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On potential ‘Trump-Biden voters’ — and what fresh polls are showing

Former Vice President Joe Biden
REUTERS/Scott Morgan
If you look at current polling of a nationwide sample, most such polls show former Vice President Joe Biden ahead by more than five but less than 10 percentage points.
Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, two liberal politics watchers and activists associated with the Center for American Progress, believe they’ve figured out how Donald Trump loses. They’ve identified what they call Trump-Biden voters (voted for Trump in 2016 but now seem ready to vote for Joe Biden). Teixeira and Halpin surmise that such voters are more numerous than others who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but now say they will vote to re-elect Trump), enough to change the result. That’s an oversimplification. The headline, with proper caution, says “Trump-Biden voters could decide the 2020 election.”

Of course they could. Or maybe not. The Teixeira-Halpin piece is properly framed and hedged. Naturally, I was glad to see their numbers. But at some level, I know better. Yes, I spend a chunk of time every day looking at polls. I’ll tell you what I’m seeing, much of which you already know, but first I’ll emphasize why it’s not such a great use of time, especially six months before Election Day (assuming Trump doesn’t succeed in canceling the election).

Merely a snapshot

As I and every poll addict like me should constantly remind ourselves, fresh poll results are, as the cliché has it, merely a snapshot in time. Another, harsher saying has it that fresh poll results are like “crack cocaine for politics junkies.” Not only are they addictive, but their effect doesn’t last.

By the time you read a poll result, it’s out of date. And the out-of-date snapshot is also somewhat out of focus. As you know, every poll result comes with a margin, plus-or minus three-or-four percentage points for “sampling error,” which mostly means it’s an estimate, based on the fact that only a sample of the electorate was interviewed and no sample perfectly captures the larger population it “represents.”

Then there are problems like what portion of those identified as likely voters will actually vote, and which the undecideds break, and so on.

You know all this. But your (and my) great desire to know what’s going to happen on Election Day may overpower our ability to take all that into account enough to remember that that shaky portrait of the recent past is not a reliable picture of what will happen on Election Day.

If you (yes, like me) are extremely anxious, even more so than usual, to know how the presidential election of 2020 will turn out, you should mostly disregard national polling samples — as two of the last five presidential elections have reminded us, thanks to the Electoral College, a terrible system that doesn’t even reflect the intentions of the framers who gave it to us.

(If you have the time, I explored the enormous differences between how the Framers pictured this system working and what has evolved as part of a longer series on the Constitution here. Of course few of you will do this, but this is the miracle of the internet. And I also listed 10 problems with the Electoral College system in the same series, accessible via this link. And I wrote all of this when it had nothing to do with the current incumbent, elected with neither a majority nor even a plurality of the popular vote. And please note, I stated that long-held position on the Electoral College before the 2016 election.)

Currently, the picture augurs well for Biden

Setting aside all those irrelevant historical and constitutional diatribes, and ignoring my own advice above, I obsess on the latest polling and, as you probably know, the picture augurs well for Joe Biden winning the November election (assuming the current incumbent doesn’t find a way to call off the election off, steal it or limit the franchise to rich, angry white males).

According to most recent polling, Trump does poorly among females, poorly among non-whites, poorly among the young and, as I mentioned recently, he does poorly among the fairly large group of voters who say they dislike both him and Joe Biden. These groups make up some pretty dang big pieces of the overall electorate, more than a supermajority. If you look at current polling of a nationwide sample, most such polls show Biden ahead by more than five but less than 10 percentage points.

I’m forcing myself (and so should you) to be cautious about such polls. It’s way too early. The leads are not insurmountable. If you take the full “margin for error” seriously, they reflect a result that could actually be a small Trump lead, and personally I expect to see Trump pull some mighty questionable maneuvers to disenfranchise those who might vote in a way that displeases him, or to postpone the election, or to refuse to accept the result. So now you have some sense of my worries.

