Is it just me, or was that a fast month? When last we gathered with four months to go, Biden’s position was looking very solid, and even better than it had at five months or six months. How are things different at this point?
To start with, the polling numbers have tightened up a little, but not a lot:
It hasn’t so much been Biden falling out of his usual range as Trump having bounced back a little from a dismal bottom beneath his usual range. Overall, Biden’s position remains very strong. One thing to keep in mind about the RCP average, is that it’s just that- an average. But not all polls are created equal.
Over at FiveThirtyEight, they address this by weighting pollsters according to their history of accuracy (more accurate ones being given more weighting than less accurate ones) and historical partisan skew (adjustments being made to pollsters that are regularly more +D or +R). This more nuanced approach has Biden up by a little more:
Another useful way to think about the RCP polls is to compare Biden’s YTD numbers with Clinton’s for the same time period in 2016:
This side by side comparison makes immediately apparent that Biden’s 2020 position is much stronger than Clinton’s 2016 position:
- Biden has never been less than 4 points ahead, compared to Clinton, who was frequently within 2 points, and twice was briefly behind Trump.
- Biden has been above 48% 2/3 of the time or more, Clinton was above 48% only 1/3 of the time or less.
- Biden has had several runs above 50%, whereas Clinton was only above 50% for a single day.
Of course, we in America are blessed with that cute little Constitutional anachronism known as the Electoral College, so national polls can only tell one so much. We do have a pretty good idea from 2016 and trends since then what some of the key states will be, and Biden currently leads in all of them. Not only does he lead, he’s well outside the margin of error in every state here except Arizona:
If we look at RCP’s current “No Toss-Ups” map, Biden is in very strong shape:
Even if one just looks at the states where Biden leads by 5 points or more, the map looks like this:
“But the polls were wrong in 2016!” First of all, no. Polls can be wrong, but they are rarely 5% wrong. Also, in some of the 2016 states, a major problem was that, because they weren’t widely believed to be competitive, the were under-polled. We may be looking at the wrong states now, but for the ones that were surprises last time, they are very well polled this go-around.
Take Michigan as an example. The current RCP average there is based on four major polls that all have data from the last two weeks:
A final useful check-in is on Trump’s net approval numbers in comparative perspective:
One can clearly see that, except for a few days right at the beginning of his term, Trump has never had positive net approval numbers, and has consistently lagged every President of the last 50+ years. The only two his current numbers really compare to are Carter and Bush I, first term Presidents who were going to electoral defeat.
So, while the polling numbers have tightened up a little, by every concrete measure we have, Biden remains in a very strong position. Let’s tune in again in a month (and after the pseudo-conventions and Biden’s VP pick to boot!) to see what things look like two months out!