The 2020 Election Is A Coin Flip

Over at CNN, Harry Enten wrote “Why it could be a Biden blowout in November.” The article checked all the boxes for evidence to back up the assertion along with the required caveat. But, on the other hand, while polls in reliably red Montana or Missouri show competitive races (what ones there are), polls in battlegrounds remain tight. It should go without saying if the race is heading toward a blowout in Biden’s favor, he would be leading in battleground surveys by increasing, not shrinking margins.

Biden’s lead in national polling has been incredibly durable, with the former VP hovering around around 49 – 50 percent plus support while Trump has bumped around 40 – 45 percent. Yet, that is not what we are seeing in swing state polling. Rather, despite outlier polling, we are seeing Biden’s margins either narrowing or stagnating.

It should be noted this trend is not uniform. For example, in North Carolina, the latest slate of polling has favored Biden. However, these margins have been within the MoE of every one of these polls.

Keep in mind, even in states where Biden has held a consistent lead when averaging polls we have seen varying margins. Just look at Arizona. Most polls have seen Biden with leads around two to three points with a couple surveys showing Biden running away with the contest (their cross-tabs are questionable). This almost assuredly means at the end of the day some or all polls are going to miss but it also means the electorate is unsettled.

For all the talk about Biden and Trump being so well known late breaking news is likely to drive the few undecideds. Further, pollsters are struggling to model turnout in an environment where 1) COVID -19 is still an issue, 2) a record number of absentee ballots will be mailed, 3) some states like Pennsylvania have seen a quarter of county election officials quit due to the chaos about to occur and 4) allegations of abuse, fraud and corruption currently and likely in the future being argued.

In this environment, it is understandable we are seeing so many polls with differing results. Ironically, this is what we would want to see. Polling all showing the same result could portend trouble like 2016 (though questions remain if these issues have been fixed).

But, while Enten raises the fair point we could see a Biden blowout, it also could portend another Trump victory. Keep in mind, it is largely national polls which are showing blowout numbers for Biden with Trump trailing his approval rating. It is unlikely Trump will under-perform his approval rating nationally meaning he is likely to hit a minimum his 46 percent of the vote he acquired in 2016. If anything, 2016 showed Trump does not need to win the national popular vote to win the election. Rather, he just needs to run close enough nationally to stay within reach in swing states.

If, for example, at 43 percent per a new national NBC/WSJ survey, that percent is enough for Trump to be within two points in Florida and a couple points in Pennsylvania, it is likely either of those races could go either way. To be fair, I am assuming Trump hits 46 percent at a minimum nationally but nothing suggests he won’t. Especially if he runs stronger with minorities.

All this is to say, we can get excited about one poll going one way or the other. But, at the end of the day, narrow poll margins mean states could go either way. Additionally, polls in battleground states showing Biden with larger leads generally show Trump’s numbers dropping while Biden’s sticking around the mid to high 40’s. This shows a pattern of Trump being competitive regardless of the poll as some voters want to admit to pollsters they will back the incumbent while some of his supporters won’t. Further still, in a blowout scenario one would not expect to see a New Hampshire or Nevada be competitive (formerly swing states which have trended blue but not at the rate of Colorado or Virginia).

In the end, this race could be a blowout for Biden or a narrow win for Trump. It could be a narrow win for Biden as well. Either way, some pollsters will be right and others end up wrong. For the Trump team, they do admittedly need to hope the polls are largely off. But, hey, at least they have James Carville complimenting their plan to actually contact voters personally and not pull a Biden (texting and digital reminders) to vote. Then again, the tech sector’s efforts to get people to vote might do the trick for Biden regardless of a flawed strategy.

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