Post-Convention Reality Check

We're winding down to Election Day. Where do we stand?

Two two national quasi-conventions are in the books. The election is two months and a couple of days away. Where do we stand?

The FiveThirtyEight gang is being extremely cautious:

Convention season officially ended on Thursday with the close of the Republican National Convention and President Trump’s speech. Trump’s speech has already sparked controversy for its content and length and for how many listeners were gathered on the White House lawn. But the reality is that we don’t yet actually know what the effect of the last two weeks has been on the race — if anything. We do have a few new polls, but there haven’t been any live-caller polls, which tend to be higher quality and show more movement. Another complicating factor is that there has been a lot of news this week, too, including the police shooting of Jacob Blake and ensuing protests. So at this point, we really do need to wait and see how Trump and Biden’s election pitches have landed. What we know is that going into this convention period, Trump was an underdog, but as we’ve said multiple times now, it’s still too early to count him out.

There’s just not a lot of data that can help us understand how Americans are responding to what’s happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but as Perry Bacon Jr. wrote on Thursday, one thing we do know is that declining support for the Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t translated to a decline in support for Biden just yet.

And maybe that’s related to the fact that there is at least some evidence that Trump’s racist appeals and dog whistles might be less effective in 2020 than they were in 2016. (Research shows they were effective in activating voters in the Republican primary, but had less success in the general election.)

On the one hand, that’s fair. There’s a lot going on right now. This is almost certainly the most unusual election in my memory (I was barely a toddler in 1968). Aside from the most unorthodox incumbent President in US history, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and race riots. So, things are rather volatile.

Still, the 538ers are bending over backwards to not over-interpret a rather steady trend.

Here’s their overall assessment of the odds:

That Trump would win 31 out of 100 times is shockingly high given how unpopular he is. Still, by my math, 69 out of 100 times is way better. Like, more than two times better. “Slightly favored” seems a weird way to describe that.

Here’s their trend analysis:

So, there’s never been a point in the race where it was even close. The gap is ever-so-slightly narrower now than at Biden’s peak but it’s always been at least 2-to-1.

Further, there’s essentially no chance Trump gets more votes than Biden:

Again, the trend is stasis.

Of course, we don’t award the presidency to the popular vote winner. What are the Electoral College odds?

So, again, that’s pretty strong for Biden: essentially a 100 Elector lead.

We see similar things in the more-established but slightly-Republican-leaning RealClearPolitics numbers. Their Electoral College topline: Biden 212, Trump 115, Toss Ups 211.

Biden needs to pick up 57 Electors somewhere while Trump needs 154. Almost all of the “toss-up” states went for Trump last time, which means he’s trying to win back voters that he has lost over his four years in office. And the fact that Georgia and Texas aren’t yet sewn up means a Biden landslide is a distinct possibility.

Only in the national topline does it look remotely close:

It’s conceivable that Trump could make up a 7-point lead given sufficient backlash over the racial unrest. Still, the trendlines—the fact that Trump has never led the race—are telling. It’s incredibly unusual for an incumbent to suddenly become popular at the 11th hour.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, 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. de stijl says:

    When Clinton lost I knew it was a distinct possibility, but I was shocked.

    It would have been horrible and contentious 4 years had Clinton won – so much partisan strife would have happened, but instead we got Trump who is a narcissistic useless idiot who exposed the charade.

    I hope future historians see the Trump era as a reckoning and an abnormality. A short 4 years of madness.

    If Trump wins again, we are utterly lost.

    10
  2. CSK says:

    I don’t know whether it’s bravado or a complete denial of reality, but the Trump Fan Club keeps insisting he’s going to win in a landslide.

    3
  3. Michael Cain says:

    I’m trying to figure out how anyone looks at Nevada post-2018 and puts it in the toss-up category. Eight of nine statewide partisan elected positions — everyone but the Sec of State, and including both US Senators — are Democrats. Three of four US Representatives. Both chambers of the state legislature, by wide margins (better than 2:1 in the Nevada House). The first state legislature in US history where both chambers are majority women. And it’s not even lean Democratic?

