Can President Joe Biden and Donald Trump be head-to-head in a close competition among young voters — a demographic Democrats typically dominate in by double digits as the most recent Times/Siena polls suggest? To many readers, it’s actually quite hard to believe — so seemingly impossible that many assume the polls are heavily mistaken.
Of course, it’s always plausible that polls can be wrong. I’ve considered our own polling may have been incorrect before. However, it’s not just one Times/Siena poll: Practically all polls show a tight contest between Biden and Trump among young voters.
When numerous polls all concur, it’s critical to consider the polling in earnest. It’s important to remember polling can be wrong when you look at them, but it’s equally significant to bear in mind that they’re usually pretty close. Dismissing all polling because it doesn’t align with expectations is an unsuccessful game.
This doesn’t mean I don’t understand those who question whether the final election results will match current polls. Personally, I question whether the final results will be exactly as depicted by these polls. Yet, even if you expect the final results to differ greatly, it doesn’t mean the polls are “wrong” now.
In fact, the belief that Biden will ultimately win young voters resolutely next year does not discern between two very different explanations for what we observe in the polling:
— Either the polls are fundamentally inaccurate. They’re prejudiced. For whatever reason, they are unable to reach the young Democrats who voted for Biden in 2020.
— Or the polls are largely accurate. They’re reaching the young Biden voters, but currently, these voters don’t support him. Over time, this could change.
Based on the metrics at hand, the young voters in our survey “appear” be in line with our expectations. They show they supported Biden over Trump in the past presidential election by a large margin, 57-35, in alignment with our assumptions. They “appear” right based on other measures of partisanship as well.
In the polls, Biden’s issue isn’t too few young Democrats. It’s that many young Democrats don’t favor him. He has a mere 76-20 lead among young voters either registered as Democrats or who have previously voted in a Democratic primary, and merely a 69-24 lead among young nonwhite Democrats.
Similarly, it’s seemingly simple to account for Biden’s shortcomings among young voters today, much like it was easy to explain Hillary Clinton’s issues among white working-class voters in 2016. Young voters are the most likely individuals to say he’s simply too old to be an effective president.
These polls don’t depict the usual, stable basis for vote choice that we’ve become accustomed to in our polarized country. This election is not one where almost all voters like their own party’s candidate while disliking the opposing party’s candidate and disagreeing with them on the issues. Instead, we have an unstable arrangement, which creates the perfect conditions for volatility.
At the end, just because the polls aren’t predictive of the final outcome doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It’s essential to take them seriously, particularly for the campaigns, as taking the numbers seriously may be precisely what influences the numbers tomorrow.