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On Sunday, France’s Republican Party will choose its candidate for the presidential election next spring. Opinion polls say that the Republicans are so far ahead that the party, in effect, is about to name the next president — either Alain Juppe or Francois Fillon, former prime ministers offering not-too-dissimilar conservative programs.

The polls, for once, had better be right. The likely alternative to either of those men would be disastrous — and not just for France.

Support for the Socialist party has collapsed: President Francois Hollande’s approval rating stands (if that’s the right word) at 4 percent. So the Republican nominee is likely to face Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist National Front. She’s France’s answer to Donald Trump, except with more self-discipline, added xenophobia and a clearer sense of purpose. If she wins, the European Union would be badly and perhaps fatally wounded. By comparison, Brexit would be a minor nuisance.

Le Pen celebrated Britain’s vote to quit last June as the beginning of the end for the EU — a project she’s called “objectively a total failure.” An EU without France, which designed and built the EU alongside Germany, is objectively a hard thing to imagine. A National Front victory would shake Europe more violently than Trump’s win has rocked the U.S.

The polls suggest that either Fillon or Juppe ought to beat her easily — but there are many unknowns. It’s unclear who will stand for the Socialists, for example, or whether Emmanuel Macron (who quit the government earlier this year and leads a new party) will gather strong support. Right now, though, the threat from Le Pen looks real.

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I don’t know if its being televised in NZ, but if it is, I’d definitely watch some of it.


  • Bloomberg Politics poll gives Trump the lead over Clinton going into the debate tonight.
  • Trump: 43%
  • Clinton: 41%
  • In head-to-head race excluding other candidates, Trump and Clinton are on 46% each.

A new poll by Bloomberg Politics has given Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump a small lead over the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton going into Monday’s debate.

The poll puts the two candidates in a dead heat, at 46% each, if you exclude the Green Party and Libertarian candidates.

More significantly, it shows that Trump’s momentum since June’s low of 38.3% is still going. He has obliterated the lead Clinton held for the last three months.

This chart of rolling averages from Real Clear Politics shows how Trump has gained ground since the summer:

The chart does not include today’s poll.

The Bloomberg result is significant because even it shows Trump is above the 44% level, which has previously been the uppermost ceiling of his support in a head to head split on RCP’s poll tracker. This is now the sixth time in the race that Trump has hit or broken through that 44% barrier.

The result comes after a shaky period for Clinton in which she got a bout of pneumonia and her team was slow to explain why she fainted at a 9/11 memorial ceremony, and a good period for Trump in which he admitted he now believed President Obama was born in the US, reversing years of lies on that issue.

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After weeks of being down in the polls, Donald Trump has vaulted into a narrow lead over Hillary Clinton, according to a new national survey released Tuesday.

The CNN/ORC poll showed the Republican presidential nominee with 45% of the vote from likely voters. His Democratic rival earned 43% in a four-way race that included Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Trump’s 2-point lead was within the poll’s margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, meaning the race is essentially tied. The real-estate mogul led by 1 point in a head-to-head race.

But Trump seems to be doing well with independent voters, a crucial bloc in any election — 49% of those voters said they’d vote for Trump, while only 29% said they backed Clinton in the CNN/ORC poll. Johnson carries a significant proportion of independents, with 16% saying they’d vote for him.

Trump, however, is in trouble with minority voters — 71% of non-whites in the CNN/ORC poll said they preferred Clinton.

Despite Trump’s recent rise in the polls — a CNN/ORC poll from early August, for comparison, showed Clinton with an 8-point lead — most voters surveyed said they still expect Clinton to win in November.

Clinton has consistently topped Trump since general-election polling began. Trump briefly took the lead over Clinton after the Republican National Convention in July, but Clinton came out on top again after the Democrats’ convention the following week.

Another poll released Tuesday shows Clinton ahead of Trump by four points in a four-way race with Johnson and Stein. The NBC News/Survey Monkey poll has Clinton with 48% of the vote and Trump with 42%.

The race has been narrowing in recent weeks, with Clinton seeing her large leads over Trump erased in some polls.

A CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday shows a tight race coming out of the Labour Day Weekend. Republican nominee Donald J. Trump has a slight lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton:

  • Trump: 45%
  • Clinton: 43%

The pollster surveyed a random sample of 1001 Americans. Trump’s lead is within the poll’s margin of error of 3.5%, so it suggests the race is essentially tied, although, as we’ll see later, for a candidate, it’s better to be ahead even within the margin of error. And it’s possible the poll is way off and support in reality is outside that margin.

So, what does this mean for Trump and Clinton? Answering that requires a clear sense of how polls work, and looking closer tells you everything about what we can and cannot trust.

It depends on whom you ask

In 1936, a magazine called The Literary Digest ran one of the biggest opinion polls of all time. It asked 2.4 million people whether they planned to vote for the incumbent Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, or his Republican challenger, Alfred Landon.

BI Graphics Lit Dig coversDragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

It trumpeted this prediction:

  • Landon: 57%
  • Roosevelt: 43%

The poll must have had one of the smallest margins of error in polling. But it was dead wrong.

