The year of 'Neither': Why Reuters/Ipsos is tweaking its US presidential poll

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Race to White House: How Many Undecideds Are There?

NEW YORK, July 29 (Reuters) - In a presidential campaign notable for its negativity, the option of "Neither" candidate appears to be an appealing alternative, at least to participants in the Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.

Many voters on both sides have been ambivalent in their support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, complicating the task of the pollsters trying to track the race.

That sentiment may help explain an apparent skew that recently emerged in the Reuters/Ipsos poll results. Given the choice, a relatively large group of voters opted for "Neither/Other" candidate compared with other major polls, leading to an underreporting of several percentage points for one or other of the two major contenders at times in the race.

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Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton bats balloons after accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton enjoys the balloon drop after accepting the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her husband former president Bill Clinton react to the balloon drop after she accepted the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton enjoys the balloon drop with her vice presidential running mate Senator Tim Kaine after accepting the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her husband former president Bill Clinton react to the balloon drop after she accepted the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton celebrates with balloons after she accepted the nomination on the last night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton celebrates among balloons after she accepted the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her vice presidential running mate Senator Tim Kaine celebrate among balloons after she accepted the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton hugs her husband former president Bill Clinton after accepting the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton bats balloons after accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (L) waves with Anne Holton, wife of vice presidential running mate Senator Tim Kaine (Back, R) and her husband former president Bill Clinton after accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks with her vice presidential running mate Senator Tim Kaine during the balloon drop after accepting the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine (R) celebrate with loved ones and supporters after her acceptance speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband former US President Bill Clinton watch falling balloons during the 2016 Democratic National Convention July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stands with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, after accepting the nomination on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Balloons come down on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine at the end of the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton celebrates among balloons after she accepted the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton celebrates at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Chelsea Clinton and Hillary Clinton pictured at The 2016 Democratic National Convention day 4 at The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 28, 2016. Credit: Star Shooter/MediaPunch/IPX
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: Hillary Clinton reacts to the pyrotechnics display as Bill Clinton joins her on stage after her acceptance speech for the nomination to be President at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: Bill Clinton hugs Hillary Clinton after her acceptance speech for the nomination to be President at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: Democratic nominees for President and Vice President Hillary Clinton and Sen. Time Kaine on stage at the end of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton arrives to address the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, July 28, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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As a result, Reuters/Ipsos is amending the wording of the choice and eliminating the word "Neither," bringing the option in line with other polls.

The amended Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll will be published later Friday, available here.

GAPS FOR TRUMP, CLINTON

From the beginning of June until the middle of July, the Reuters/Ipsos survey showed consistently lower support for Trump than other polls were capturing. At times, the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Clinton with a lead over Trump as wide as about 12 percentage points among registered voters - five percentage points higher than Clinton's lead in some other comparable polls.

To determine the cause, the pollsters examined what made the Reuters/Ipsos poll different. Their conclusion: By giving respondents the option of "Neither/Other," the survey appears to have captured greater numbers of ambivalent voters unwilling to commit to either candidate than other major polls, which only offer the choice of "Other."

During the period analyzed, the historically high antipathy for both major candidates, paired with the option of selecting "Neither/Other," meant the Reuters/Ipsos poll probably underreported Trump's support before the Republican convention, perhaps by 3 to 5 percentage points.

More recently, the "Neither/Other" option appeared to lead to an underreporting of Clinton's support in the run-up to the Democratic convention, said Cliff Young, pollster and president of Ipsos Public Affairs, which partners with Reuters on the poll. The pollsters estimated the Clinton shortfall at 2 to 4 percentage points.

