Biden Leads By Electoral College-Proof Margins

The vagaries of our Presidential election mechanism gave us a surprising result in 2016. That's unlikely this year.

If the 2020 Presidential election were held today, Joe Biden would defeat Donald Trump by a substantial margin. Alas, it won’t be held until November 3–five months hence.

CNN polling guru Harry Enten (“The Electoral College won’t save Trump if this keeps up“):

This week, high-quality polls from ABC News/Washington Post and Monmouth University have former Vice President Joe Biden ahead by 10 and 11 points among registered voters. That’s 8 to 9 points better than Hillary Clinton ended up doing nationally. The average of all polls has Biden up by high single digits.

In 2016, the final polls had Trump trailing by 3 to 4 points nationally and he lost the popular vote by 2.1 points. He won the state containing the median electoral vote plus 1 (i.e. the “tipping point state” that puts a candidate over the top in the Electoral College), Wisconsin, by 0.8 point. That makes for a difference of 2.9 points between the final national margin and the tipping point state.

If you applied that 2.9-point difference to either the ABC News/Washington Post or Monmouth polls, Biden would be ahead by 7 or 8 points in the tipping point state. He would, in other words, be well ahead in the state that would determine the Electoral College winner.

Indeed, you’re seeing that reflected in the state polling. A Fox News poll from Wisconsin out on Wednesday had Biden up by 9 points, or 10 points better than Clinton did in Wisconsin. Other high-quality polling taken this week from ArizonaOhio and Texas has Biden doing 9 points better on average than Clinton did in those states in 2016.

Looking back historically, you can see it would be really hard for Trump to again pull off the Electoral College-popular vote split in 2020, given the current polling.

In the 41 presidential elections since the birth of the Republican Party, the difference between the national margin and the tipping-point state margin has averaged 1.8 points. What happened in 2016 was about a point away from that long-term historical average. The fact that Trump won was not a great anomaly given the closeness of the national vote.

So what does this mean for 2020? Obviously, a similar national vote from 2016 could produce a similar Electoral College outcome. Even a 5-point national win for Biden wouldn’t be “safe.” That’s because if you were to create a 95% confidence interval in the difference between the national vote margin and tipping-point state margin, it would be 5 points.

Anything less and it’s a “within the margin of error” situation, even if the national polling were perfectly accurate in showing Biden ahead. You’d really need to look at the state polling closely in such a situation.

Again, Enten is well aware that the election is months away. He’s continuing to beat a drum trying to disabuse people of the notion that Trump has some Electoral College voodoo that will protect him no matter what the national polling says.

Despite the much-touted 3 million vote gap in the national popular vote, 2016 was a close election. While Clinton led the polls pretty much throughout the race, it was often razor-thin. Biden has enjoyed a steady and comfortable lead for months—and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic, economic collapse, and massive civil protests over injustice.

Things could change. But things are not looking good for the President. And that’s good news.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Richard Pohl says:

    Trump has high strong disapproval ratings. These are likely to translate in better turnout of Democrat voters, especially compared to 2016. Also, in 2016 the both side ism of the main stream media made dubious attacks on Hilary more effective at suppressing votes by her supporters. In 2020, many of the smear attacks are likely to be less effective because of increased awareness of such tactics. Their obvious bigotry may even backfire and further motivate blue voters. While it is too early to say with certainty how the election will go, there is a distinct possibility that the pollls are actually overestimating Trump’s chances.

    4
  2. Lounsbury says:

    Well encouraging. When the looting began I was rather concerned that this would spin out of control and play into Trump.

    However, he is showing increasingly he performs very poorly under stress and easily is induced into unforced errors – such as the idiotic Church photo opp and unhinged statements and rhetoric.

    A modicum of discipline, and ordinary Joeness may do the trick. Of course we all forget that Trump was a bit of Tabula Rasa to the USA in 2016 versus now, against a distinctly broadly disliked Mrs Clinton (fair or unfair doesn’t matter, was the reality).

    9
  3. Kurtz says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Of course we all forget that Trump was a bit of Tabula Rasa to the USA in 2016 versus now, against a distinctly broadly disliked Mrs Clinton (fair or unfair doesn’t matter, was the reality).

    Yup. There was a common refrain surrounding Trump in ’16:

    Opponents take him literally, but not seriously. Supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

    It wasn’t all that true, but it gave supporters cover and may have helped some people with weak reservations think that all the hand-wringing about was the work of Cassandras.

