Four more years? (ONE DAY to go edition!)

Well, here we are. The final update!

When we did the very first one of these, with eighteen months to go, I was arguing against the then fashionable Democratic peeing of the pants that Trump was inevitably going to win and we were toast. At one year out, I said there was still every chance we could do this, even though we didn’t know who “we” would be yet. At 6.5 months to go, I said that Biden’s chances were good, and Trump was in serious trouble. And last week, with one week to go, I concluded that Biden remained in an extremely strong position.

Well now, with one day to go, it’s put up or shut up time. Looking at the evidence, I think it’s overwhelmingly likely that Biden will win tomorrow (even if the result isn’t certain for a few days to a few weeks). Let’s take the evidence piece by piece.

Since last week’s update, the RCP national average has tightened somewhat, from +7.4% Biden to +6.5%:

If that’s all it’s moved in 6 days, it’s not likely to suddenly change in 24 hours, and if Biden is ahead by more than 6% nationally, he probably wins, no matter what chicanery the GOP pulls at the state level. Don’t just take RCP’s word for it, though. The 538 average is much more sophisticated, as it takes into account the historical accuracy of various pollsters, and their typical partisan lean. It has Biden up by 8.4%, down slightly from 9.2% six days ago:

It is of course state totals and the resulting electoral college total that is the final determinant. National averages are useful in setting a ballpark for state results, but to really get a sense, we need to look at the most likely swing states.

Last week, RCP had Biden ahead in 6 out of 6 swing states. It now shows him ahead in 5 out of 6, with some seeming movement towards Trump. However, RCP is also including some pollsters that have had a…questionable…habit of producing implausibly Republican-leaning numbers. 538, as mentioned, tries to adjust for things like this, and it shows Biden ahead in 6 of 6, and only Wisconsin having (pro-Biden) movement that’s outside of a tiny tick up or down that’s indistinguishable from statistical noise.

If one just takes the three states 538 has Biden ahead by more than a typical 3% margin of error and leaves everything else to Trump, this is the resulting map:

But, as mentioned, Biden also has leads in several of the other likeliest swing states, and in addition to those six, Georgia, Iowa, and Ohio are all widely thought to be in play. RCP’s “no toss-ups” map currently shows the following:

Taking one last look back at Biden’s position this year relative to Clinton’s in 2016 is also instructive:

To give a few highlights:

  • Biden’s lead is twice as large as Clinton’s at the same point.
  • On the eve of the 2016 election, 9.4% of voters were still undecided. Now, only 4.7% of voters are.
  • Biden is just shy of 51%. Clinton was below 47%.

In short, all the factors that made it more likely Trump could edge ahead of Clinton are not in play this year. And, indeed, 538’s forecast model now has Biden with a 90% chance of winning:

At this same point, Clinton was around 70%:

There’s a very important point to keep in mind about all the above polls as well. I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating. These are not just leading indicators of how people may vote tomorrow. They’re also what people were saying as they were actually voting. As of this writing, early voting equals just shy of 70% of 2016 total votes:

The earliest votes started on 9/5, when North Carolina sent out its absentee ballots. Which means the above 70% of the 2016 vote all came in during a period in which Biden was never leading by less than 5.8%, and was frequently up by as much as 8% to 9%:

Finally, let’s check in one last time on a few other indicators. Trump’s popularity is more than 8 points underwater with one day to go until the election:

You probably don’t need anyone to tell you this, but that’s not a great place for an incumbent to be. And, indeed, his net popularity is well below any President who was going on to re-election in the past 50+ years. It’s more like Carter or Bush I when they were about to be defeated, or Johnson when he was so unpopular from Vietnam that he’d decided not to run again:

In terms of other elections, the RCP Senate no toss-ups map currently shows Democrats making a net gain of 3 seats, and tied in two others:

And 538 is projecting a 76% chance that Democrats re-capture the Senate:

The generic House preference poll shows Democrats with a more than 7% lead:

And 538’s model finds a 98% chance that Democrats keep the House, and even slightly increase their margin there:

We’re all understandably gun-shy after 2016. Could Trump win again, despite everything above? Yes, there are plausible scenarios. But every piece of evidence in view tells us that, with 24 hours to go, Biden remains in a very strong position, significantly stronger than Clinton in 2016. So take some deep breaths, remember to pace yourself tomorrow night and in the time to follow, but be encouraged.

And, tune in here in …a week? …two weeks? To see how the data measured up against the results!

Four more years? (one week to go edition!)