Error margins apply only to the population a pollster is sampling.

This is what actually happened in the election:

  • Roosevelt: 62%
  • Landon: 38%

The Literary Digest fell prey to what is known as selection bias. That massive sample was made up of its subscribers and members of groups and organisations that tended to skew wealthier than the average American.

Today’s pollsters are savvier, but there are still many ways that bias seeps in. For instance, a poll that calls only landlines may leave out a whole demographic of younger, mobile phone-only households. Some polls are opt-in, where users of a specific website answer questions. That’s less reliable than a random sampling.

“Far more important than dialling down the margin of error is making sure that whatever you’re aiming at is unbiased and that you do have a representative sample,” says Andrew Bray, an assistant professor of statistics at Reed College.

Some polls have well-known biases. Rasmussen, for instance, is known to skew Republican.

Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion — which produces polls for NBC News, The Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy — says polls are as much art as science.

“Scientifically, we should get the same result,” he says.

Modern polls are not immune to these issues. Some potential voters are harder to reach, and some polls skew more educated. And polls with a high percentage of potential voters who are undecided can lead to more uncertainty.

So how much can we trust today’s results?

Margin of error

Dragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

Pollsters and journalists tend to highlight the headline numbers in a poll. In July, before the Democratic convention, a Rasmussen survey showed Trump leading Clinton 43-42.

Rasmussen didn’t help matters by describing Trump as “statistically ahead.”

It’s actually not that simple.

First, you have to consider the margin of error. Rasmussen pollsters interviewed 1,000 people to represent the views of 320 million Americans. Naturally, the poll results might not perfectly match what the whole population thinks.

That Rasmussen poll has a 3-point margin of error. Here’s what that actually means.

Let’s take that Trump number: 43% is something called a “point estimate.” This is basically the polling firm’s best educated guess of what the number would be if it had asked the whole population. But it’s not guaranteed to be right.

The margin of error accounts for this:

  • Because the margin of error is 3 points, the pollsters are confident that support for Trump in the total population is between 40% and 46% — or 43% plus or minus 3 percentage points.
  • Support for Clinton is between 39% and 45%.
Confidence intervalsAndy Kiersz / Business Insider

The point estimate (the dots in the chart above) is like fishing with a spear; you’re stabbing for the right answer. The margin of error is like fishing with a net; somewhere in your catch is the true figure.

But this is not the whole story either.

Feeling confident

Before the 2016 Michigan primary, it looked as if Clinton had it made. FiveThirtyEight aggregated several polls and predicted that she had a 99% chance of winning the primary. Many polls had Clinton ahead of challenger Bernie Sanders by double digits.

The polls were wrong.

Sanders eked out a narrow victory. Of the many reasons pollsters might have been off, this may be one of them: There’s more to polling than the margin of error.

“The margin of error is a guidepost, but not a foolproof” one, Miringoff says.

Here’s what the margin of error really means.

Pollsters typically ask roughly 1,000 people a question like: Whom do you plan to vote for?Their goal is to be 95% sure that the real level of support in the whole population is captured in the sample’s range, from the low end of the margin of error to the high end.

That range is called a “confidence interval.”

Let’s say a pollster like Miringoff were to run that same poll 100 times. Each time, he would randomly select different groups of 1,000 people. Miringoff would expect that the true proportion — the candidate’s actual support — would be found within the margin of error of 95 out of the 100 polls. That’s why he’d say that he’s 95% confident in the results.

Those five outliers are one reason elections don’t always turn out the way pollsters predict.

Remember that Rasmussen poll in July showing Trump with 43% support? That 43% is thought to be the most likely reflection of reality. But the pollster is still only 95% confident that Trump’s true amount of support is found between 40% and 46%.

The further you get from that point estimate, the less likely it is that you are seeing the true number. So it’s more likely to be 42% than 41% — and 40% is even less likely.

Normal curve annotated 2Andy Kiersz / Dan Bobkoff / Business Insider

The chance that what’s happening in reality is captured by a number outside the 95% confidence interval is, as you might expect, quite unlikely. The more outside it is, the more minuscule the likelihood. But it’s still possible for a poll to be way off.

“If you really want to be 100% confident in your estimate, you’re either going to have to ask every American or be satisfied with a huge margin of error,” Bray, the Reed College statistics professor, says.

The whole point of polling is to extrapolate what a large group believes by asking a randomly selected subset of that group.

In the era of modern polling, most pollsters agree that being 95% confident in the margin of error is “good enough.”

“It’s a reasonably high number,” Bray says. “That means we’re going to be wrong one in 20 times, but for most people that’s acceptable.”

Many polls, such as those from the Pew Research Center, bury the margin of error in the fine print. Far fewer highlight the confidence interval. But anytime you see a poll, remember: There’s a 5% chance that the poll is far different from the headline number.

Keeping it 1,000

Dragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

Look closely and you’ll notice that most polls question roughly 1,000 people. That holds true whether pollsters are trying to approximate voter opinion in Rhode Island (about 1 million residents) or the entire US (nearly 320 million residents).

