It’s way too soon to start overreacting to polls of November match-ups between the incumbent president and his likeliest Democratic opponents. But I just spent a couple of hours looking at such polls and was pretty dang surprised at how dire things look for President Trump whether he ends up facing Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden.
We were forcefully reminded in 2016 that neither national poll numbers heading into Election Day nor even the final national popular vote numbers matter, compared to the outcome in the relatively few swing states.
So I spent some time looking at statewide poll numbers, as recorded and adjusted by the obsessive political number-crunchers of FiveThirtyEight.com, the site founded and run by Nate Silver. I was pretty shocked at how bad the situation looks for Trump. I certainly don’t want to preach complacency, and who knows what tricks he has up his sleeve to change things over the next eight months. But, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight.com average of state-by-state polls, focusing on an inclusive list of 11 states that are considered to be somewhat “in play” for 2020 — including six that Trump carried fairly narrowly in 2016 and five that he narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton — Biden is currently polling ahead of Trump, some narrowly and some by margins approaching 10 percentage points, in nine of those states, trailing in one, and tied in one.
Sanders is tied in two of the 11 states, trailing in one, and leading in the other by margins ranging from 2 to 10 points.
Here, per FiveThirtyEight.com, are the actual numbers, although some of them are based on polls that are a tad old. First, in the famous big-three swing states that enabled Trump to shock the world in 2016:
Pennsylvania: Biden is tied with Trump, 47-47 percent. Sanders leads Trump, 49-46.
Michigan: Biden leads Trump, 47-43. Sanders leads 48-41.
Wisconsin: Sanders leads Trump, 48-46. Biden ties Trump at 47 percent.
In Florida, which Trump carried by a little more than 1 percentage point, he now trails Sanders by a whopping 49-40 percent and Biden by an even more whopping 51-40. If Trump loses Florida, which recently passed New York to become the third most populous state, his path to 270 gets a lot harder.
In Ohio, a traditional swing state but one Trump carried by an impressive 8 percentage points in 2016, he trails Biden by 48-46 in the FiveThirtyEight.com average of recent polls, and is tied with Sanders, 47-47 percent.
In Arizona, which Trump won by 3.5 points in 2016, he trails both top Democratic contenders by 1 point in the 538 averages.
One of the shocks of the 2016 election night was that in Minnesota, which hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1972, Trump came within 1.5 percentage points in 2016. And he is supposedly targeting us as a potential pickup for 2020. According to the 538 averages, that won’t be easy. Biden leads him in the RCP average by a whopping 50-38 percent, and Sanders by 49-40.
Similarly, in Maine, Trump lost narrowly (48-45 percent in 2016), but now trails both Biden and Sanders by identical 52-42 margins, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
New Hampshire was a squeaker in 2016, with Clinton edging Trump by half a percentage point. The 538 average suggests Trump is tied with Sanders there at present, 46-46 percent, and leads Biden by a within-the-margin-of-error 2 points, 46-44.
Colorado was close in 2016 (Clinton by 5 percentage points) and looks close again, but both Democrats lead Trump, Biden by 46-43, Sanders by 48-43.
Both Democrats are polling ahead of Trump in Nevada, but Sanders by a solid 52-41 percent, Biden by a margin-of-error 44-41.
The FiveThirtyEight.com general politics website is here.
A caveat about some of the data cited above. FiveThirtyEight.com relies on and aggregates the most recent reliable polling. States that are generally regarded as key swing states are much more likely to have an updated average based on recent polls. For some of those (like the best state, Minnesota), that are not yet considered major swing states, the averages may not have been updated for weeks or months.
In either case, as the Democrats get closer to a final choice of nominee, Trump will attempt to work his black magic on that candidate’s record, reputation, wardrobe and hairdo.
One politically smart friend to whom I spoke about this piece warned me that the poll ratings of either Biden or Sanders were subject to change, especially once Trump focuses his attack on that candidate. Of course, now that the field of likely nominees is down to two, Trump might start trying to savage them both or, more likely, focus his attack on the one he would rather not face. I don’t like to assume that many Americans outside the 40 percent who are already Trump loyalists are likely to be persuaded by such nonsense, but it’s possible.