Don't cherry-pick the polls. The 2024 race remains close.

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Political analysts like to hold up polls for the answers they give. But sometimes, they prompt more questions.

Is President Joe Biden really ahead by 6 points — and outside the margin of error — in battleground Wisconsin, as a recent Quinnipiac University poll found?

Or is he essentially tied on a five-way ballot, as the same poll found?

Or is he ahead by 2 points among registered voters there, according to a brand-new New York Times/Siena College poll? Or is he down by 1 point there among likely voters, per the same poll, with both results well inside the margin of error?

Similarly, is former President Donald Trump really ahead in battleground Michigan by 7 points among registered voters, as in the same New York Times/Siena polling? Or is Biden ahead there by 1 point among likely voters, as the same poll says?

The answer: We don’t know. Whether that idea is maddening or liberating, all we know is that the race remains close.

As NBC News noted nearly six months ago, expecting down-to-the-percentage-point precision and accuracy from public horse-race polls is a fool’s errand — because of the polls’ margins of error, past polling misses, low response rates among voters and different assumptions about the 2024 electorate (some of the wild swings between registered and likely voter results speak to that).

Now, polls help us understand whether Biden and Trump are underperforming or overperforming among key demographic groups. They inform us about what issues are important to voters, they provide clues about voter interest and possible turnout scenarios, and they help us gauge whether a contest is close or not.

Can they tell us who’s ahead — or who’s going to win — when one candidate is at 48% and the other is at 46%? No way. But there are important takeaways to glean from recent national and battleground state polling over the past month.

The national Biden-Trump race has gotten a bit closer

The national Biden-Trump race has narrowed somewhat compared to where it was over the winter. That’s evident in the NBC News poll, in which Trump’s lead declined from 5 points in January to 2 points last month.

It’s also evident in other polls, which report a smaller overall national lead for Trump than he held last winter, when Biden’s numbers appeared to hit rock bottom months into the Israel-Hamas war.

Of course, the real question with national polling is how that translates to the states and the Electoral College. That's where the picture gets more interesting — and complicated.

Biden’s path to 270 electoral votes has narrowed — for now

The totality of battleground state polls, meanwhile, suggests that Biden’s path to re-election has narrowed. Just take the new New York Times/Siena polling, which finds margin-of-error races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

But the polling also finds Trump ahead outside the margins of error in Georgia and Nevada — and nearly outside the margin of error in Arizona. Biden won all six states in 2020.

Other polls reflect a similar dynamic: Biden is more than competitive in the big three Great Lakes states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And if he wins all three, he most likely clears the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

Yet the other polls also find him consistently trailing in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada. And if he loses those three Sun Belt states, he has no margin for error in the Great Lakes.

The RFK Jr. factor

Finally, the polling is unclear whom independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the third-party vote hurt more — Biden or Trump?

A month ago, both NBC News and Marist released national polls indicating an expanded ballot costing Trump more, albeit within their margins of error.

But last week’s Quinnipiac poll of Wisconsin found a 6-point Biden lead being reduced to just 1 point when the ballot grew to five candidates, including Kennedy.

And the latest Times/Siena polling found an expanded ballot not affecting the Biden-Trump margins much in the battleground states.

All together, the polls paint a picture of uncertainty and all-over-the-place results — fitting for this competitive presidential contest that’s now less than six months out.

This article was originally published on