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  4. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Cain: Nevada also shows a distinct pattern over the last decade of underestimating Dems in polls.

  5. EddieInCA says:

    I’m going to say what I say all the time. Ignore individual polls. Look at the trends and averages. ABC/Ipsos poll today has Trump’s favorability at 31%. Easy to cherry pick this poll. But let’s wait a week before starting to lose your sh*t about Biden’s chances.

    I’d rather be the guy leading than the guy behind.

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s conceivable that Trump could make up a 7-point lead given sufficient backlash over the racial unrest.

    “Put the guy who turned up the racial heat to “boil over” back in charge!”

    I am sick and tired of that kind of thinking on the part of so many. (not you James) The beatings will continue until moral improves.

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  7. @CSK: I think being a hardcore Trump supporter often means being bad with numbers (and that is only a semi-snarky observation).

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    Umhh. On Election Day 2016 538 showed Clinton’s odds as 71.4 to 28.6.

    The hard part is the turnout model and COVID has thrown that into chaos. Trump isn’t stupid*. There’s a reason they’re telling his supporters COVIDs over and it’s safe to vote in person while they try to ratfrack vote by mail.
    ___
    * OK, Trump may well be stupid, but not all the Republican apparatchiks and hired guns are.

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  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    To draw on a baseball analogy, if the Former Reality Show Host were a hitter, he’d be at .310 and a likely all-star. So yes, he does have a good chance of winning, but at this point the race is Biden’s to lose.

    To my mind there are 3 reliable sources of election analysis 538, Cook and RCP.

    All use similar methodology and rank polls by quality using the top quality ones for analysis. RCP has a slight R bias, 538 arguably a bit of a Dem bias with Cook between them. Cook and RCP drill down on state polls but define the results differently.

    RCP has 3 ratings R, Dem and undecided. Cook has 7, lock D, lock R, strong D, strong R, leans D, leans R and toss-up. For Cook any states where the difference is within the margin of error would be considered a toss up. Cook’s granularity makes them more valuable in understanding what is happening than RCP.

    It has been a few weeks since Cook had an analysis of the prez race, but at the time Biden was 310+ EV votes from states leaning to lock D, but a tiny shift in a few states would have dropped him below 270

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  10. @James:

    That Trump would win 31 out of 100 times is shockingly high given how unpopular he is. Still, by my math, 69 out of 100 times is way better. Like, more than two times better. “Slightly favored” seems a weird way to describe that.

    Nate and company are being really conservative this go ’round (not that they were predicting a 99% chance HRC would win in 2016. It feels like instead of trying to get people to understand probability he is going to overemphasize, at least rhetorically, Trump’s chances to minimize surprise if a 30% chance actually hits.

    I will say that I think he has baked more uncertainty into his model, as it actually doesn’t make sense to me that Biden’s poll numbers put him at only 69% while HRC’s less good poll numbers put her at a similar number at this point in the process last time.

    The steadiness you note, and the fact that his support is 50%+ strikes me as far better positions than where HRC was (a closer gap and never at 50%).

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    “Put the guy who turned up the racial heat to “boil over” back in charge!”
    I am sick and tired of that kind of thinking on the part of so many. (not you James) The beatings will continue until moral improves.

    But that’s exactly what Trumpsky is running on. That, and COVID was never real but I heroically defeated it. It’s Republican campaigning to theRepublican base, it doesn’t have to make sense.

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  12. Scott F. says:

    The polling trends are clear, but they don’t reflect potential for Trumpian manipulations. Poll place intimidation, broad challenges to mail-in ballots, or some BS October Surprise are all possible, if not likely.