    3
  4. CSK says:

    Trump may have been a tabula rasa to some people. Not to me. I find it difficult to believe that any sentient being could have looked at or listened to the man in 2015 and not known exactly what he was–if you didn’t know before.

    Of course, if you liked what you saw and heard–the swinishness, the malevolence, the ignorance, the bullying–then that’s another story, isn’t it?

    23
  5. Scott F. says:

    The vagaries of our Presidential election mechanism gave us a surprising result in 2016. That’s unlikely this year.

    The Electoral College won’t save Trump in 2020, but the GOP has the means (voter suppressing tactics, a duplicitous media mouthpiece in Fox, a corrupt AG in Barr, etc.) and the motives (desperation, complicity, power, etc.) to bring another surprising result.

    I won’t be relaxing until the moving vans show up to bring Trump’s possessions from the White House to Mar-A-Lago.

    15
  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.:

    I won’t be relaxing until the moving vans show up to bring Trump’s possessions from the White House to Mar-A-Lago.

    Mar-A-Lago? Don’t we have an extradition treaty with Florida?

    6
  7. Kurtz says:

    @CSK:

    I doubt any of the regular posters here held any delusions about Trump. But we are not the norm in terms of political engagement.

    4
  8. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “When the looting began I was rather concerned that this would spin out of control and play into Trump.”

    Rather concerned? Is that what you call saying that everyone to the left of you was an idiot because this was going to be exactly like 1968 and the effrontery of minorities and young people to demand they not be murdered by cops was going to lead inevitably to a backlash of the silent majority and a huge victory for Trump?

    A simple “I was wrong” would suffice.

    12
  9. gVOR08 says:

    Like everyone else, I’ll be scared until this chicken hatches. A lot can happen in five months. Look at the last five months. Like @Lounsbury: I was afraid the demonstrations would play into Trump’s hands ala Nixon. But Trump is so feckless he’s completely screwed it up. In the darker dens he’s the strong hero who called out the Army. But most of the world sees his bluster turned into a few hundred prison guards and border patrolmen protecting Bunker Boy in the White House. That pretty much leaves Hunter Bidengate, ratfracking the election, improvement in COVID/economy, and Biden’s health.

    So far COVID, the economy, and Floyd have sucked all the air out of the room, leaving little time left for GOPs to lie about the Bidens. It took them years to take down Hillary. On election interference I was much comforted by someone pointing out that the swing states mostly have for years had robust, no excuse required, mail in voting. Mostly put in place by Republicans who thought mail in gave them an advantage. COVID and the economy could improve enough for Trump to declare victory, as he tried yesterday. But it seems to be a true that the electorate only remember the last six months, and we’re already inside that window. Trump will promise a vaccine mañana, but who’ll believe him? And the infection rate appears to be ticking up.

    That leaves Biden’s health. Like I said, I’m not counting any chickens yet. And when does Secret Service protection kick in? And can they be trusted?

    4
  10. Kathy says:

    @Scott F.:

    I won’t be relaxing until the moving vans show up to bring Trump’s possessions from the White House to Mar-A-Lago.

    That might not happen. As trump well knows, the people fo New York love him and won’t let him leave. I’m sure they’ll find the kind of accomodation he deserves in Ossining, a quait village in Westchester.

    6
  11. Lounsbury says:

    @CSK:

    Trump may have been a tabula rasa to some people. Not to me. I find it difficult to believe that any sentient being could have looked at or listened to the man in 2015 and not known exactly what he was–if you didn’t know before.

    Golf clap for the rather useless, boring and pointless self-congratulation. Oh how persicipious and utterly besides the point.

    The observable reality is that for a broad portion of the non-politics-obsessed population – which is to say most ordinary persons and the vast majority of voters – Trump had enough plausible deniability around his eventual actual mode of governance, enough doubt and vagueness he was effectively a tabula rasa for them.

    And that is no longer true.

    Political obsessives preening over how they knew all along is rather besides the point and fairly pointless boasting.

    @wr: as I do not see myself as wrong, I see on reason to say I was wrong. Had Trump showed a slight degree of discipline – not even very much – and been slightly less maladroit, the potential for his dominating the narrative and turning it on the protests via the idiotic self-damaging looting and arson. And his first days he did manage not to step on himself. But then some panic apparently set in et voila the facts changed, Trump up-ended his own opportunity by grossly over playing his hand. A panic move, doubtless from his poor polling and fear. Saved the non-centrist Left from itself by scoring an own-goal.

