I have bad news for all of us. The non-stop media coverage of politics has already started and it’s an election year here in the US. Now that the voting for Presidential primaries has started, you’ll likely start seeing a lot of reports about momentum, winners, losers and general predictions about the sentiment of the nation based on biased polling.
To help us all get ready, I thought it might be useful to share a few facts about demographics in America that put commonly shared numbers into context for what they actually mean. Here are a few:
- As of 2022, about 160 million Americans are registered to vote (about 50% of the population). Of those registered, recent historical data suggests that about 66% will actually turn out. This means a subset of about 100 million Americans decide who wins elections.
- Presidential primaries are notorious for only indicating preferences of the most engaged voters. The recent Republican primaries in Iowa, for example, had an 18% turnout of eligible Republicans – a total of just 110,298 voters. This is about the same number of people who fit in a large college football stadium and mathematically less than one in five people.
- Polls abound during an election year and claim to offer some insight into how large groups of people are thinking or feeling – but time after time they are shown to only measure micro-opinions of small groups or just plain wrong, leading multiple studies to conclude they are unreliable tools to understand anything.
So where does this leave any of us who are seeing this constant stream of media that will likely turn into a flood the closer we get to November and election day? For me, I’ll maintain a healthy skepticism about numbers, do my best to ignore any and all polls and instead try to focus on what the people running for office actually say (rather than the commentary and soundbites around what they supposedly meant). It’s going to take some work but if I’m going to vote based on any kind of knowledge, that’s what it seems like it will take.