinton/Trump undecideds favor Sanders over Trump by a 41-8 margin – so if Clinton does end up winning the nomination, she may be able to expand her lead in a big way merely by winning over Sanders’ supporters. (The Clinton/Sanders race has been contentious, but Jensen says he does expect the party to come together sooner or later. At this time in 2008, he says, nearly half of Clinton’s supporters were telling pollsters they wouldn’t vote for Obama that fall – far more than the number of Sanders supporters who say they won’t support Clinton now – but almost all those voters did wind up supporting Obama in the end.)

And while Clinton’s popularity ratings remain low, Jensen says Trump’s are even lower: only 34 percent of voters approve of him, against 61 percent who disapprove. (And Trump’s supporters still tend to be on the fringes when it comes to their political views: nearly two-thirds of them say they think Barack Obama is a Muslim, for instance, and nearly three-fifths say they still don’t believe he was born in the US.) To drive home the point, PPP tested Trump in head-to-head matchups with other despised things: voters prefer lice to Donald Trump by a 54-28 margin, root canals to Donald Trump by a 49-38 margin, used car salesmen to Donald Trump by a 47-41 margin, and the band Nickelback to Donald Trump by a 39-34 margin.

(Trump does win head-to-head battles with cockroaches and hemorrhoids, though. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.)

Tom Jensen spoke Thursday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Jensen says even if the GOP does end up unifying around its nominee, Trump’s place at the top of the ballot may still haunt the party in the general election. Democrats lead Republicans 46-41 in a generic Congressional ballot – not enough of a lead for Democrats to regain control of the House of Representatives, but enough for Democrats to pick up several seats in both houses (and possibly retake the Senate). Voters also say (by a 45-26 margin) that they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate if that candidate endorses Trump for president.

Get more numbers on PPP’s Congressional survey here.

And the thought of Donald Trump in the White House is also making voters more likely to want the Senate to vote now on President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court. Only 38 percent of voters say they trust Trump to make a Supreme Court nomination, against 53 percent who don’t; 58 percent of Americans say they want the vacant seat filled this year (up slightly from two months ago); and 50 percent of voters say they’d be less likely to vote for a Senator if that Senator blocked Merritt Garland’s confirmation hearings. (Only 18 percent say they’d be more likely to vote for such a candidate.)

Get more numbers on PPP’s Supreme Court survey here.

On Polls, Primaries, Caucuses, And The Clinton-Sanders Race

Okay. So earlier this week, Bernie Sanders won the Indiana primary.

Shouldn’t have been a big surprise, really. Indiana was an open primary, where independents are allowed to vote; independents tend to favor Sanders over Clinton, so Bernie’s generally been doing better in open-primary states. Clinton tends to run stronger among black voters, but Indiana doesn’t have a huge minority population, so that favored Bernie too.

So – not a surprise, right?

Except it was a surprise. Going into the election, all the polls said Hillary was going to win. A Marist College survey had Clinton up 50-46. An American Research Group survey had her up 51-43. YouGov had her up 49-44. Fox News had her up 46-42. Not one survey had Bernie ahead. The website, which makes predictions based on all the polls put together, predicted Hillary would win by about a 52-45 margin.

But then Bernie won. Surprise!

Later, I got an email with an interesting question.

“Hi Aaron. I would be interested to hear…why the national pollsters keep forecasting Hillary to win, when she seems to often fall short. I know they talk about margin-of-error, but it seems to always go to Bernie.”

Good question, right?

After all, it has kinda seemed like that. All the national polls have shown Hillary in the lead from the beginning, but Bernie’s the one who’s been drawing the big crowds, he’s the one who’s got people talking on social media…and he keeps winning primaries! Indiana, the polls had Hillary up 7 points, Bernie won by 5. Michigan, the polls had Hillary up 21 points, Bernie won by 2.

And yes, polling isn’t perfect, but in this case it seems to be a one-way street. Bernie’s won states that the pollsters called for Hillary – but Hillary hasn’t won a single state that the pollsters called for Bernie.

