Polling expert Amy Walter tells Stephen Colbert the 1 poll number that should really spook Trump

Amy Walter and Stephen Colbert
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/The Late Show)

"The president's message of a COVID in every pot is not polling great, and things are looking pretty good for Vice President Joe Biden," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. FiveThirtyEight puts Biden's target="_blank">odds of winning at 89 percent, while The Economist gives Biden a 95 percent chance. "So that's great — I'm happy?" he asked. "All over the country, Democrats are refusing to allow themselves any smidgen of optimism, saying they trust no one."

"We're all Charlie Brown going to kick the football, but we know at the last second Lucy's gonna give us coronavirus," Colbert joked. "So can we trust the polls, or are we trapped in an unknowable universe of chaos?" To either calm him down or stoke his anxiety, he turned to Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report. "The 2016 PTSD is real," Colbert said. "Remind all of us what went wrong, in retrospect."

Walter said the state and national polls in 2016 were within the normal margins of error for presidential races, but the prediction models were problematic. "I don't think the problem is their probabilities, I think the problem is the way that we, as people, try to work with probabilities," she explained. "We're not always that good about it. It's why gambling works really well and people lose a lot of money." "

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"I think we spent most of 2016 focused on the 80 percent — or whatever number that was — that said Hillary Clinton was going to win, and now we're spending all the time on the 20 percent chance that Trump's gonna win," Walters said. "We have to find some balance and to look beyond those models." She said it's fine to look at polling aggregates but probably more useful to look at job approval number — which, at 43 percent, is a real problem for Trump. Watch Colbert try to get Walter to tell him what's going to happen below. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.