Well glory be, there’s only a week to go! Did you ever think we’d make it this far? Me either. But here we are! Biden’s position was looking pretty strong a week ago. What about now? There are several ways we can approach this question…

There being a week to go, we might look back a week, and see if there’s evidence of movement in any particular direction. At the national level, RCP’s average has negligible movement over the past week:

The tiny bit of tightening seen above is frankly indistinguishable from statistical noise. it certainly doesn’t show evidence of a big move for or away from either candidate.

As we’ve mentioned before, RCP has a “naive” average in the sense that it just averages together recent polls. Over at 538, their averages also do weighting by a pollster’s track record of accuracy, and take into account the historical partisan lean of various pollsters. This is certainly more sophisticated, and, arguably, leads to better results. Using this method, their “topline” number for Biden is higher:

They are also showing some tightening, in that Biden’s lead is down from 10.3% a week ago. While this is more movement than RCP shows, it’s equally hard to distinguish from statistical noise within the margin of error, and certainly doesn’t seem like a major shift.

But, as you may have heard once or twice, elections aren’t determined by national results. They’re determined by the electoral college, and how the candidates perform in the individual states. Here’s how the numbers for the most likely swing states have shifted over the past week:

There’s definite evidence of tightening up here, but Biden still leads in all six states with a week to go. Some of these leads are pretty narrow and well within a margin of error, so we wouldn’t be surprised if, for example, he didn’t end up carrying Florida or North Carolina. Crucially, however, RCP has him above 5% in Michigan and Wisconsin, which means any one of the other states could take him over the top. 538 has him above 5% in those two, and Pennsylvania as well, which wins the race.

If we look at RCP’s “no tossups” map today (right) versus one week ago (left) the only change is that they now have the very close Georgia going to Trump:

To sum up here, looking over the past week we see some evidence of tightening (actually a very usual occurrence toward the end of a campaign), but we don’t see any indication of a big trajectory change. And, since Trump is behind by 7-10 nationally and trailing in the most crucial swing states, he needs a trajectory change. “Staying roughly the same” for Biden, is remaining in a predominant position.

This is even more true given that, thanks to the push for absentee and early voting due to the pandemic, literally tens of millions of people have voted over the last week. As of this writing, more than 68 million ballots have already been cast, representing almost 50% of the total votes from 2016:

So the preceding polling numbers weren’t only a preview of what voters may do on Election Day, they are the data that came in as voters were actually voting all across the country.

Another way we might approach this is to look at Biden compared to Clinton at the same point in 2016:

Looking at these side by side, several things become apparent:

  • Biden’s lead is about twice as big as Clinton’s was a week out.
  • Trump’s late surge in 2016 is readily apparent. Nothing like that seems to be going on in 2020.
  • There are considerably fewer undecideds at this point than there were in 2016.
  • Biden remains solidly above 50%, while Clinton was falling down from 48%.
  • Trump hasn’t had a day over 44% since March, whereas at this point in 2016 he was climbing up toward 46%.

Two other things are worth quickly mentioning about the state by state outlook in 2016 versus 2020. The first is that there was a significant third party presence in 2016, whereas we have no indication of it being above the more typical 1%-2% this time. That created a lot more uncertainty in races that were down to the wire in 2016 than there is this time.

The second is that the polling of at least the Midwestern swing states is better this time- both in terms of number of polls, and models taking into account the kinds of voters that went for Trump in 2016. Pollsters may be making entirely different kinds of mistakes this go-around, but being way off in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin probably isn’t one of them.

One can see the net effect of the lower national margin and the uncertainty in 2016 versus 2020 quite clearly in the 538 forecast model. As of today, it has Biden at an 88% chance of winning the race:

At this same point in 2016, Clinton had dipped down to 71% (and was falling):

Any way you look at it, week-to-go 2020 versus week-to-go 2016 indicates that Biden is in a much more solid position than Clinton was. And recall, Clinton won the popular vote, and only isn’t President today because of literally 77,000 voters spread across three mid-western states. It doesn’t take much marginal improvement in 2020 vs. 2016 to swing the election, and Biden looks to have more than marginal improvement.

The last area we might quickly check in on is whether other data points line up with the notion that Biden is doing well. With a week to go, Trump remains around 10% underwater in net popularity, a position no recent President has won from:

538’s Senate model indicates that Democrats remain favored to win back the Senate:

As does RCP’s “no tossups” Senate map:

And the generic Congressional ballot shows Democrats with a clear edge nationally:

As the 538 model gives them a 96% chance of keeping the House, and even expects them to widen their margin by a few seats:

Whether we look at movement from a week ago, comparison to 2016, or fit with other data points, the verdict is clear: Biden remains in an extremely strong position with one week to go.

We’ll do one more update on Monday with (egads!) 24 hours to go!

