By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Everywhere I go, people ask me about the latest polls, and no wonder.

We in the media make a big deal out of them, and so do the candidates. Donald Trump used to spend a big chunk of every speech going over the polls, until they turned sour for him.

But I also find many people are confused about what polls mean and how to read them.

So here are a few tips on how to put the polls in perspective.

First of all, in the presidential race, national polls are virtually meaningless. Massachusetts is going to go for Hillary Clinton; Mississippi will vote Trump.

Instead, look at the swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. History shows that’s where the race will be decided.

When you look at a poll, move quickly past the horse-race numbers for the real meat: questions that gauge voter mood and how the candidates are perceived. Then look for the crosstabs, the demographic breakdowns within those responses.

Take special note of what independents are saying, they are usually the voters who are up for grabs.

Look for gender gaps, and what the most reliable voters – those age 40 and up – are thinking.

And look for long-term trends. For instance, Trump hasn’t polled beyond the low 40s all year, and Clinton has rarely touched 50 percent.

That’s telling.

But most of all, don’t ever let the polls substitute for your voice, or suppress it.

Because while it may be the ultimate political cliché, it’s also true – the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

Comments (10)
  1. hammerhead says:

    keller enough with the pro liberal articles its getting old, you should have no problem publishing article about the criminal hillary instead of protecting her, please report the truth for a change!

  2. jerry2286 says:

    In his liberal zeal, Jon forgot to mention a very distinctive trend. Hillary Clinton’s constantly plunging poll numbers.

  3. fred125 says:

    “Massachusetts is going to go for Hillary Clinton;” – I would not bet on that jon. If you step outside your ivory tower, the peasants are very angry at government as usual and it’s mouth piece, the lap dog media..

  4. Dr. Smith says:

    Most Trump supporters can.t read anything

    1. mstarvin says:

      Yes well they certainly know when to use a . (period) and an ‘ (apostrophe)

  5. The Owl says:

    One of the most important aspects of analyzing pols is noting the differences in the underlying data from polling date to polling date,

    By measuring the change and the velocity of change, one can infer a great deal about the mood of the electorateand how it might likely shift.

    It is clear from the resurgence of Trumps’s popularity that a presumption of Hillary’s strength is may not be not warranted.

  6. mikey says:

    I took a poll this afternoon – my Buddies at DD think this country is just about cooked. Hard to argue with that.

      1. mikey says:

        I believe we’ve had this conversation before… but in the past five years, given that I’m self-employed, I’ve paid nearly $100,000 for health insurance for my wife and I. I called it “Nobodycares” health insurance. Now that I’m on Medicare the amount I’ll pay for health insurance this year will have dropped to about $11,000, from $20,000. My wife isn’t on Medicare yet… and that’s what I get for marrying a younger woman.

        I don’t blame Obama for the skyrocketing health insurance premiums, I blame the health insurance lobbyists roaming the halls of Congress.

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