    Trump is right that 2020 will be the most corrupt election in history, he is just leaving out the part about him being the corrupter. Let’s just hope his skullduggery isn’t enough to overcome the contempt that the majority of voters have for this man.

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  13. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    It’s probably the same crew of people who, back in 2011, were already making their hotel reservations to attend the Sarah Palin inauguration in January 2013.

  14. de stijl says:

    I know it can happen, but the prospect of 4 more years of Trump makes me want to emigrate.

    At some point tbe abomination is just overwhelming. This just should not be. If it is 4 years of narcissistic preening and folly – I can take that. It is almost done. Please come November soon. My will is becoming very fragile.

    If the electorate decides for 4 more years of Trump, then we are lost.

    I will have a very hard time dealing with that. I really, really do not want to hate my neighbors.

    Old gods and new, please let this abnormal madness end!

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  15. Hume's Ghost says:

    I’d really like to see more national conversation about what happens if for the first time in American history there is not a peaceful transition if Trump loses. He has basically been saying the election is only legitimate if he wins, a vile poisoning of the well of democracy that should have been disqualifying for reelection if Republicans actually cared about the rule of Law rather than the rule of Trump. He has expressed his intent to stay in office past his term limits and should he lose he will tell the violent factions that support him that it was stolen from him. GOP operatives and Jared Kushner appear to be illegally coordinating a Kanye West candidacy to try to steal votes from Biden; Trump has openly admitted to sabotaging the USPS to prevent mail-in voting; the Republican donor running the USPS just started throwing away sorting machines among other apparent changes that all add up to mail delays. The RNC at the White House looked like a scene out of the Third Reich.

    Why is there not more national alarm about this?

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  16. wr says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “if the Former Reality Show Host were a hitter, he’d be at .310 and a likely all-star.”

    And if he were a gold alloy he’d be at something like seven karats, making him essentially worthless. And neither of these analogies actually does anything to illuminate the truth of the situation…

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  17. Gustopher says:

    I will say that I think he has baked more uncertainty into his model, as it actually doesn’t make sense to me that Biden’s poll numbers put him at only 69% while HRC’s less good poll numbers put her at a similar number at this point in the process last time.

    There is a lot more uncertainty about process and who actually votes this time.

    @EddieInCA:

    I’d rather be the guy leading than the guy behind.

    Would you rather be the guy leading in the polls, or the guy who is putting his fingers on the scale in the actual ability to vote?

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  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    @wr:

    The baseball analogy speaks to probabilities, which is what the FRSH’s 31% gives him a 3 in 10 chance of winning, which is considered damn good. How does the percentage of gold in an object predict anything about a future outcome?

    1
  19. Gustopher says:

    Further, there’s essentially no chance Trump gets more votes than Biden … Of course, we don’t award the presidency to the popular vote winner.

    I think a repeat of the 2016 results, especially with the Republican vote suppression plan, would tear this country apart.

    People who are uncomfortable or angry with the current unrest will look back at BLM and the racist counter-protests and … ok, they will try to blame it all on BLM.

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  20. Paine says:

    David Atkins over at the Washington Monthly argues that Trump got a bigger bounce than Biden is that the GOP convention was directed at their base while the Dems sidelined theirs to appeal to moderates and disgruntled Repubs:

    The available evidence suggests that mobilizing a partisan base, appealing to core values, and making the strongest, most emotional possible case against an opponent to maximize negative partisanship is the best way to a run a national convention. Anyone whom Biden could reach with a cross-partisan outreach strategy had evidently already been reached. Meanwhile, there is clearly a section of the electorate that was either flirting with voting for Biden, thinking of skipping the election or even refusing to answer polls, who were inspired to come back into the fold as a result of the RNC convention.

    2
  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Paine:

    I won’t accuse Atkins of being one who would of rather lost with Bernie, than win with Biden, but I’ll imply it. Another way to look at the post convention bounce is that among the undecideds a good number of them were Trump voters who were unhappy with him and have returned to the fold.