Four more years? (two weeks to go edition!)

Buddha bless us and Saints preserve us, two weeks to go! At a month to go, my read of prevailing evidence was that Biden was in a very strong position. What about now?

Let’s start with national polling. RCP’s average currently has Biden up by 8.6%:

538, which takes a more nuanced approach to their average, taking into account the accuracy track record and historical partisan lean of individual pollsters, has Biden leading by even more:

A couple of other national “looks” are worth discussing. It being two weeks to go, we might look back over the past two weeks, and see if there’s evidence of major changes that one might project forward to election day. The short answer is “no”:

To the extent that Biden seems to be solidly ahead, every day with no significant change benefits him. Especially given a factor that we’ll discuss in a moment… Another relevant “look” is comparing where Biden is with two weeks to go with where Clinton was at the same point in 2016:

The same factors we’ve seen all year show up here: Biden is ahead by more than Clinton was at the same point, has had a higher “ceiling” and better “floor” than her numbers, and has never led Trump by less than 4 points, whereas Clinton was frequently within 1%-2%, and twice even trailed Trump.

One additional factor to consider is that who’s been ahead in the polls is not an academic matter. In fact, the election is already 24% over. That is to to say, between absentee ballots and early voting, 33.3 million votes have already been cast, representing 24% of the total from 2016:

One of the reasons Comey’s October surprise in 2016 was so damaging to Clinton was that there were a lot of late deciders on the fence. There are far fewer this time, and almost 1 in 4 votes is already in. And these votes came in during a period when Biden was strongly leading. So even if something damaging to Biden (or great for Trump) arose, it inherently can’t have as much of an effect now as it did in 2016.

National polls and vote totals, especially compared to 2016, do give us an idea of how things are trending. But, ultimately, it all comes down to the states. According to RCP’s latest tallies of the most likely swing states, Biden is leading in all of them:

538’s more nuanced approach shows the following Biden margins for these states:

If we were to take the lower RCP numbers and only give Biden anything above 5% and assume the others are a toss-up, this is the map we’d get:

In this scenario, any one of Florida, North Carolina, or Pennsylvania takes Biden over the top, as would Arizona plus the split electoral vote from Nebraska. Trump, conversely, pretty much needs a full sweep to prevail. And this is before getting around to states that Trump won fairly handily in 2016, but which are toss-ups this time- Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Texas, and Maine’s split electoral vote.

RCP’s “no toss ups” map showing all current Biden leads looks like this:

Based on these state by state polling outlooks, 538’s model has Biden favored to win:

And the Cook Report and Sabato models both have the “lean Democratic” states alone totaling more than the needed 270 electoral votes:

“But the polls in 2016 were wr-” Okay. I know you all are too smart and too well informed at this point to pull out that tired old chestnut and re-roast it. But just in case, here’s a good discussion of what pollsters have done since 2016 to improve, and what areas they’re still worried about. And there are other data points we can examine…

To the extent that fundraising is another indicator of enthusiasm, the signs for the Democrats are very promising. Biden has been out-raising Trump by more than 50%, Act Blue is more than doubling the take of Republican activist platforms, and the Democratic candidates in the leading Senate races are all solidly out-raising their Republican opponents.

Speaking of those Senate races, they form an independent data point of their own. 538 currently has Democrats favored to recapture the Senate:

And the RCP “no toss ups” Senate map is showing the same thing:

Over on the House side, the generic Congressional ballot shows Democrats leading by 7.4%:

This is actually up about a percentage point from a month ago, and indicates the party is in no danger of losing the House. Indeed, the 538 model calls for it to slightly improve upon the 232 seats it currently holds:

One final thing to check in on is Presidential approval ratings. It hardly needs to be said, but, for the record, an incumbent being more than 10 points underwater with two weeks left to go isn’t a great sign for their re-election:

Looking back over the past 50 years of Presidential approval at this same point drives the point home:

Trump’s numbers look nothing like Presidents who were heading to easy victories. They don’t even look like Presidents who were heading to narrow victories. Instead, they most resemble Carter and Bush 1 when they were both on the edge of first-term defeat, and Johnson when he was so unpopular from Vietnam that he had decided not to run again.

To sum up: No matter what indicators you look at, with two weeks to go, Biden seems to be in a very strong position. Given the relative stability of this race throughout the year, I would be surprised if this changes drastically over the next week. But let’s meet back here in a week and see!

Four more years? (one month to go edition!)

It’s hard to believe. Even more so since we’ve had, like, a year’s worth of news in the last week. But, as of this past weekend, it was officially one month to go until Election Day! When we last checked in a month ago, the conclusion was, “Biden remains in a very strong position with two months to go.” If that was true then, it’s even more so now.