If we are going to obsess on polls at all (I recommend against it but can’t help myself), it’s the polls in the swing states that offer the best clues to how things are going.

There, too, things look mighty good for Biden. Polls generally show Biden leading (although the leads are mostly within the margin for error) in enough swing states to win a pretty large electoral vote majority (if they come out the way they currently look, if, if, if).

State-level polls

For any of you who are (like me) so obsessed that you will look at a bunch of state-level polls six months before Election Day, I’ll tell you how to find them (or, at least, how I find them).

This link will get you to a page on FiveThirtyEight.com, the site maintained by obsessive political number crunchers under Nate Silver, showing the most recent polls in the presidential race. Most of them are national numbers, and look at them if you like. But I use that link to get the latest polling in the swing states.

When I looked Thursday at noon, it had Michigan polls by four different pollsters, all of which showed Biden leading in that key swing state by between three and eight percentage points. (Again, take into account margins for error.) By the way, LV next to a poll means likely voter. RV means registered.

The most recent Pennsylvania poll, and the only one on the list, had Trump up by four.

The only Wisconsin poll had Biden up by nine.

Everyone knows that those were the three key swing states that enabled Trump to unexpectedly win the Electoral College. But, again relying on polling, there are a lot more swing states than those three, including several that might surprise you if you don’t follow these things obsessively.

For example, there are three Florida polls on the current list, all of which show Biden leading, by margins ranging from one to six percentage points. Florida and Ohio used to always be considered two big swing states. And Trump carried Florida by just one percentage point in 2016, but for some reason, the three I just mentioned get most of the buzz. Anyway, the three Florida polls all show Biden leading, by six, one and four percentage points.

Speaking of Ohio, which Trump carried by an impressive eight points in 2016, FiveThirtyEight.com doesn’t list any, and the most recent two I could find elsewhere show Trump up by three points in one and Biden leading by three in the other, taken two weeks apart in late April and early May.

Some surprises

Many states aren’t listed on 538, and, of course, the pollsters are mostly interested in the ones considered close. But there are some surprises on that list for those who don’t obsess as much as I do on these things. For example, the most recent poll out of Georgia showed Biden leading Trump by an insignificant 48-47.Georgia has gone red in the last six elections and eight of the last nine.

Most states don’t make the 538 list, presumably because they haven’t been polled recently, and that’s presumably because they are not considered to be seriously “in play.” Interestingly, Minnesota, which used to be listed as a potential Trump pickup because he came so close in 2016, didn’t make the list.

If you want to join me in obsessing on this stuff (I don’t really recommend it, but I can’t help myself), save that link, check it once a week or so, and, my advice is, don’t waste a lot of time on the national numbers — focus on the swing states. Or, even better, take a walk in the woods and come back in October (maybe September).

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/22/2020 - 10:46 am.

    Trump’s problem is that, while some people dislike Biden, they don’t dislike him nearly as much as they dislike Trump. They don’t see him as the existential threat that Trump is.
    The one thing that Trump is right about is that his future is tied to the economy. No matter how hard he tries to convince people that Covid is not a serious threat and that life should return to normal (whatever that is), most people don’t believe him. Barring a miracle, he’s meat — you can stick a fork in it.

  2. Submitted by BK Anderson on 05/22/2020 - 10:50 am.

    It would be interesting to see the imagined profile of the Clinton-Trump voter.

    When one sees snapshots like this of the national mood regarding the sadistic and incompetent fool Trump six months out, the first conclusion is that in a “free and fair” election, Trump (and probably McConnell) would be annihilated, even given the disastrous electoral college and failed Constitution. This means that conservatives cannot allow a “free and fair” election to occur. So they must take pains to avoid it.

    First of all, Trump has hundreds of billions in campaign (i.e. bribery) funds available to inundate the nation in a tsunami of suffocating lies and braindead nonsense 24/7 for months on end. You can say these have no effect, but the data doesn’t support that notion, especially with low info voters, who think such negative ads are reliable “information” to which they need pay attention. This tsunami will shore up the doubts of (potential) Trump-Biden voters.