    There have been several surveys that indicate Biden is getting as much of the leftist vote that he can and he has a big problem that many of the leftist voters are young and won’t commit to coming out of their parent’s basement to vote. They might miss a good video game or tik-tok video.

    Biden chasing centrist and R leaning suburbanites is a sound plan, these are people who have a demonstrated history of voting. For 50 years I’ve listened to left wing Dems tell me that if only a true liberal was on the ballot the youth, minorities and low income voters will flock to the polls. Well they didn’t for McGovern, nor for Mondale or Dukakis, all to the left of the center of the Dem party and all got crushed. But Carter, Clinton and Obama, appealing to moderate voters and running as center-left Dems, all got elected.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    @Sleeping Dog: And it’s usually framed in a “if only Dems hadn’t run a corporatist whatever….”

    The Dems don’t run anyone. The reason we don’t have a lefty running is because a lefty couldn’t even win the primaries. But, sure, somehow Bernie Sanders is going to win over independents and some Republicans and enlarge the party with new voters even though he failed to get his new voters to vote in the primaries.

    I’m left of center. I mostly backed Warren. She lost, because the party isn’t there yet, and the party is to the left of America as a whole. I’m fine with her losing, because if she can’t win the primary she wasn’t going to win the general election either.

    Biden is fine. Genuinely fine. Not the lesser of two evils, but fine.

    Maybe in 2024, the left will have a candidate who can sell the message, and win the primary. Maybe.

    Or the corporatist moderates will move halfway towards the left, like they did this year. “Centrist” Biden is further to the left than the leftist candidates from 2004 or 2000. Some people on the left just can’t take the win.

    By 2036, AOC will be called a corporate whore and be attacked from the left because she doesn’t support such-and-such strongly enough despite having moved further to the left on that such-and-such.

    Or she will be in a right wing death camp. Or both. “She’s only fighting to liberate people from Right-Wing Death Camps, she has nothing to say about the underlying structural problems that have led to death camps, and she has said nothing about the poor working conditions of the guards… these death camps are an OSHA nightmare. She’s such a sell-out.”

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  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I suppose it predicts that the object in question will more likely be found in a Cracker Jack’s box than a jewelry store–or even a Claire’s or Hot Topix’s store. Beyond that, I got nuthin.

    @Gustopher: Alas, I’m afraid that you’ve nailed it.

    1
  24. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Gustopher:

    The truth is that America is a center-right country that finds some social democratic policies attractive. Viewing oneself as a conservative is the default emotional condition for most people. Conservative people are viewed as practical, rational and reasonable. That’s BS of course but it is how people perceive themselves. A political movement that calls itself conservative has an emotional advantage with many people over one that calls for change. But the funny thing is, and Andrew Sullivan nailed this years ago, Democrats have become the true conservative party, focusing on preserving and consolidating the social gains that have been made over the past 100 years and advocating classical liberal positions. While R’s have become a reactionary and revanchist party who seek to return to an America that never existed, except for a narrow class of people.

    I too, initially supported Warren, but moved away from her when I finally accepted that she was politically obtuse. She’s brilliant and no one can dissect what is wrong with America and make reasonable proposals to solve the problems.

    Frankly, I don’t believe that there will ever be a Dem candidate pure enough to appease many leftists, especially in the punditry. Every 4 years we’ll hear the same arguments from them.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    …found in a Cracker Jack’s box than a jewelry store…

    LoL

    1
  25. Kylopod says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    For 50 years I’ve listened to left wing Dems tell me that if only a true liberal was on the ballot the youth, minorities and low income voters will flock to the polls. Well they didn’t for McGovern, nor for Mondale or Dukakis, all to the left of the center of the Dem party and all got crushed. But Carter, Clinton and Obama, appealing to moderate voters and running as center-left Dems, all got elected.