Let’s start with national polling. Using their average of recent polls (also note, the majority of these now include post tax story/debate news, but don’t yet have data since revelations of Trump’s COVID diagnosis), RCP currently has Biden leading by 8.3%:

RCP’s average is “naive” in the sense that it just adds together recent polls and takes their average. Over at FiveThirtyEight, they also adjust their weightings for pollster’s history of accuracy, compare national polls to state tallies for a “sanity check”, and take into account pollsters that have a historical partisan lean in one direction or another. This is certainly a more robust methodology, but at the moment it produces a nearly identical result, Biden +8.2%:

There are two things worth noting about this lead. The first is that it isn’t a meaningless data point, since more than 2 million votes have already been cast, and voting is taking place in more than 30 states right now while Biden has this healthy lead:

The other point worth talking about is margin of error. Even the best polling, irreducibly, has a roughly +/- 3% margin of error. To take the above 538.com numbers as an example, Trump could be as high as 45.7%, and Biden could be as low as 47.9%. That means that, at worst (from his point of view) Biden’s lead could be as little as 2.2%. Of course, equally, Biden might be as high as 53.9%, and Trump might be as low as 39.7%.

This matters because, as 2016 showed us, a narrow popular vote lead can still be an electoral college loss, depending on how the individual states fall. FiveThirtyEight has tried to quantify this, and at a 2% to 3% national lead, Biden has around a 50% chance to win the Electoral College. Of course, this currently looks to be Trump’s absolute best case scenario, and if Biden is ahead by more than 3%, his chances shoot up accordingly.

Did I mention individual states above? Indeed, and that is what the election ultimately swings on. As it happens, Biden currently enjoys a lead in all of the most probable swing states:

Granted that some of these leads are narrow, even restricting the map to just states where his lead exceeds 5% takes him over the top:

If we were to go further and look at RCP’s “No Toss-ups” map of all the states based on current polling averages, we get this map:

Using their sophisticated state-by-state model, 538 is currently predicting an 81% chance that Biden wins:

Note that this model in part reflects the uncertainties of still being a month out. To put this another way, every day we get closer to the election with Biden still having these kind of national and state numbers, that percentage rises. For reference, in 2016 538’s model had a 29% chance that Trump would beat Clinton on the eve of the election. Biden is in substantially better shape than that, as a quick side-by-side comparison confirms:

I do this list a lot, but because I think it’s instructive I’ll do it again!

  • Clinton frequently had a lead as low as 2% or less over Trump, Biden has never had a single day under 4%.
  • At two points, Trump actually led Clinton, he has never led Biden for even a single day.
  • Biden has spent significant time over 50%, and almost no time under 48%, whereas Clinton was often below 48%, and only topped 50% for a single day.

National polls, state polls, and the comparison to 2016 all confirm the notion that Biden is in very good shape with a month to go. What do other data points have to say?

According to FiveThirtyEight’s average, Trump’s net approval rating is currently more than eight points underwater:

To put that in historical perspective, Trump’s net approval numbers are worse at this point than any other President of the last 50 years except for Bush I and Carter, both of whom were about to be defeated:

Democrats are leading the Generic Congressional Approval ballot by 6.5%, meaning that their hold on the House is not in any danger, and could even expand slightly:

RCP’s “No Toss-ups” Senate polling averages map shows Democrats re-taking control of the Senate:

And FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast model gives Democrats a 65% chance of doing so:

In short, reference to Trump’s net approval numbers and the House and Senate outlook further bolsters the idea that Biden’s lead is as robust as it appears.

There are, of course, factors that this analysis doesn’t take into account. Election night returns may temporarily show Trump leading before absentee ballots are tallied and reflect the full picture. And Trump has given every indication that he plans to dispute results. But none of that, ultimately, changes the fundamental fact that, a month out from the election, Biden has a very solid chance of prevailing on 11/3/20 (plus a week or two).

Tune in again two weeks from now for the two week outlook!

Four more years? (2 months to go edition!)

Well here we are, with 60 days to go! That frightening image above, by the way, is the “Red Mirage”. We’ll get back to that later. But first, as a reminder, at three months to go, we concluded that things had tightened a little since four months out, but that Biden remained in a very solid position. How do things look now that we’re two months out?