Why 1,000?

It’s a big enough number to be reasonably confident in the result — within the margin of error 19 out of 20 times. There’s a lot of variety in a group of 1,000 people, so it captures many of the elements in the larger group.

Asking more people than 1,000 leads to diminishing returns of accuracy.

For instance, sampling 2,000 people is not twice as precise as sampling 1,000. It might bring the margin of error from roughly 3 points to about 2.2 points.

Moe vs sample size 3Andy Kiersz / Business Insider

In modern polling, most statisticians see sampling 1,000 people as a good compromise between a manageable sample size and acceptable confidence.

What and when

Results differ among pollsters for many reasons.

There are simple explanations, like when the polls were conducted. It can take days or weeks to conduct and analyse a poll. A lot of news can happen between the dates on which the questions were asked and the date of the results’ release.

Dragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

This is especially a problem with polls close to Election Day. They’re generally a snapshot in the week before the election. If something happens in the final days of campaigning, those final polls may not be as predictive.

It also matters how a pollster phrases and orders questions, and whether it’s a phone interview, in-person interview, or online survey. Even the interviewer’s tone of voice can matter.

Then, pollsters have to decide how to analyse and weight the data, and those methodologies can vary.

But it’s not just pollsters analysing data — and that’s where we get another big problem.

Drilling down

BI Graphics 1000 GroupDragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

When Miringoff releases his Marist polls into the wild, they are quickly consumed by journalists, commentators, and a public looking for trends that create headlines. This drives him crazy.

“It’s too often to throw up your arms,” Miringoff says.

Here’s the problem: Let’s say his team interviews 1,000 people to represent the general population. In that 1,000, there are subgroups: men versus women, minorities, immigrants, young people, old people.

It’s tempting to pull out those subgroups and draw conclusions about, say, support for a candidate among Latinos or women.

But each of those subgroups is, in effect, its own sample, and those samples can be very small. That means the margin of error for each subset can be huge.

Take this poll from Pew: In the sample, there were only 146 black respondents. The margin of error for that subgroup is more than 9 points!

Redo screenshotPew Research Center

You can’t learn much by looking at a group with a 9-point error margin.

Why aggregating is good

If you combine results from multiple polls taken at the same time, you can think of it as one huge poll. That drives down the overall margin of error and can make you more confident in the predictive power of the polls.

In the real world, different polls are conducted in different ways, so you can’t think of an aggregated poll as truly one big sample. But this is also a virtue because it reduces the effect of pollster biases and errors. FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, and RealClearPolitics all run averages with different weightings and methodologies.

Ahead or tied?

OK, so now that you know a lot more about polls, what should you think when a race is tight? The answer is not straightforward.

Let’s say that a poll comes out showing Clinton with 51% support and Trump with 49%. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 points. Are the two candidates statistically tied, or is Clinton slightly ahead?

In purely statistical terms, most would consider this example a “statistical dead heat.” Either candidate could be ahead.

“It’s pretty significant editorially,” Miringoff says. “It’s not significant statistically.”

That said, that doesn’t mean Clinton’s lead in this hypothetical example is completely insignificant.

“If I was running for office, I’d rather have 51 than 49,” Miringoff says.

Remember point estimates? In this scenario, 51% is still the pollster’s best guess at Clinton’s true level of support. That’s higher than Trump’s. If a series of polls shows Clinton with a slight edge — even within the margin of error — then it can suggest an advantage. A series of polls is more convincing than any single poll.

Feedback loop

Dragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

Finally, for as much as we want to believe that polls are a scientific reflection of reality, polls can also affect reality.

Here’s one example: Polls that show candidates falling behind can galvanize their supporters to get out to vote.

The media may also focus on polling trends, leading to changes in public opinion about which candidates are viable or worth supporting.

Polls don’t happen in a vacuum

I saw the original 1976 version in the cinema when it was released.

The bulls have it currently. The efforts of the Fed are slowly seeping through to whoever votes in these polls. Some will back their opinions with money, some won’t. It has taken a while for the majority to come to grips with a rally that started last August/September and has run ever since.

The question is: how late are they to the party? Time will tell.

Gold is top.

What is more interesting is that really they have no faith in money. All asset classes that depend upon the value of money being relatively stable, fixed income, are pretty low on the lists.

On Friday we asked readers whether they thought the S&P 500 would be higher or lower than current levels by the end of the first quarter. As shown, after 588 votes, 51% said higher while 49% said lower. While there were indeed more bulls than bears, in our opinion the results are hardly an indication that investors as a whole are too complacent about this rallying mark

The interesting thing about the poll is that it rather disabuses one of the notion that all the ‘bears’ have gone into hibernation. Whether these respondents actually trade money in the market, and are actually backing their opinion with cash is of course unknown. The wall of worry, it seems, is alive and well.

A new poll from Gallup shows that:

Two in three Americans (64%) say big government will be the biggest threat to the country, one percentage point lower than the record high, and more than twice the number who say the same about big business (26%).

But will it translate into action?

Well there is nothing in it. Coin toss area.

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