FiveThirtyEight is probably the biggest cheerleader for trying to explain how Biden’s lead is different than Clinton’s 80 days out from the election. I’ll let the readers decide for themselves. But, while it is true Biden has better favorable numbers than Clinton did the same is true Trump has better numbers than he did in 2016. More importantly, national polls aside (which are boosted by outlier polls showing Biden with 10+ point leads), Biden’s lead is actually shrinking in the swing states.
Using the Realclearpolitics average of polls, Biden’s lead in swing states (defined as the following: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Georgia, Ohio, Iowa and Texas) is the same as Hillary’s at this point in 2016. Worse, though, is Biden’s lead in these states on average has shrunk by almost half. That has to be significantly worrisome for a candidate and party which is simply trying to run out the clock on November.
The counter-point to this would be the polls are showing Biden closer to 50 percent nationally and in the swing states than Clinton. But, most pollsters are not even including third party candidates like they did in 2016, and, there seems to be a significant bloc of voters which support Trump but are not responding to the polls.
Speaking of the polls, the most worrisome thing with the polls tightening is it makes it more and more possible we could have a re-run of 2016; when a statistical slanting of the polls to the left resulted in many swing states supporting Trump.
Many polling analysts, including Nate Silver, have acknowledged how their models overestimated Clinton’s chances at winning on Election Day. They did not account for a simple three to four point bias in swing state polls to the D side could lead to Trump winning in many states. It happened and now here we are four years later. Pollsters have tried to rectify their models and assure us their samples are more accurate. That their results are closer to accurate not just nationally but in the swing states.
Yet, the basic problems of polling – lack of reliable pollsters, fewer people responding, unknown firms conducting the surveys – continue to percolate. This should be a warning sign to the Biden campaign they cannot just run out the clock. They have to be worried the polls are slanted left and need to keep pushing the gas pedal down.
The problem is they have a candidate who doesn’t know how. Joe might be a good guy and a decent VP but he is a terrible candidate. His age also makes him particularly vulnerable to attacks about mental acuity and stamina.
Probably worst of all, Biden’s campaign is obviously playing it safe. From the perspective of the Kamala Harris VP pick, she is as safe and vanilla white toast (and yes, she got to where she is by being the nice white black person in San Fran political circles), they obviously are playing not to lose.
Harris brings obvious strengths to the ticket – prosecutor zeal, her race and sex (being a woman is a sex, not a choice), and her appeal to suburban whites turned off by Trump. But, it also shows a campaign still trying to run out the clock. Clinton did the same thing for the same reasons when she picked Tim Kaine as VP. He was safe and comfortable. But, Harris actually probably brings more baggage than Kaine did to Clinton – she ran a terrible campaign and flip-flopped on healthcare, her prosecutor career is at odds with the grassroots of the party and she outshines Biden on the campaign trail (than again, anybody would).
The thing is if you play to lose it opens you up to a late comeback or surge from the other team if your defense falters. Or, in this case, if the polls are just slightly off again or the economy improves or a hundred other things. The Biden campaign is taking an awful risk just sitting pat. We’ll see if it pays off.