    (nota bene, as I never used the phrase silent majority, of course this is a straw man. The focus of my comment(s) was on middle-states suburbanite swing vote. And the well-documented effect of swing to law-and-order positions in the face of events where personal and property safety seem at risk.)

    @gVOR08: Yes – precisely. Had he not over played, the narrative well could have run perfectly for him.

    But Trump clearly does not manage stress and fear well. He’s clearly panicking as his fragile ego and need for dominance is damaged.

    Provoking errors out of him w/o overplaying his own hand should be Biden’s game I think.

    3
  12. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: I thumbed-you-up for the sentiment, but I actually am not surprised at all if there are many people who, to this day, have no real idea what Trump is like. I’m thinking of a friend we see a few times a year. Good guy, great family man. But he has no interest in the news. I think he sees himself as living in the world created by the politicians and the powerful, but with no personal impact on that world. Who is his Senator? You may as well ask him who is the current President of Namibia. If he picks up a newspaper it will be the sports section. If he gets any news at all it will be only occasionally and then from television news which, frankly, is not really news at all. I imagine he votes and when an election gets close he might ask those around him what they think, and he will weigh their opinions based on whether they were a good coach for their kid in little league, or whether they let him borrow their pickup truck when he was building the deck. I’m pretty sure he voted for Trump and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did so again.

  13. Teve says:
  14. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I suppose so. I imagine there are people who only know Trump from his t.v. shows as well. It’s just that Trump was such an object of contempt in the northeast, and has been since the 1980s, that it’s hard to believe that other people wouldn’t be aware of this. (A parochial attitude, I’m well aware.) And harder still to believe that someone whose trademark characteristics are so vile would be seen by 35-40% of the population as a hero.

    1
  15. Bill says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Good guy, great family man. But he has no interest in the news.

    Dear Wife and I had* a friend named Maria Silva. She claimed never to watch the news. It was too depressing for her. She’d rather watch Walker Texas Ranger, CSI, or EWTN.

    Maria was a very kind friend to me and Dear Wife. She passed away in 2018. RIP.

    1
  16. drj says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Golf clap for the rather useless, boring and pointless self-congratulation. Oh how persicipious and utterly besides the point.

    Even if you are right, why do you have to be such an asshole about it?

    (Also, if one wants to demonstrate intellectual superiority, it usually helps to spell the big words correctly.)

    17
  17. CSK says:

    @Lounsbury:
    I’ll get back to you when you’ve mastered the proper spelling and punctuation of the English language.

    2
  18. Teve says:

    @Bill: One of my favorite people in the world was a science communications prof named Susan. She said she never, ever watched news because it was just cherry-picked information that didn’t inform at all and just produced anxiety.

    Having been a news junkie all my life, I realized she was correct. That year when everybody thought that shark attacks were happening all over the place because the news covered several of them, when in fact it was no different from any typical year, really brought the point home for me.

  19. Teve says:

    What the fuck is “persicipious”? 😀

    4
  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    Tiny’s campaign has accumulated a huge war chest to unload on Biden, but they haven’t been able to deploy it, not because of the tripartite crisis we’re facing, but due to the incompetence of Tiny’s response. He continually steps all over the message the WH and campaign is trying to deliver at times going to the point of contradicting the day’s talking points. These crises aren’t going away and it is reasonable to expect another to raise its ugly head. After all, several national rivals are moving to take advantage of Tiny’s ineptitude.

    None of bodes well for a grand comeback of Tiny’s reelection prospects. He is too undisciplined to follow the script that he has agreed to, that will add to his problems. He may try a Nixonian law and order campaign, but as numerous commentators have noted 2020 isn’t 1968, but a more important reason is that Donald Trump is not Richard Nixon.

    None of this means Tiny can’t get reelected, it is all too conceivable that Joe Biden can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Frankly my greatest fear about Biden is that he will insist on a high-brow, nice guy Joe campaign and forswear a scorched earth character assassination campaign against Tiny that is micro targeted to Trump’s groups of supporters.

  21. JohnMcC says:

    @Teve: I sort of appreciate the idiosyncratic among us, Tyrrell for example. And Mr Lounsbury is frequently amusing and has a sort of character to play on our stage. My brain scanned over ‘persicipious’ and converted it instantly to ‘perspicacious’. I have pretty strong diplopia so my brain has to do that a lot.

