The news cycle is jampacked with polls. But have you ever wondered how polls actually work and what they mean?


Seven of 10 Democrats in the new USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll say it is important to them that presumptive nominee Joe Biden picks a woman of color as his running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket this fall.

A third of Democrats, among both Blacks and whites, call it “very important.”

The potential contender who generates the most enthusiasm as a vice presidential nominee among those surveyed is California Sen. Kamala Harris, followed by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Many of the other possibilities reportedly being vetted by the Biden campaign aren’t familiar enough to be rated by most of those surveyed.

The poll had some disheartening news for the current vice president, Mike Pence. Republicans by close to 2-1 wouldn’t be concerned if President Trump dumped Pence from the GOP ticket in favor of former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley: 11% would be “excited” and 35% would find that move “acceptable.” 

Just 21% said it would be “not acceptable” and 6% said they would be “angry.” Another one in four are undecided.

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Whether Trump is considering taking that step isn’t clear, although former Trump national security adviser John Bolton in his new bestseller, “The Room Where It Happened,” says that was an idea he believed was being promoted behind the scenes by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. 

In any case, Biden is in the market for a vice presidential nominee, which he has promised will be a woman. He has said he’ll announce his choice around Aug. 1. 

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Among Democrats, 35% said it was “very important” to them that his running mate be a woman of color; another 37% said it was “somewhat important.” Only 26% said it was “not very” or “not at all” important.

“It definitely needs to be a woman of color to be representative of what’s happening right now,” said Dawn Newman, 56, a Democrat from Barnum, Minnesota, who was called in the poll. She said either Harris or Abrams would be a “strong, effective” choice.

In the poll, nominating a woman of color was more important to whites than Blacks. Seventy-five percent of whites said it was very or somewhat important to them; 60% of Blacks took that view. So did 81% of Hispanics.

Among Democrats under 25, 85% called it very or somewhat important, a higher proportion than among older voters.

The poll of 345 Democrats and 287 Republicans was taken by landline and cell phone Thursday through Monday. The margin of error for the Democratic sample is plus or minus 5.3 percentage points; for the Republican sample it is 5.8 points.

USA TODAY poll: Biden widens his lead, but Trump keeps the edge on enthusiasm

Among the possibilities:

  • Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, generated the most excitement, and across racial lines: 41% of whites and 32% of Blacks said they would be “excited” by her choice. Overall, another 33% called her “acceptable;” 12% said she would be “not acceptable.”
  • Abrams, who is African American, was rated as an “exciting” choice by 20% of whites and 27% of Blacks. Among all Democrats, 29% said she was “acceptable” and 10% “not acceptable.”
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is white, was seen as “exciting” by 33% of whites and 15% of Blacks. Overall, 38% said she was “acceptable.” But 19% called her “not acceptable,” the highest negative rating of any of the 11 names on the poll’s rundown.
  • Former Obama UN ambassador Susan Rice, who is Black, was seen as “exciting” by 20% of whites and 24% of Blacks. Among all Democrats, 35% said she would be “acceptable” and 10% said she would be “not acceptable.”
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is African American, was seen as an “exciting” choice by 16% of whites and 25% of Blacks. Overall, 28% called her “acceptable” and 7% “not acceptable.”
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is white, was seen as “exciting” by 16% of both Blacks and whites. She was seen as “acceptable” by 38% overall and “not acceptable” by 14%.

Five other names were included in the survey, but a majority of respondents said they didn’t know enough about them to have an opinion. They included Florida Rep. Val Demings, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and California Rep. Karen Bass. 

Of course, being chosen for the ticket would presumably make any pick much better known, and fast.

Jacob Walker, 44, a school administrator and an independent voter from Auburn, California, who was polled, cautioned against choosing someone “too radical.” An independent, he plans to vote for Biden.

“If you had somebody on the ticket who was just a firebrand – you know, get rid of the police or things like that – that would make it very hard,” he said, recalling the Republican ticket in 2008. “I saw Sarah Palin on McCain’s ticket. Great, she’s a woman, but she just was not a person I would want to become president.”

He urged Biden to choose someone, “if they became president, could be a uniter also of our nation.”

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