The headline from a recent USA Today article describing polling results between him and a number of Democratic candidates hoping to unseat him probably caused many to do a spit-take.
“Impeached or not, Trump leads his Democratic rivals for another term,” the article’s title reads.
The piece goes onto highlight how Trump is ahead of a number of candidates, including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Pete Buttigieg.
Trump himself took note of the poll, tweeting about it on Tuesday. “The American people are smart. They see the great economy, & everything else!” Trump concluded in his tweet.
The USA Today/Suffolk University poll is confounding to many who have seen other polls demonstrate that Trump is actually losing to these candidates.
Is the poll to be believed? Yes — there’s no indication the poll is inherently flawed. However, it’s the article’s title and wording that is the problem.
The poll asked respondents to pick who they wanted to win the presidency in November 2020, Trump, the Democratic candidate’s name, and another option, reporting from Pajiba pointed out: “Third-party candidate.”
Among the various candidates placed against Trump, Third-party candidate received between 11 percent to 15 percent of the vote total. Nothing is said about who the mystery candidate might be, or what their ideology might represent, however, so it’s unclear why this option was included.
But one thing is certain: the choice for “Third-party candidate” skewed the results of the poll, especially against Democratic candidates.
The new USA Today Poll, just out, has me leading all of the Democrat contenders. That’s hard to believe since the Fake News & 3 year Scams and Witch Hunts, as phony as they are, just never seem to end. The American people are smart. They see the great economy, & everything else!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2019
The poll doesn’t provide crosstabs for Democratic- or Republican-leaning voters, but it does for those who think the country is on the “right track” or the “wrong direction” We can assume those from the former camp are likely to be Republican/supportive of Trump, while those from the latter group are likely to be Democratic/opposed to the president.
Take the matchup between Sanders and Trump. If the unnamed Third-party candidate appears in a matchup between those two candidates, voters from both of the named candidates lose votes, based on the right track/wrong direction assumption above.
But it’s more pronounced among the wrong direction subset of voters — 18 percent say they would prefer to vote for a third-party candidate, meaning they want someone who isn’t Sanders but who is opposed to Trump. It holds true for the other Democratic candidates up against Trump as well…a number of “wrong direction” voters say they want a third-party candidate instead of the two choices.
In reality, the amount that the unnamed Third-party candidate is polling at isn’t typically seen by real-life third-party candidates in our nation’s elections, except in rare circumstances. It’s much more likely that the polls asking about a head-to-head matchup — without the third-party option — are more accurate predictors for the 2020 election.