The last thirty days have seen a lot of news:

  • Biden’s VP pick of Kamala Harris
  • Both party’s conventions
  • Trump taking action on a series of executive orders meant to address the economic fallout from the pandemic
  • New national unrest, including murder of protesters, over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Trump responding by a full-court press to run a “law and order” campaign

In response to all this activity, national polling over the past month has seen…on net, just about nothing. Biden is up 0.2% over a month ago, and Trump is up 0.4%, leading to a net of Biden +7.2% now vs. Biden +7.4% a month ago:

Yes, but the polls in 2016 were wr- Stop! Stop? Stop. It is, however, useful to compare Biden’s year-to-date position in the RCP average to Clinton’s 2016 average for the same period:

One will note that Biden has been above 50% several times. Clinton only ever was for a single day. Biden has almost never been below 48%. Clinton was rarely above 48%. Biden has never had a lead of less than 4%. Clinton was less than 2% multiple times, and Trump was even ahead of her twice. On this same day in 2016, 11% of voters were undecided between Trump and Clinton. Only 8% of voters are between Biden and Trump. Everything about the comparative perspective says that Biden is and consistently has been in a much stronger position than Clinton.

It is worthwhile to note that RCP’s polling average is “naive” in the sense that it just averages all major polls within a certain time period (the last eight days, at the moment). 538’s polling average is a bit more sophisticated as it weights pollsters according to their historical track record of accuracy, and makes adjustments for pollsters that show consistent partisan lean in one direction or the other. Using this methodology, 538 currently has Biden at +7.3% vs. +8.2% a month ago:

In 2016, Clinton won the popular vote by +2.1%. Taking the smaller of the two averages above, Biden at +7.2%, and adding that difference of 5.1% to Clinton’s 2016 state by state margins results in the following electoral map:

That gives us a ballpark of how things might be different this time, but of course state by state dynamics are not necessarily going to be the same as last time. If you look at RCP’s averages of the likely swing states, Biden currently leads in all of them:

This has narrowed within the last 30 days, which is certainly worth keeping an eye on:

However, it should be noted again that Biden maintains a fairly strong and consistent lead in these states. Using its more robust methodology, 538 is currently showing:

  • Wisconsin Biden +7.1%
  • North Carolina Biden +1.8%
  • Florida Biden +4.1%
  • Pennsylvania Biden +3.4%
  • Michigan Biden +6.4%
  • Arizona Biden +4.6%

If we took only those states where Biden has more than a 5% lead according to the 538 averages, we would have this map:

Under this map, if Biden wins any one of Florida, North Carolina, or Pennsylvania, even by a few hundred votes, he’s President. Trump would have to win all three to prevail. If Biden just won Arizona, we’d be at 269-269 and the election would got to the House. May Al’lah forefend against such an outcome.

For their part, RCP’s current “no toss-ups” map shows the following:

There are some other electoral data points worth considering as well. RCP’s “no toss-ups” Senate map currently has Democrats picking up five Senate seats (and losing Alabama) for a net gain of +4, which would flip the Senate:

And the Generic House Preference polling has Democrats up by 7.3%, not far off of the 8.7% that catapulted them to a net gain of 41 seats in the 2018 midterms.

Finally, there are Presidential approval numbers to consider. Trump is currently underwater by nearly 9%:

While that’s actually an improvement from nearly -14% a month ago, on the face of it you might still think this isn’t a good place for an incumbent to be two months out from an election. And you would be right! The only two first term Presidents of the last 50+ years who have been in a similar position were Carter and Bush I, who were both headed for defeat:

What this all boils down to is that national polls, state-by-state electoral college totals, the outlook for House and Senate races, and Presidential approval ratings are all telling us the same thing: Biden remains in a very strong position with two months to go.

Now, a word about our opening graphic. This is what’s being called the “Red Mirage“. Indications are that a large percentage of Biden-leaning voters are planning on voting absentee. A similarly large percentage of Trump-leaning voters are mail voting-averse, and are planning on voting in person. Meanwhile, the individual states have widely varying rules about when absentee ballots must be received by, and the deadlines for starting and finishing counting them.

Because of all this, Election Night returns may show a big lead for Trump, and Biden’s true numbers won’t be apparent until several days, maybe even more than a week, later. There is nothing improper or weird about this, and it doesn’t affect the final outcome at all. But the two dangers it presents are:

  • If you don’t know it’s happening, Election Night could be pretty scary!
  • It presents Trump with a week or more to agitate his followers about the “illegitimacy” of the outcome, something that could be enormously disruptive for the country.

So I would recommend fortifying yourself against the first possibility, and all of us being prepared to take appropriate action against the second. Meanwhile, we’ll reconvene in a month to see how things are looking with a month to go!

Four more years? (3 months to go edition!)

countdown

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:

BvT

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:

538poll

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:

battlegrounds

If we look at RCP’s current “No Toss-Ups” map, Biden is in very strong shape:

NoToss

Even if one just looks at the states where Biden leads by 5 points or more, the map looks like this:

5plus

“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:

MI

A final useful check-in is on Trump’s net approval numbers in comparative perspective:

NetPop

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!

