Opinion

Gubernatorial polling seems to be all over the place — but it’s not

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In the past months, at least seven different polls have shown Gov. Gretchen Whitmer being up anywhere between 18 percentage points and a half of a percentage point.  

If you want to read alarmist commentary about how polling is broken, go to Facebook or social media. There's no shortage of frustrated political types who want something better than a foggy crystal ball.  

What I am telling you is that these polls aren't all that dissimilar from each other, despite the margin. 

All of these polls say that roughly half of Michigan voters want the governor reelected. Republicans are slowly coming around to Tudor Dixon, and few voters are undecided. 

The polls also show that Michigan is almost evenly divided. Things haven't changed all that much from 2016 or 2020. Republicans and Democrats are still motivated to vote. 

You want to know the final result of the election? Everybody does. 

But nobody is going to nail it exactly three weeks before Election Day except by luck. Nobody can read the future with 100% certainty. 

By the weekend before Election Day, history shows at least one pollster nailed the exact result, but nearly everyone is within the margin of error. In 2020, the last five polls averaged Joe Biden receiving 50% in Michigan to Donald Trump's 45.8%.  

The final result? Biden 50.6% to Trump's 47.8. 

All that polling from a professional firm is going to give you, at this stage, is a rough idea of where voters stand at that moment within a margin of error. That's what all of these polls are doing. 

The Glengariff Group has the governor beating Dixon with 50% of the vote within a +/- 4 percent margin of error. That puts her real percentage at this moment somewhere between 54% and 46%. 

The Trafalgar Group has Whitmer at 50.9% with a +/- 2.9% margin of error. That puts her percentage at between 53.8% and 48%. It's basically the same as Glengariff. 

Even the right-wing "American Greatness" organization, an unknown conservative outlet that should immediately invite suspicion, polled 550 likely voters on Oct. 12 and found Whitmer up with 44.4% of the vote. With the margin of error, that's 48.2% to 40.2%. 

Again, the governor is around 50% of the vote at this point in time.  

The polls also show Republicans are starting to warm to Dixon. The Oct. 10-12 survey from Cygnal for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters had 7% of voters without an opinion of Tudor Dixon. Last month, 32% of voters didn't have an opinion of Dixon, according to an EPIC-MRA survey for the Detroit Free Press. 

From August until now, Dixon's favorability number has gotten higher as the number of those without an opinion of her has gone down. 

As for undecided numbers. The CBS/You.gov survey had 0.4% undecided, which is hard to believe, but with a +/- 3.6% margin of error, the poll allows for the real number to be as high as 4%.  

The Oct. 12-14 Emerson College poll has a 4% margin of error +/- 3%, which means the undecided is between 7% and 1%. 

You get the idea. In the grand scheme of the population, there aren't many undecided voters. 

Estimation is a tough business. Fiscal forecasts during the height of the COVID pandemic were all over the place. Bids for contracts are routinely revised because something comes up. Construction contractors try to set realistic deadlines, but sometimes it doesn't happen. 

Nobody is perfect, including pollsters, who certainly are not in business to put out inaccurate numbers. They're trying the best they can with a Republican voter base that has been thrilled about answering surveys for a while. 

Pollsters are changing how they collect data with the rise of smart phones. Landlines have become a museum exhibit. 

So, where are we with this gubernatorial race? The governor is up a little bit. It's going to be close. 

Exactly what these polls are saying. 

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol newsletter MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.) 

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