The trouble with Trump polls

The problem isn't the pollsters — it's incoherent public opinion, driven by nostalgia, stupidity and memory loss

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published April 30, 2024 12:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Up and down and around and around and up and down we go, and where we’ll stop nobody knows!  That’s not me talking; it’s not even a carnival barker. It’s the polling this year on the presidential race. Let’s leave aside for the moment that there are six months until Election Day, and as the pundits echo every time a new poll is released, a lot can happen.

For example:

An American military “adviser” to the Ukrainian army — we have an unknown number over there that nobody talks about — could be captured by the Russian army or kidnapped by Russian sympathizers within Ukraine and hauled off to Moscow and slammed into Lubyanka as a spy. I’ll give you three guesses how much of a cluster that would generate.

Russia could make a deep incursion through Ukrainian lines and threaten Kyiv, putting pressure on NATO nations, including the U.S., to get involved to save Ukraine from being overrun by Putin’s army.

In Israel, a deal brokered by Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken could achieve the return of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, an end to hostilities and a massive U.N. aid effort overseen jointly by the U.S. and Israel to feed, house and provide medical care to Gaza refugees, as well as to start negotiations for a Palestinian state.

Biden could shut down the border with Mexico and suspend all applications for amnesty, taking the border issue off the table as a scream-generator for Donald Trump at his rallies.

Trump could be found guilty at the Stormy Daniels payoff trial in New York and be sentenced to a suspended prison term pending appeal.

The Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 vote in June, could create a firestorm by declaring Trump has immunity from prosecution for official acts while in office, scrambling his indictments in Washington, D.C., and Florida and delaying both trials until new charges could be sorted out in both cases — but certainly beyond election day in November.

Either Biden or Trump could suffer a campaign-ending health event, throwing the whole election into a spiral of panic and doubt.

If one or more of these scenarios comes to pass, we’ll gaze back on the polling of late April as if it were a rain shower that threatened and then blew over. Take the Times/Siena polls of March and April. You remember the panic of the March 2 poll showing Trump ahead of Biden by 48 to 43 percent among registered voters, don’t you? Then, on April 13, Biden recovered with Times/Siena result that was basically dead even: Trump 46, Biden 45. What happened to improve Biden’s numbers? Who knows? Last Sunday, a CNN poll had Trump leading by 49 to 43 percent, and this time CNN had a theory, finding “most Americans saying that, looking back, Trump’s term as president was a success, while a broad majority says Biden’s has so far been a failure.”

Throw old gravel-guts Robert F. Kennedy Jr. into the mix, and the polling stays just as screwed up. Last week, a Marist College poll showed Biden leading Trump, 51 to 48 in a head-to-head election. But when you add Kennedy, Green Party Putin stand-in Jill Stein, and egomaniacal independent Cornel West into the mix, Biden’s lead over Trump jumps to five points. That was last Monday.

Seven days later, it’s oops: In a Harvard CAPS-Harris three-way-race poll released on Monday, Trump leads Biden by 44 to 38 percent, with 12 percent voting to send their kids to school sick by supporting Kennedy and 5 percent with no clue what they want. The Harvard poll also asked why people want Trump over Biden and found that it's “based on the simplest of reasons — America thinks Donald Trump did a better job as president and so are willing to vote him back into office.” Can’t forget to poll for the “duh” vote, because with the internet, everybody is entitled to their own opinion and their own facts, right?

We need your help to stay independent

We could throw some typical punditology in there, that Democrats and the Biden campaign “have to do a better job” reminding voters of Trump’s disastrous handling of COVID — over a million dead, remember, folks? — and his equally disastrous economy. But why bother? Some poll is going to find that RFK Jr. is either surging or falling, Biden is going to bounce up three points, Trump will be caught drooling on his tie in court and he’ll go down a few. Or maybe not. There could be a "nappers' rights" vote out there we haven’t heard from yet.

The trouble with polling in the current political environment is that the pollsters don’t want to admit that the American public has no bottom. There’s no opinion too far out that a significant percentage can’t be found to proudly espouse it. I saw a video of interviews done at a Trump rally recently, and it went downhill from the Comet Pizza joint basement pedophile ring right into the JFK Jr. rapture zone. 

Polling outfits aren’t admitting to themselves or to us that their results are permanently skewed by Fox News and what we might call the Bannon Industrial Complex online. What we need — and we need it right now, today — is a poll that explores the edges of the “thinking” of the American electorate. Pew or Marist or one of those outfits should sit down and come up with a list of questions that might reveal the real answer behind the Trump-Biden results they’re getting. How many believe the moon landing was faked? Raise your hands! How about a poll question on the whole pedophiles-are-running-the-world thing, or a question probing the reaches of the American opinion on who controls “international banking.” 

I’ll give you two guesses what the numbers would be on that one.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

MORE FROM Lucian K. Truscott IV

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Donald Trump Elections Joe Biden Media Polls Robert F. Kennedy Jr.