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!