 

Four more years? (4 months to go edition!)

US-POLITICS-TRUMP-INAUGURATION-SWEARING IN

Look, I get it! Of course I do. To be of a Leftward persuasion, and to have closely followed Presidential politics for years is to know heartbreak. The Supreme Court halting the counting in 2000 and selecting Bush as President. Seeing John Kerry haplessly roll over and play dead, losing a winnable election in 2004. “Losing” 2016 while finishing 3 million votes ahead. Michael Dukakis being up 17 points in late July 1988, and going on to lose by 8 points!

So I get why instinctive panic, and a mistrust of any numbers, creeps in. Instinctive panic, however, is both irrational and tactically unhelpful, and data can be clarifying. When we took our “five months to go” look in June, Biden actually seemed to be in pretty good shape. Friday last week was four months to go. Does that still seem to be the case?

Let’s start by looking at the latest polling averages:

JoeB

Biden has a more than 8-point lead. But that’s not all. As I’ve mentioned before, I find it instructive to look at Hillary Clinton’s averages for the same YTD time period:

HC

A few things immediately stand out from this comparison:

  • Biden has been above 50% for about half the time YTD. Clinton was only above 50% for a single day.
  • Clinton was rarely above 48%. Biden has rarely not been above 48%.
  • Biden has never had less that a 4 point lead over Trump. Clinton was down to less than 2% several times, and Trump even briefly had a lead over her.

To me, the conclusion that the Biden campaign is in much better shape than the Clinton campaign was at the same point is unmistakable.

Of course, as we all too sadly know from 2000 and 2016, winning the popular vote doesn’t win you the election, winning the electoral college does. However, being more than 8% up almost certainly wins you the electoral college. If we add the 6.6% higher Biden’s current numbers are compared to Clinton’s final 2016 margin (2.1%) to her state-by-state totals, we get this electoral map:

plus67

2020, of course, isn’t 2016, and dynamics in the individual states may be quit different this time. So what happens if we look at current polling in the potential swing states? As it happens, Biden is currently leading in all of them:

AZFLMINCPAWI

In addition to this, Iowa, Ohio, and even Texas are all close enough to be in play. Polling inherently has a margin of error, even when using polling averages, but just keeping the states where Biden’s lead exceeds 5% results in this map:

moe

One more statistical check-in is helpful here. This is the President*’s net popularity vs. other Presidents of the past 50+ years at this same point in their terms:

net

Lest we forget, Trump is, and has been the whole time, historically unpopular. The only two Presidents his current net (un)popularity looks comparable to are Carter and Bush I, who were both headed to first term defeat.

One last sanity check is to think about these numbers in the larger electoral context. In latest figures, Biden and the DNC are out-raising Trump and the RNC. The Generic Congressional preference numbers are about as positive for the Democrats as they were in 2018, when they gained around 40 seats. Democratic candidates are polling strongly in the swing Senate races. All of this fits together into a consistent picture.

Up above, I asked if Biden’s four-month outlook still looks as strong as it did at five months. The answer, given the above, is a clear yes. If anything, it looks a little better. Take nothing for granted about this- donate, phonebank, textbank, write letters, organize on social media. But be encouraged in doing so, and know that bed-wetting for other than recreational purposes is not called for.

Onward!

 

Four more years? (5 months to go edition!)

mappie

About 6 weeks ago, I did my latest update on the election outlook. At the time, I concluded that Biden seemed to have a pretty strong chance based on prevailing indications, and there were plenty of signs that Trump was in trouble. Today marks five months out. Is there anything to add to our previous examination? I think so!

Let’s start with the basics. Yes, Biden is still the all-but-certain nominee. Not only have all rivals dropped out, all endorsed him including chief rival Bernie Sanders, the prior nominee endorsed him, and the last Democratic President endorsed him, as of last night’s Super Tuesday, he is sitting less than 100 delegates off of making it official:

StX

Basics number two- an average of recent polls gives Biden a healthy lead:

rcp

More than that, year-to-date Biden has always had a healthy lead. It’s instructive in this regard to compare his numbers to Clinton’s 2016 numbers for the same time period. A key thing to note is that she was rarely above 48% (where she ultimately finished) and spent only a single day above 50%:

clinton 16

In contrast, Biden has mostly been above 48%, and has spent significant time over 50%:

bidenover50

Of course, as 2016 painfully demonstrated, the popular vote isn’t what ultimately matters. The election is determined by that cute little antiquated Constitutional mechanism, the Electoral College. To do an initial “face value” analysis of that, Clinton “lost” in 2016 by being at +2% nationally, and Biden’s average is currently +8%. If you add 6% to Clinton’s state-by-state 2016 margins, you get this map:

