In the Democratic and Republican presidential races right now, we’re hearing a lot of claims about electability in general-election matchups.
Ted Cruz says he’s the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton in November, while John Kasich is staying in the race because, he maintains, he’s the one GOP candidate who can appeal to swing voters in November. And Bernie Sanders’s campaign argues that he, not Clinton, would be the strongest general-election candidate.
We’re finally getting to the point where, with seven months left to go, general-election polls begin to be meaningful. Yet they can be misleading. How should we read the early numbers?
Political scientists have found that, historically, polls on potential general-election matchups don’t become more reliable in a steady, gradual arc as the months and weeks go by. Instead, after starting off as essentially meaningless, they ratchet up sharply in two steps.