What gives?

I asked Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling, one of the most respected polling outlets in the country.

“It’s sometimes just harder (for pollsters) to pick up those independent voters who are planning to vote in the Democratic primary,” he said. That may have been one reason for the incorrect polls in Indiana – compounded by the fact that Indiana has uniquely restrictive laws that make it nearly impossible for pollsters (including PPP) to conduct surveys there.

Okay. That makes sense.

But then Jensen added something else.

He said the pollsters have basically been getting it right.

Michigan and Indiana were outliers, he said, but the polls in every other primary have been fairly accurate. And while individual surveys may be off, they’re not all off in one particular direction. The polls underestimated Bernie in Michigan and Indiana’s open primaries, he said, but they also “slightly underestimated Hillary Clinton in states like Maryland and New York, in closed primaries where only Democrats could vote.”

Now, I trust Tom Jensen. Back in mid-March when Hillary was surging, he told me Bernie was about to have a run of victories. In early April, with Bernie on a roll, he told me Hillary was going to dominate for the rest of the month. He was right both times.

But is he right about the polls being accurate?

I searched the Internet for a page that compared survey data with actual results in every state. Surprisingly I came up empty.

Oh well. If it doesn’t exist, do it yourself!

In the chart below, you’ll see the polling numbers for Clinton and Sanders (and the predicted margin of victory), followed by their actual vote percentage in the primary itself (and the actual margin of victory). The column on the far right measures polling error, the difference between the predicted margin and the actual margin: who got overestimated, and by how much.

AL 71.4 25.7 Clinton +45.7 77.8 19.2 Clinton +58.6 Sanders +12.9
AZ* 51.1 22.7 Clinton +28.4 57.6 39.9 Clinton +17.7 Clinton +10.7
AR 60.5 36 Clinton +24.5 66.3 29.7 Clinton +36.6 Sanders +12.1
CT 50.9 46.8 Clinton +4.1 51.8 46.4 Clinton +5.4 Sanders +1.3
FL 63.2 33.8 Clinton +29.4 64.4 33.3 Clinton +31.1 Sanders +1.7
GA 66.3 30.5 Clinton +35.8 71.3 28.2 Clinton +43.1 Sanders +7.3
IL 51.6 44.3 Clinton +7.3 50.5 48.7 Clinton +1.8 Clinton +5.5
IN 52.3 45.2 Clinton +7.1 47.5 52.5 Sanders +5.0 Clinton +12.1
IA 49.1 44.7 Clinton +4.4 49.9 49.6 Clinton +0.3 Clinton +4.1
LA 72.6 20.2 Clinton +52.4 71.1 23.2 Clinton +47.9 Clinton +4.5
MD 56.4 40.9 Clinton +15.5 63 33.2 Clinton +29.8 Sanders +14.3
MA 52.4 44.8 Clinton +7.6 50.1 48.7 Clinton +1.4 Clinton +6.2
MI 59.2 38.3 Clinton +20.9 48.3 49.8 Sanders +1.5 Clinton +22.6
MS 77 16.7 Clinton +60.3 82.6 16.5 Clinton +66.1 Sanders +5.8
MO 48.8 48.1 Clinton +0.7 49.6 49.4 Clinton +0.2 Clinton +0.5
NC 59.6 37.6 Clinton +22.2 54.6 40.8 Clinton +13.8 Clinton +8.4
NH 41.5 55.6 Sanders +14.1 38 60.4 Sanders +22.4 Clinton +8.3
NY 53.5 42 Clinton +13.5 58 42 Clinton +16 Sanders +2.5
NV 51.2 47.2 Clinton +4.0 52.6 47.3 Clinton +5.3 Sanders +1.3
OH 53.9 43.3 Clinton +10.6 56.5 42.7 Clinton +13.8 Sanders +3.2
OK 47.2 47.5 Sanders +0.3 41.5 51.9 Sanders +10.4 Clinton +10.1
PA 57.1 40.4 Clinton +16.7 55.6 43.6 Clinton +12 Clinton +4.7
RI 48.1 49.2 Sanders +1.1 3.6 54.6 Sanders +11 Clinton +9.9
SC 64.5 31.3 Clinton +33.2 73.5 26 Clinton +47.5 Sanders +14.3
TN 60.5 36.1 Clinton +24.4 66.1 32.4 Clinton +33.7 Sanders +9.3
TX 63.3 33.7 Clinton +29.6 65.2 33.2 Clinton +32 Sanders +2.4
UT* 43.8 51.1 Sanders +7.3 20.3 79.3 Sanders +59 Clinton +51.7
VT 10.2 87.4 Sanders +77.2 13.6 86.1 Sanders +72.5 Sanders +4.7
VA 60.2 36.7 Clinton +23.5 64.3 35.2 Clinton +29.1 Sanders +5.6
WI 47.4 50.1 Sanders +2.7 43.1 56.6 Sanders +13.5 Clinton +10.8