    I’ve argued against leftists who claim the only way to win is by nominating a “true progressive,” and the victories of Carter and Clinton are certainly evidence against that claim. However, the above argument in the other direction is also a wild oversimplification. First of all, Mondale and Dukakis were not in any way left-wing in the Bernie Sanders sense. If there was a candidate back then who was an analogue to Sanders, it was Jesse Jackson (whom Sanders supported at the time). Mondale and Dukakis were mainstream “liberals” at a time when the country was going through a backlash against liberalism that was in part a reflection of shifting regional affiliations, with the Dems having lost their once-solid hold on the South without yet making up for it with gains in the traditionally Republican Northeast (and a few other states such as Illinois and California), a shift that would not start to happen until the 1990s, so that in the previous two decades Dems were trapped in a kind of worst-of-both-worlds situation. The strengths of Carter and Clinton had as much to do with region as ideology; remember, in the 1992 Democratic primaries, Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas actually ran to Clinton’s right. But that didn’t necessarily make him a stronger candidate.

    Obama wasn’t in the Carter/Clinton category. For one thing, he was the first Northern Democrat to win the presidency since JFK, and what enabled that to happen was a new coalition that didn’t depend as much on pandering to the conservative South. And while Obama wasn’t Bernie-left (though neither, as mentioned, were Mondale or Dukakis), he drew much of his energy from the left due to his stance on the Iraq War–the most paramount issue energizing the left at the time, not single-payer health care–and his defeat of Hillary represented for many people a rejection of the New Democrat politics of the Clintons. The idea that Obama was “too far left” was argued by many people at the time, both Dems who were afraid of losing and Republicans who wanted to paint Obama as a radical. There were a fair number of comparisons made between him and McGovern, especially since both were identified with the antiwar movement of their times. If he had lost, I’m pretty sure a lot of mainstream commentary thereafter would be lumping him together with McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis as candidates who were too liberal for the American electorate. There’s no question that a fear of being painted as too far left is a great deal of what led much of the Democratic Party to initially support the Iraq War, and Obama’s rise showed why that kind of politics was no longer necessary.

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  26. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod:

    The strengths of Carter and Clinton had as much to do with region as ideology; remember, in the 1992 Democratic primaries, Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas actually ran to Clinton’s right. But that didn’t necessarily make him a stronger candidate.

    Well, one cannot underestimate the effect of the candidate. Tsongas had the personality of dry toast, if I remember correctly, and not in a cool Blues Brothers way. (I liked Jerry Brown that year)

    Warren inspired me, but I’m not most people And what inspires me may not inspire them. Bernie inspired a different set of people. At some point, the candidate who can inspire and communicate broadly will come from the left wing of the party, and then win the nomination and the presidency. And the socialist utopia will be upon us.

    But, that’s a tall order. We seldom get presidents who have the ability to usher in that much change.

  27. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    Well, one cannot underestimate the effect of the candidate. Tsongas had the personality of dry toast, if I remember correctly, and not in a cool Blues Brothers way.

    That’s an important point. What I really despise is reductive statements along the lines of “If you nominate a candidate with X quality, you win; if you don’t, you lose.” But I hear it all the time from political junkies. I hear it from the left, the center, and the right. They only differ on which type of candidate guarantees victory or defeat. And it’s also possible to get too hooked up on a candidate’s “personality.” The truth is that what makes a candidate strong or weak rests on a whole array of factors, and even then it’s never a guarantee of anything until you look at the surrounding circumstances: whether you’re up against an incumbent, how popular that incumbent is, the state of the economy, and so on. Hillary would probably have won had she been the nominee in 2008. Obama (or an Obama-like candidate) may well have lost in 2004. Bill Clinton may have lost in 1988 (and almost certainly would have in 1984), while Mondale or Dukakis could easily have won in 1992. The fact is that the identity of the candidate matters much, much less than is commonly acknowledged–especially today, when that factor I previously discussed (appeal to traditional Southern voters) is no longer relevant.

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