Clintonplus six

An interesting ballpark, but I’ll grant you, things are not that straightforward. 2016 really came down to a handful of swing states, and the dynamics of those swing states will be different in 2020 than they were in 2016. What do current polling averages of these states currently show?

swing

That’s a Biden lead in 5 out of 6, and Trump’s lead in the 6th is razor-thin. If we just take only the states where Biden’s lead is outside of a 3 -point margin of error, we get the following map:

MOEplus3

If we took the “no toss-ups” approach for all current state polling averages, the map looks like this:

notoss

The other way to look at this is to consider the President’s approval rating according to an average of recent polls. It’s currently more than ten percent net negative, which is where it’s been for much of his Presidency:

approval

More than that, except for literally the first few days of his term, he’s never had a net-positive rating. Comparing his net approval to other recent administrations reveals the stark difference. The only recent Presidents who his net numbers are similar to at the moment are Carter and Bush I, who of course were both first term Presidents who were about to be defeated:

net

My final appeal is to common sense. Consider the following:

  • The Libertarian and Green parties had well-known candidates who had previously run nationally in 2016. This time they have comparatively unknown newcomers.
  • The 2016 nominee had been the target of decades of character attacks. Literal generations of Conservatives hated her. This campaign will get very nasty, but there just isn’t that kind of base of animosity to activate in regards to Biden.
  • Clinton was the subject of active investigations which continued to dog her as late as 10 days before the election. The attempts of the Administration to stir up something similar for Biden have fizzled out, and their most concrete result so far was to get Trump impeached.
  • A national crisis has killed 100,000 of us and counting in just a few months, and the  widespread perception is that the current administration has badly mishandled it.
  • The economy is in recession, and unemployment is higher than it’s been at any time since the Great Depression. That’s never good for an incumbent.
  • The country is, actually, on fire. It’s true that “law and order” issues often rebound to the Republican candidate’s favor, but more than that, they almost always come to the detriment of the party in power.

So, has the outlook changed since our last check in? Yes, in that it’s gotten better for Biden and worse for Trump. It could be that the current crisis reverses this trend, but my instinct is that it won’t. More than anything, the thing that most stands out is how durable the dynamics of the race have been year-to-date no matter what external events have been in play.

I’m not saying take it as a sure thing. Not even remotely. I am saying be very encouraged as you go out to do the work that needs to be done over the next five months to make it so.  Tune in some time in early July to see if it’s looking different with four months to go!

 

Four more years? (6.5 months to go edition!)

2020 election

Well, here we are. Over the past few weeks, I had some personal priorities to attend to, as well as, you know, the disruption of a global pandemic. My plan had been to update my election series on the Democratic nomination after Ohio, but due to these two things, and also Ohio and almost every other primary being delayed until June (or later!) I never got there.

And now, whereas we previously knew:

there-can-be-only-one

We also now know who the one is!

biden smiling

I have come neither to praise Biden nor bury him, my goal was always to provide a data-driven outlook on who the likely nominee was. Now there’s no “likely” to it. All the other candidates have dropped out and endorsed him. There could still be some shocking outside event, but, barring that, Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee.

So now it’s time for my analysis to pivot to our next electoral outlook, be it still more than six months out:

ev

Actually, I’ve dabbled a bit in this already, here and here. Both times, I came down on the side of Trump’s re-election being very very far from a  sure thing, so much so that we on the Left should stop bed-wetting ourselves into surrender. That was based on general outlook, things are a little less abstract now that we have actual names on both sides of the ledger. So how do things look currently?

The first stop is to observe that Biden actually has a pretty healthy and persistent lead in year-to-date polling averages:

YTD average

I can hear a chorus of “so did Clinton” coming, but I think that’s actually a pretty useful comparison to make in some ways. What immediately strikes me in comparing Clinton’s numbers for the same period is that she spent a lot of time under 48% (where she actually ended up finishing) and almost no time above 50%. Biden, by contrast, has been above 48% almost the whole time, and not infrequently above 50%. His “floor” is higher.

Clinton

Yes, but Chris, the polls were wrong! Before continuing, I urge you to read this from the lead analyst at Real Clear Politics, and this from the same at FiveThirtyEight. If you’re now convinced that national opinion polls were actually in range, and the real problem was polling in particular states, and pundits generally understanding probability, then we can continue. If you’re not, well, data-driven analysis probably isn’t for you.