(For polling numbers, I used FiveThirtyEight’s “polls-only” projections for each state. In the two starred states – Arizona and Utah – FiveThirtyEight didn’t have enough surveys for a projection, so I used their weighted polling average instead. To make this easier, I’m only including the 50 states plus Washington, DC. Sorry, Guam.)

So how have the pollsters done?

Turns out Tom Jensen was right. Exactly right, in fact. In the 30 states on that chart, the polls have erred in Hillary’s favor 15 times, and Bernie’s favor 15 times. A perfectly even split.

Also worth noting: the pollsters don’t always predict the right margin of victory, but they have picked the correct winner in 28 out of 30 states. Michigan and Indiana were the only outliers.

How about accuracy? In most states, the FiveThirtyEight projections have been off by 4-9 points. The numbers were most accurate in Missouri, off by only half a point. Where were they most inaccurate?

UT     Clinton +51.7
MI     Clinton +22.6
MD    Sanders +14.3
SC      Sanders +14.3
AL      Sanders +12.9
AR     Sanders +12.1
IN      Clinton +12.1

The polls underestimated Sanders in Michigan and Indiana, but they also overestimated Sanders in a few states where Clinton’s margin of victory turned out to be even bigger than expected. (What the hell happened in Utah? The only poll FiveThirtyEight had to work with was from a local outfit that surveyed less than 200 voters with more than a week to go before the election. Utah is also a caucus state, and caucuses are notoriously difficult to predict.)

So there you go. Michigan and Indiana made headlines, and there have been some errors, but in general the polls haven’t skewed toward Hillary any more than they’ve skewed toward Bernie.


…we’re not quite done yet. Something else is going on here.

Take a look at that chart again.

Where are all Bernie’s states?

Thirty states on that chart, and Sanders only won eight of them. You know he won a lot more than that. What happened to all the other states?

I did more digging…and the answer is fascinating.

As of today, May 7, there have already been primaries or caucuses in 41 states. FiveThirtyEight had pre-election projections for 30 of them. FiveThirtyEight couldn’t project the other 11 states – Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Washington, and Wyoming – because there wasn’t any survey data for those states.

Nobody polled them.

Why not?

Delaware, apparently, got passed over because nobody lives there. Sorry, Delaware.

But the other 10 states?

They’re all caucus states, as it turns out. That’s why nobody polled them.

Caucuses are weird beasts. Different states run them in different ways, but the upshot is that you don’t go to the polls and cast a ballot – you go to a meeting, organize into groups, and spend time talking to people. The process can take several hours. So it’s almost impossible to predict, with any accuracy, who’s actually going to show up for these things. Maybe the babysitter cancels at the last minute. Maybe it’s your anniversary. Maybe you don’t love your candidate enough to blow a whole evening on them. Could be anything. And in order for a poll to be accurate, the pollster has to be able to predict who’s going to show up: this percentage of white voters, that percentage of women. You can’t do that with caucuses, so pollsters rarely bother to try.