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U.S. Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump arrives onstage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is greeted by Ivanka Trump after his introduction at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Ivanka Trump, daughter of Republican Presidential Nominee Donald J. Trump, waves as she walks off stage after introduction her father during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives two thumbs up to the crowd during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, speaks during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, July 21, 2016. This evening marks the last night of a four-day Republican National Convention that has been defined by disorderly floor activity, divisions within the party, a plagiarized speech delivered by the nominee's wife and scattered protests in the streets of Cleveland. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump preapres to deliver his speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
The mouth of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen on a big screen as he speaks on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A CODEPINK protester is removed while US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Delegates listen as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the final night of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump formally accepts the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump formally accepts the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Attendees listen to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump deliver his speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Deligates stand and cheer as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers his speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: An attendee stands and cheers as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers his speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rudy Giuliani, right, former mayor of New York City, applauds as Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump addressed the audience during the final day of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: (L-R) Tiffany Trump, Barron Trump and Melania Trump listen to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump deliver his speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his family acknowledge the crowd on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (C L) and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence (C R) are joined by their families at the end of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump embraces his wife Melania on the final night of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on July 21, 2016. / AFP / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence stand with their families on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Balloons descend on the delegates as the families of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his nominee for vice-president Mike Pence appear on stage at the end of the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump embraces Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence after his speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Tom W. Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Society at the University of Chicago, said the earlier Trump numbers in the Reuters/Ipsos poll could have indicated a softness of support for Trump among a relatively small group of conservative voters who had yet to come to terms with his candidacy.

It is plausible that a similar effect among Democratic voters may be hitting Clinton now when presented with the option of "Neither," he said.

And the skews displayed by the "Neither" phenomenon may indicate there is a chance for some gains among alternative party candidates, Smith said.

Tim Mclheny, a 47-year-old civil servant from Vermont who describes himself as a moderate Republican, is a case in point. When asked in the Reuters/Ipsos poll who he will vote for in November, he skipped both Trump and Clinton and opted for "Neither/Other."

"It is the lesser of two evils," Mclheny said. He said he will cast his ballot for the candidate he believes will do the best for civil servants. Ultimately, however, he said he may well grudgingly opt for Trump come November.

THE 'NEITHER' SKEW

Here's how the pollsters reviewed their methodology and decided to drop "Neither."

Ipsos tested three alternate versions of the presidential preference questions on different groups in a survey and compared those results to the outcome of the established version of the tracking poll.

That test found eliminating the word "Neither" from the "Neither/Other" response increased Trump support by between 3 to 5 percentage points on any given day leading up to the Republican convention. It also increased Clinton's support, but by a smaller margin. http://spotlight.ipsos-na.com/?p=5574

Since the convention, however, Trump's support seems to have solidified among wary supporters. Now, the "Neither" issue appears to be affecting Clinton in the survey.

On Tuesday, for example, the established tracking poll had the candidates tied at 38 percent each. A 13-point lead for Clinton on July 14 had vanished in two weeks.

But eliminating "Neither" from the "Neither/Other" answer produced a different result. In that case, Clinton was ahead, 40 percent to 36 percent, on Tuesday.

When asked the question in the new way, 11 percent of voters opted for "Other." By comparison, 14 percent opted for "Neither/Other" in the version of the survey that showed the race tied. The three-point gap suggests the "Neither" phenomenon was now working against Clinton.

In the nearly five years Reuters/Ipsos has been offering the "Neither/Other" option to respondents in presidential polling, it has never yielded such a skew.

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U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave to the crowd after the President spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton hugs U.S. President Barack Obama as she arrives onstage at the end of his speech on the third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young 
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton hugs U.S. President Barack Obama as she arrives onstage at the end of his speech on the third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets U.S. President Barack Obama as she arrives onstage at the end of his speech on the third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets U.S. President Barack Obama as she arrives onstage at the end of his speech on the third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
U.S. President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appear onstage together after his speech on the third night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
U.S. President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appear onstage together after his speech on the third night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appear onstage together after his speech on the third night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joins U.S. President Barack Obama onstage after his remarks on the third night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appear onstage together after his speech on the third night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appear onstage together after his speech on the third night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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The results highlight how poll designs and methodologies can yield significantly differing results, and how important differences can emerge from the way a question is framed.

The Economist/YouGov poll, like the Reuters/Ipsos survey, is conducted online. It uses a similar battery of questions, but does not offer the "Neither/Other" option, just "Other." In Economist/YouGov's July 17 poll, Clinton was ahead by 4 percentage points among registered voters, with Trump at 41 percent.

The NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll gives three options: Clinton, Trump, or "No Answer," which more firmly prods respondents to make a choice. In their July 17 poll, Clinton led Trump by one point, 46 to 45, among registered voters.

Telephone polls tend to ask voter preference as an open-ended question, or just offer respondents the choice of the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Among phone polls, such as the ABC News/Washington Post and NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys, Clinton recently led by four to five points. The CBS/New York Times telephone poll of registered voters had the race tied at 40 percent each.

The Reuters/Ipsos presidential-preference poll result and other results in the survey are updated twice a week.

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