What Early State Polling Is Really Telling Us About How The Presidential Race Will Shape Up

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Donald Trump ascended as presumptive Republican nominee weeks ago, and Hillary Clinton shall soon be his Democratic counterpart. There’s still the whole contested-convention fantasy that Bernie Sanders promises, but until then, early polls will wildly speculate about the general election. The past few days have seen multiple polls (including a YouGov/CBS News project) point out a mainstream narrative. That is, the two candidates are running a close race in Florida while also achieving a “virtual tie” in Ohio.

Let’s get real — those numbers don’t mean much right now.

Yet these polls become more telling when the questions get a little subversive. This includes the nudge-nudge of pitting the two party outsiders against each other. Sanders has led a grassroots campaign and — although he won’t win — rose to greater heights than many imagined. Trump isn’t even a politician and can’t stick to a position on important Republican establishment issues. One year ago, few would have dreamed that a democratic socialist and a reality star would both come so close to the presidency.

Yet here we are. These early state polls are a testament to the unusual nature of this election. What can they tell us?

Sanders Supporters Will Remain Loyal To A Fault

Those who feel the Bern are often enthusiastic to the point of parody, and their loyalty may work a large effect on the general election. As the YouGov poll reveals, the sample group of Sanders fans may not stick with the Democratic party line. Many of them belong to the “Bernie or Bust” group with only 55% saying they’d support Clinton instead of Trump during a general election. However, that doesn’t mean they’d pick Trump. Only 15% of them would actually go there, and the rest may refuse to vote or go third party. If such a significant amount of Democrats sit out the race, they’re figuratively painting the White House gold for Trump.

These polls expose a lack of unity for Democrats (who now have something in common with Republicans). Deep down, Sanders may have accepted that he won’t win his coveted nomination, but his endgame involves shifting the party further to the left, which takes his campaign much further than one man’s hopeful rise to power. The Bern’s continued defiance may have spawned spirited YouGov questions about whether folks would support Sanders over Trump. He’s leading in Ohio, but tying with Trump in Florida.

That said, let’s be real here; it’s hard to fathom people who’d support Bernie Sanders voting for Donald Trump. Sure, they’ll be butthurt for a while, but they’ll get on board once they clear their heads and fully grasp the frightening reality of a Trump presidency. Remember, plenty of Hillary supporters reacted in a similar way in 2008 when their beloved candidate lost, but ultimately got on board the Obama bandwagon to help beat McCain/Palin.

Swing States Bring Guaranteed Drama

Quinnipiac University‘s poll adds Pennsylvania poll numbers to the swing state mix. Beyond pointing out interesting pieces of trivia — how every winning presidential candidate (since 1960) has nabbed at least two of these valuable states — this poll’s data moves past standard projections. Peter A. Brown, the assistant director of this poll, delights in speculating about the gender gap between parties, which he says promotes American marital discord: “This election may be good for divorce lawyers.”

Quinnipiac also mulls over the negative favorability of both Trump and Clinton (why do voters prefer candidates who are considered so damn unlikable?). So, we’re getting a little soap opera entertainment with our U.S. politics. Trump and Clinton are both vilified by the public and the media (and no one cares), but they’re running close numbers in crucial states, which makes this election feel exciting again. And god only knows politics needs a little more edge since the Zodiac Killer left the race.

Early State Polls Don’t Matter — Or Do They?

Ultimately, early state polls barely rise above speculation because many more variables will rise before November. At the very least, the data can’t be considered accurate until after both parties hold conventions. That’s when the true fun shall begin. Trump will either make nice or continue to thumb his nose at the GOP. The superdelegates could freak the hell out and ditch Clinton, but — never mind — that won’t happen. And Sanders will still be ghosting the election, which will throw an even bigger wrench into predictions.

Sanders could do so in two ways, of course. He could run as an Independent, and his followers would choose him outright, which would literally divide the Democrats and crown Trump the winner. Or he could simply make his intended statement by contesting the convention and eventually leaving the race altogether. Either way, his jilted followers will roll the dice. And really, that’s a big take from these early state polls, that Sanders still matters in his own way. Otherwise, it’s — as the classic line goes — just too soon to make predictions about the two likely nominees.

(Sources: YouGov & Quinnipiac University)