    Second, the vote suppression machines of states with Repub governors and secretaries of state will effectively lower voting by Dem-leaning demographics, and those anti-voter tactics will be permitted by the Trumpified federal courts, presided over by the democratically illegitimate 5 man “conservative” majority installed by Trump/McConnell on the US Supreme Court. Of course the pandemic unfortunately adds a new dimension for vote suppression/electorate gaming this time around. So the election will not be a fair one in any regard. That doesn’t mean Dems can’t win, only that they will be running with 30 lb weights on their legs.

    Finally, in the Post-Truth Age, tthe catastrophic social media platforms will be thoroughly penetrated by minutely targeted political lies (“ads”), as well as by much more sophisticated deep fakes which will bamboozle the huge number of citizens that spend their entire waking day glued to their “devices”. These ads will be promulgated by a plethora of mysterious dark money groups, as well as by Putin’s intelligence services again–just as Mueller warned, and as McConnell (by his failure to take any steps to prevent it) intends.

    The end result is that the whole rotten event will be completely up for grabs and ridden with (intentional) chaos, with Trump openly running a campaign that not only acknowledges that he cannot win the popular vote, but revels in losing it, because it means that only those “True Americans” (and they know who they are!) will decide the election via the anti-democratic electoral college. (“The Framers Greatest Accomplishment!”)

    Ridding the nation of Trumpism will require nothing less than a national crusade.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/22/2020 - 12:31 pm.

      “It would be interesting to see the imagined profile of the Clinton-Trump voter.” I’m with you on this one, what are these folks values, goals, beliefs, how do they support those/live them, and how do they align with the candidate or the party. Got some “Trumpies” in the family, and they can never answer the values, goals questions, or if they do they are a sound bite from some right wing conspiracy site, and they really don’t line up. As the Moody Blues would say: “Lost in a Lost world”

    • Submitted by Mike Chrun on 05/22/2020 - 01:18 pm.

      Sadly, Mr. Anderson summarizes my fears much better than I could have. It’s scarey how much Trump has stacked the courts. Add to that, the Republican party’s desperation to hang on to power; and we could very well have chaos and an open disdain for any fairness that might be unprecedented.

      • Submitted by BK Anderson on 05/23/2020 - 09:42 am.

        Repubs must do anything to hold onto power, since as a minority political faction they sense that it’s “apres moi, les deluge”. Without the electoral college they’d be annihilated by actual democracy, so they must oppose democracy to their dying breath.

        A new Carnegie Mellon study concludes that over 80% of the most popular twitter accounts advocating “Reopen America!” are bots with a coordinated message whose creators are a mystery. Putin? Shadow Billionaire(s)? Who knows.

        But it demonstrates that Online America is completely susceptible to an organized propaganda campaign run by individuals and entities the public and media can’t possibly identify. And that a great deal of online grass-roots “conservatism” is astro-turf.

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/22/2020 - 11:18 am.

    I think the path to victory for Biden is less about the Trump-Biden voters, and more about getting the folks who didn’t bother to vote in 2016. Clinton’s problem was that she underperformed in key demographic groups. Trump didn’t outperform vs Romney’s numbers; Clinton fell way short of Obama’s performance. It seems likely that voters will be more motivated to turn out this time, even for an uninspiring candidate like Biden.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 05/22/2020 - 12:02 pm.

    Joe Biden stepped in a big pile this morning when on breakfastclubam. He said “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, you ain’t black”. Wow, how condescending. His spokesperson quickly tried to say Biden was joking, that went over like the Hindenburg. The person conducting the interview wanted to know what Biden would do for the black community, I guess Joe decided he didn’t have to answer, he would just demand the black vote.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 05/22/2020 - 02:55 pm.

      It’s always a hoot when a Trump supporter claims that someone stepped into a big pile. Trump must be breathing via snorkel by now.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/26/2020 - 09:13 am.