    What I wondered was – WTF is a ‘golf clap’? Does it have anything to do with 5G?

    3
  22. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Bill:
    @Teve:

    In college, I had prof, who was a bit of a mentor tell me that he never read the newspaper and received sufficient information about what was happening in the world by simply watching the 6 O’clock news. The naive 19 yo me didn’t get that, so he explained about life experience and a philosophical construct through which to view political actors and actions. I still didn’t get it, but understood that I didn’t get it, but overtime I did. 45 years later I scan the headlines and have a good sense as to what’s happening and why.

  23. JohnMcC says:

    @JohnMcC: Oh, and by the way – thanks for the link to the VOX piece where Klein interviews TNCoats. I’d skipped over that which is usually the wrong thing to do to Ezra Klein.

    The ‘compare and contrast’ between 1968 and 2020 has been rather haunting to me. The police forces of America have apparently decided that they will follow the will of Mayor Dailey.

    1
  24. Lounsbury says:

    @CSK: More than mastered mate, however as my language setting wasn’t in English the typo checking doesn’t catch, sorry my dear for your trouble and challenges. You may return to utterly pointless self-congratulation.
    @Sleeping Dog:

    campaign has accumulated a huge war chest to unload on Biden, but they haven’t been able to deploy it, not because of the tripartite crisis we’re facing, but due to the incompetence of Tiny’s response. He continually steps all over the message the WH and campaign is trying to deliver at times going to the point of contradicting the day’s talking points

    to add emphasis.
    It is this in particular that gives a decent hope, while Trump is a master of daily distraction and smoke blowing, he lacks any kind of discipline nor a sense of how to soften his image relative to the non-core audience.

    Bungling that out of combined panic and incompetence he managed to make things about himself in a negative fashion, rather similarly in structure to his communication errors relative to Covid19.

    Should Biden remain well-disciplined in message (not necessarily polished in speech as his ordinary Joe thing seems to work well), and the pressure mounts with poor polling, one can hope Trump will score more own-goals.

    The contrast of course was Nixon, amoral or even evil if one wants, was not dull, nor indisciplined nor a lazy coaster like Trump is.

    1
  25. CSK says:

    @Lounsbury:
    If you had actually mastered the English language, you wouldn’t require a spelling check, which in any case would not address your egregious errors of grammar and punctuation.

    2
  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    Me last week:

    @Lounsbury:
    I normally share your cynical assessments, but I’m not feeling it this time. Had Trump been able to do anything – anything at all – you might be right. But look at him. He’s toilet tweeting and having no impact aside from fanning the flames. MAGAts thought they were getting Mussolini and instead they got Mussolini’s Chihuahua, yapping and snarling impotently. He isn’t restoring order, and that’s what a ‘strong man’ is supposed to do. He’s limp. He tried to roar and all he managed was a yap yap yap.

    So, I think I get a prize. But it would be a prize for a hunch and nothing more. I wouldn’t have bet my house on it.

    1
  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    These crises aren’t going away and it is reasonable to expect another to raise its ugly head.

    Jeez, we’ve got plague, famine in the form of recession, and the killings of black people, protests, and Trump’s response may count as the sword. Of the four horsemen, that leaves wild beasts. We have locust in Africa, it might spread.

    1
  28. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnMcC:

    What I wondered was – WTF is a ‘golf clap’? Does it have anything to do with 5G?

    Perhaps the STD that’s rotted Trump’s brain?

    2
  29. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’m thinking more along the lines of China invading Taiwan or Russia taking another bite out Ukraine or moving against the Baltics.

    My mother didn’t refer to me as sunny for nothing. 🙂

    1
  30. Mike Schilling says:

    But are they suppression and theft-proof margins?

    1
  31. Moosebreath says:

    @JohnMcC:

    “WTF is a ‘golf clap’?”

    From the Urban Dictionary:

    “An exaggeratedly quiet clapping intended as a show of sarcastic support or disdain.

    c.f. the quiet clapping sound heard on televised golf tournament coverage. Due to the distance between the microphone and the crowd, the golf clap sounds like a nearby crowd of people clapping at minimal volume.”

    2
  32. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Ah yes, I saw that, yes, you were quite on point on

    MAGAts thought they were getting Mussolini and instead they got Mussolini’s Chihuahua, yapping and snarling impotently

    to add emphasis.

    In light of the fascism discussion useful as well. A lazy yappy attention-deficit version of the Italian original.