Thirteen states have held caucuses so far this year, and only a couple of them have been polled. Iowa always gets surveyed because it’s first in the cycle; Nevada got surveyed a few times; Utah had that one poll that turned out to be totally wrong – and that was it. The other ten states – Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Washington, and Wyoming – FiveThirtyEight didn’t even try to project, because they had no polls to go on.

And Bernie won all ten of those states.

Weird, right?

So there’s your answer, if you’re wondering why the polls keep saying Hillary while the results keep saying Bernie. The polls themselves have actually been right, for the most part, and their errors have been perfectly balanced – it’s just that Bernie’s victories have been coming in those caucus states, which nobody bothers to poll.

Which only leaves one more question:

Why does Bernie do so much better in caucuses?

It’s a pretty stark difference, actually. Bernie has won 11 of the 13 caucuses so far, while Hillary has won 21 of the 28 primaries. Something’s clearly going on.

There are a variety of possible reasons. First off, almost all the caucuses have taken place in states with very small minority populations, where Bernie has an advantage anyway. You also have to be really energized to spend an entire evening at a caucus, and we know that Bernie supporters are generally more energized than Hillary supporters. (You also have to have the whole evening free, so conservatives, here’s your chance to joke about Bernie voters all being unemployed.)

But it may not be a Bernie thing at all. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason – and this goes all the way back to 2008 – Hillary Clinton just sucks at caucuses.

Want to know why Barack Obama has been president for the last eight years? Here’s why. In 2008, the Democratic Party held 38 presidential primaries, and Hillary won 20 of them. She won pivotal early primaries in New Hampshire and Florida; she won the big races in California, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Obama won his home-state primary in Illinois, but his second-biggest victory (in terms of population) was North Carolina. Hillary got all the big prizes. And she got more votes overall too: according to, Clinton won a total of 18,055,516 primary votes nationwide, against only 17,628,560 for Obama.

So why did Hillary Clinton lose?

Because there were also 14 caucuses, and she won…one of them.

Arizona Alabama Nevada Alaska
Arkansas Connecticut   Colorado
California District of Columbia   Hawaii
Florida Delaware   Idaho
Indiana Georgia   Iowa
Kentucky Illinois   Kansas
Massachusetts Louisiana   Maine
Michigan Maryland   Minnesota
New Hampshire Mississippi   Nebraska
New Jersey Missouri   North Dakota
New Mexico Montana   Texas
New York North Carolina   Washington
Ohio Oregon   Wyoming
Oklahoma South Carolina    
Pennsylvania Utah    
Rhode Island Vermont    
South Dakota Virginia    
Tennessee Wisconsin    
West Virginia      


Texas is the textbook case here. (I’ll let you make your own joke about Texas and textbooks.) The state held a primary on March 4, 2008, which Clinton won by a 51-47 margin – but the state also apportioned some of its delegates at precinct-level caucuses, and Obama won those by a margin of 56-44.

Why is Hillary Clinton bad at caucuses? I have no idea. But it probably cost her the 2008 nomination – and it’s making the 2016 race a lot closer than it otherwise might be.



After all that, here’s what we know:

The polls did get Michigan and Indiana wrong, but otherwise they’ve correctly called the winner of every other state. Primaries aren’t easy to predict, so the pollsters are having a pretty decent year. Though it might sometimes appear otherwise, the polls are not skewed in favor of either candidate.

Most of Bernie’s victories have come in caucus states, which pollsters typically don’t survey. Why Bernie does better in caucus states is still an open question, but caucuses were also Hillary’s albatross in 2008 as well. (The only exception seems to be Nevada, which Hillary won in both 2008 and 2016. I don’t know who runs her Nevada campaign, but that person deserves a big raise.)

And we know enough about this primary to make an educated guess about how the rest of the cycle will go. Tom Jensen says there are really only three things you need to know: “Bernie Sanders does a lot better in caucuses than he does in primaries…he does a lot better in open contests where independents are allowed to vote…and he does a lot better in states that are heavily white.”

There are ten contests left, and only one of them is a caucus – so if you’re still holding out the hope for Bernie, you need to pray he figures out primaries quick.