Should we even pay attention to polls right now?

A new Quinnipiac poll shows Ralph Northam with a 47 percent to 39 percent lead over Ed Gillespie in the race to be Virginia’s next governor. While this is consistent with polling that came out prior to the primaries on June 13th, I still think they should be taken with a grain of salt for several reasons.

When I was out canvassing in the weeks leading up to the gubernatorial primary, it was amazing how many people were simply unaware of the upcoming election. Even among those who had a vague idea, I would frequently get “I’m going to vote Democratic” or “I’m with you in November.” In other words, responses that made it clear they were unaware of the fact that there was a primary.

If voters are unaware that there’s a primary coming up just weeks (and in some cases days) before the election, how are we going to actually take a poll months before this election seriously? That’s even more confounded by the fact that polls in the primary were drastically off.

As Lowell over at Blue Virginia points out, we also have to consider how most polling leading up to the GOP primary had Ed Gillespie winning by 20 points or so even though he just barely defeated Corey Stewart. And most polling on the Democratic side had Tom Perriello with a lead of about five points even though he ended up losing the primary. If polls for the primary weren’t accurate, it should cause some doubts about the polls in the general election too.

One of the main reasons I bring up my canvassing is it gave me an idea of what’s going on in the community. The organization I work for (Americans for Democratic Action) was targeting people who usually vote in the general election but don’t have a strong history of voting in the primaries. These are therefore people who the campaigns now are going to really try to communicate with, especially when you consider how many people weren’t familiar with the election.

My canvassing does seem to confirm part of what the polling is saying — that undecided is polling pretty well (at 14 percent right now). I would suggest the number of undecided voters could be even higher. That could swing the race right now, especially when we don’t know how firm the support for either candidate is in Quinnipiac’s numbers.

Combine all that with how a lot can happen in the months leading up to election day and it’s rather hard to say this poll represents anything more than a snapshot of where certain people stand on the race if they were to vote today.

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