Nationally, if Biden did turn out to have around a 5.8 point lead, the quickest and crudest way to look at that would be adding 3.7% to Clinton’s 2016 closest state margins (since she won nationally by 2.1%):

margins

That would get you the following map:

EVapril

Admittedly, that’s a crude way of estimating. It would be better to look at actual surveys of some of these states tagged as possible flips from last time (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) to see if that outlook matches the national outlook. So let’s do that!

states

At first blush, it certainly looks plausible to think that Biden, currently, is competitive in a lot of this territory.

The other major way to look at this is to examine the incumbent’s popularity. He had a brief “rally around the flag” moment around his handling of the COVID pandemic, but that seems to have almost entirely reverted now. Overall, since inauguration, his popularity has been underwater, and he’s never consistently had a run above 44%, two percent less than what he drew in 2016:

unpop

We’ve kind of gotten used to this in some ways, so it can be helpful to look at it compared to other recent Presidents’ net approval rating at the same point. Trump never had the kind of early term approval bump that the others had. He’s almost never been above the trend line of any of them. The two his ratings at this point look most similar to are Carter and Bush1, both of whom were headed to first term defeat amid economic turmoil.

comppres

To me, all of this says that the data is saying the same thing that makes immediate intuitive sense: Any President hobbled by economic turmoil and botched reaction to a crisis is probably facing a difficult reelection. And Clinton had so many unique headwinds against her- decades of slurs aimed at her character, a last-minute FBI intervention, an at the time underappreciated massive foreign intelligence operation against her, and still only “lost” because of around 77,000 votes in three states. Any halfway decent Democrat was likely to be competitive.

And, indeed, there is every reason to think at this point that Biden has a very solid shot at winning the election. There are miles of twists and turns to come. So many that I’m not even going to bother to do an update until June 3rd, which puts us five months out. But nothing we’re seeing now dissuades from the idea that Trump is in serious trouble, and Biden’s chances are good.

 

 

There can be only one… (Superb Tuesday in the Time of Plague edition)

1920px-Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries_results_by_county,_2020.svg

In last week’s preview of “Swell Tuesday” I wrote:

“Unless Sanders draws in a significantly larger share than the Progressive candidates in total have so far this cycle, and than he did last cycle, it could be very difficult for him to overtake the “Moderate” block that has coalesced around Biden.

Tune in next week to see if this outlook has changed after tomorrow!”

The very short answer is: This outlook has not changed. And, though there is a significant external variable we must discuss, things are not liable to change after tomorrow either. First, a quick look at the March 10th results:

March 10th

Biden nearly swept the field, and, crucially, easily won Michigan, the site of Sanders’ surprise victory in 2016. Washington still has not been finalized due to the number of outstanding mail-in ballots, but indications are that Biden is headed toward a narrow victory there too (Washington, in caucus form, was another state Sanders had won in 2016). Following these races, this is where overall results to date currently stand:

results3

On the face of it, a 150 delegate lead might not seem insurmountable. As we know from previous years though, it often is. Obama came out of February 2008 with about a 100 delegate lead over Clinton, for example, and she was never able to overcome that despite staying competitive to the end. To do so, the trailing campaign has to be getting more than 50% every election day from then on. And not all election days are created equal…

If two Tuesdays ago was “Super”, and one Tuesday ago was “Swell”, I’d say tomorrow is “Superb”. 577 delegates are at stake in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. Once Wednesday morning dawns, 62% of the total delegates will have been chosen. So it’s a big day, and it will rapidly move things along. Could Sanders catch up? Current indications are not promising:

March 17th

Right now, at 892 to 741, Biden would need to capture 52% of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination, while Sanders would need 59%. A quick look at national polling indicates that this is very in-range for Biden, and very difficult to foresee for Sanders:

national2

Examining the overall popular vote totals to date for the “Moderate” vs. “Progressive” candidate blocks reinforces this notion:

blocks

As the only remaining “Moderate”, one can easily picture Biden winning 50-something percent of the remaining delegates. As the almost only remaining “Progressive” (sorry, Tulsi), Sanders would have to be doing about 1/3 better than that entire block has done to date to get the 59% of delegates he needs.  After tomorrow, if the above-mentioned state polling indications hold, this number is liable to be even more formidable for Sanders, and even more achievable for Biden.

There is a caveat: The one thing even the best forecast can’t totally control for is major unexpected external events.

Because of concerns about safety around COVID-19, Georgia has cancelled its March 24th primary, and will instead hold it in May. Louisiana likewise is moving  its April 4th primary to June. This is unlikely to change the overall result, which will be pretty much set in stone by Wednesday morning. But it could certainly prolong how long it takes to become official. And the longer a campaign lingers, the more unexpected things may occur…