        What is even funnier is when said Trump supporter tries to yuck it up about a racially insensitive remark.

        Maybe Biden doesn’t have good bloodlines?

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/22/2020 - 03:25 pm.

      The faux shock of those who enthusiastically voted for the..um…kitty grabber is highly entertaining.

      Keep it up Joe, we need the laughs.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/22/2020 - 04:41 pm.

      Next thing you know he’ll be telling people to inject Clorox and Lysol.

    • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 05/22/2020 - 07:46 pm.

      Indeed, what Biden said was entitled and a serious mistake.

      I am also sure you must have got even more worked up when Trump said that Henry Ford had “Good bloodlines, good bloodlines. If you believe in that stuff, you got good blood.”

      You’ll recall, of course, that Ford was awarded The Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Hitler himself.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/23/2020 - 07:56 pm.

      Poor Donald, every little crack that he thinks will bode well for him has a ten fold Trumpism counterweight.

      Tara Reade?

      E Jean Carroll waits with her DNA laced dress.

      Ain’t black?

      There’s Fred and Donald Trump running off black potential tenants while Biden works for civil rights.

      The Isaac Newton of politics: for each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/26/2020 - 09:04 am.

      And what happened after that? Biden apologized! He admitted he was wrong to have said that.

      Has Trump ever apologized for anything? Like, getting the extent of the COVID pandemic wrong, and allowing it to spread the way it has? Or is the Great Helmsman above error?

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/26/2020 - 11:22 am.

        Even the most loyal rats are looking quizzically at each other aboard the Great Helmsman’s ship:

        “President Donald Trump on Friday deflected blame for his administration’s lagging ability to test Americans for the coronavirus outbreak, insisting instead — without offering evidence — that fault lies with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

        “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said defiantly, pointing to an unspecified “set of circumstances” and “rules, regulations and specifications from a different time.””

        Preceded by:

        “Leadership: Whatever happens, you’re responsible. If it doesn’t happen, you’re responsible.”

  5. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/25/2020 - 01:49 pm.

    Over the weekend Trump tells us HRC is a “skank”. Stacey Abrams can’t pass up a buffet to save her life (and if Biden does not pick he for VP he is a racist) and Nancy Pelosi is cornering the market of a Polygrip in order to keep her teeth in place.

    And we should be outraged that Biden said “you ain’t black” if you can’t decide between Trump and Biden.

    And the latest Minnesota Poll shows 45% of voters in this state are fine and dandy with all that.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/26/2020 - 02:11 pm.

      All that happens to be a big part of his appeal. His base likes that he’s not “politically correct,” and that he “says what he thinks.”

      The truly disgusting part is that a lot of them also believe he’s a good, Christian man.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2020 - 09:42 am.

    I’m so sick of these centrists “intellectuals” who keep thinking that Republican voters will hand elections to Democrats. Biden only wins if he wins, that means he needs more electoral votes than Trump. If liberals give up on Biden Republicans won’t fill the gap.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/28/2020 - 08:59 pm.

      That was Hillary Clinton’s mistake. She declared that she was going to win with the votes of Republican women at the same time that she was soliciting money from Wall Street.

      Meanwhile, her surrogates did nothing but bash the Sanders supporters.

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/28/2020 - 10:46 pm.

    Let’s focus on some basics.

    100,000 deaths in three months, 40 million unemployed, potentially exceeding unemployment during the Great Depression, and the 600 richest billionaires averaging an increase of wealth in the first two months of the pandemic of $800 million – like Trump cashing in on the suffering of others. And if Trump gets serious about golf and lying he may hit $150 million in golf expenses as President and 20,000 lies in a single term – clearly a record for the ages

    20,000 lies – his motto – I cannot not tell a lie.

    His enemies list – with its daily addition and the endless personal vendettas. \

    He is what he is – it isn’t getting any better, but can only get worse. His sickest thoughts are being reserved for term two, or when he is a lame duck with his finger on the nuclear button.

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