    @CSK: Oh dear a provincial who has mistaken simple mechanics as master of the English language, how very boring. As a mere blog comment section, quite funny. But you can return to ponderously giving yourself congratulations on your insights.

  33. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “as I do not see myself as wrong, I see on reason to say I was wrong.”

    And I’m sure you never have…

    2
  34. CSK says:

    @Lounsbury:
    This is tiresome. You do not know how to punctuate. You do not know how to spell. You are incapable of framing a coherent thought. Your drivelations make no sense.

    I don’t engage with semi-literates, of which you are one.

    2
  35. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “Oh dear a provincial who has mistaken simple mechanics as master of the English language, how very boring. ”

    Odd. I spend my life surrounded by writers — TV and screenwriters, sure, but also novelists, essayists and poets, and every single one of them would tell you that without a mastery of those “simple mechanics” you can never be a master of any language. It’s like the guy explaining string theory on the internet and proudly proclaiming that he is superior to actual astrophysicists because he has not weighed down his intellect by mastering the simple mechanics of math.

    Knowing a couple of big words and being able to spell something that vaguely resembles them does not actually make you a master of anything.

    1
  36. de stijl says:

    Back in early February, Biden was not my first choice, second choice, or third.

    I will gladly vote for him in November with no qualms or hesitation.

    His touchstones are decency and not fucking things up.

    My preferred candidates did not win, but I am am happy to vote for a decent person who will try hard not to fuck things up.

    Not the policy person I want, but acceptable.

    2
  37. Barry says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “Frankly my greatest fear about Biden is that he will insist on a high-brow, nice guy Joe campaign and forswear a scorched earth character assassination campaign against Tiny that is micro targeted to Trump’s groups of supporters.”

    Ordinarily I’d fear that. The problem is that with everything happening plus Trump’s incredible mishandling will work against that.

    Biden can run as Mr. Rogers, the Sane Guy, and have an enormous edge.

    4
  38. Sleeping Dog says:

    Mike Dukakis had a pretty significant lead in the polls around Labor Day in 1988, running on competency and honesty and he was handed his head in November.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/video/how-willie-horton-undermined-michael-dukakis-722822723932

    Don’t believe that being Mr. Rogers and the Sane Guy will mean much in November.

    The Lincoln Project’s ads have been among the most effective anti Trump ads in this cycle, those folks are/were Republicans. While they are now on “our” side they left others behind with the same skills for knife fighting that they’ve demonstrated.

    You’re right, Tiny has demonstrated incompetence, but you can’t assume that in Nov the voters will remember that, which why Biden’s campaign needs to gut that fat tweeter and hang him from a meat hook so the world will know that Stormy was right he has a tiny penis.

  39. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    To correct myself, in August 1988 Dukakis was ahead 49-41 and then the Willy Horton ad came out and at the end of Sept the numbers had reversed with Bush now leading. But the point remains.

    1
  40. Matt says:

    @CSK: Non political junkies saw a different Trump than those in the know like you and I. A know a few who didn’t really start paying attention to details until AFTER they voted for Trump and they aren’t fans now. They bought into the whole “he’s a successful business man who will hire the best people to get America roaring again” crap. Trump was basically a blank page to those people outside of him being known as a super successful business man. Trump had no record to run on and his stances changed monthly so he was basically whatever they wanted him to be.

    EDIT : To clarify these people didn’t watch his speeches (gotta work no time to watch) and instead relied on other sources for information like Fox news..

  41. An Interested Party says:

    My preferred candidates did not win, but I am am happy to vote for a decent person who will try hard not to fuck things up.

    That’s the entire point of this election, isn’t it? Trump is so vile, so disgusting, so disorganized, that someone like Joe Biden seems quite decent and not a fuckup by comparison, and hopefully, that will be enough for him to win in November…

    Mike Dukakis had a pretty significant lead in the polls around Labor Day in 1988, running on competency and honesty and he was handed his head in November.

    George H.W. Bush was like a saint and a genius when compared to the current trash in the White House…quite the difference there…

    They bought into the whole “he’s a successful business man who will hire the best people to get America roaring again” crap.

    In much the same way that certain people actually thought that Newt Gingrich was smart…what was the line, a stupid person’s idea of a clever person…it’s probably not a good idea to base one’s opinion on knowledge that is superficial at best…

    Oh, and by the way, this whole tussle between this pompous Lounsbury and his detractors is quite entertaining, please continue…