Election 2020: Trump’s polling freefall may cost the GOP more than the White House

Polls have grown so one-sided that Republicans fear a Democratic ‘blue wave’ in November, with control of the Senate also at stake

Michael Salfino
Thursday 15 October 2020 10:17 BST
Trump claims he has 'protective glow' and is 'immune' from Covid

Donald Trump is running out of days to change the current trajectory of the presidential election, after a week where he pulled out of a debate scheduled for 15 October, and when Vice President Mike Pence apparently failed to win over more voters during his turn in the spotlight last week. Polls have grown so one-sided that Republicans fear a Democratic “blue wave” in November with control of the Senate also at stake.

The current polling average is a 10.6-point advantage in favor of former Vice President Mr Biden and running mate Senator Kamala Harris

On 29 September, that average was just 6.1 points. Only one more major scheduled event remains on the calendar prior to election day on 3 November, the last debate on October 22.

In the two polls released recently, that were sampled entirely after the VP debate, the Biden-Harris margin is actually bigger than the current average, at 11.5 points (12 in ABC/Washington Post and 11 in IBD/TIPP).

The Trump campaign, hampered by a lack of funds which is causing it to pull ads in swing states, has failed thus far to tar Biden remotely as successfully as it did Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

Presently, Biden’s favorable/unfavorable number is positive (more favorable) by 6.9 points, according to the averages compiled by RealClearPolitics

Compare that with Clinton in 2016, when the former first lady was viewed more unfavorably on the eve of the election by 12.9 points. That’s a swing of 19.5 points in favor of the Democrats. The president’s average is 42.9 per cent favorable to 54.2 per cent unfavorable (minus -11.3).

If the current polling proves prophetic, the GOP’s control of the Senate is nearly certain to be lost. Most Senate elections go the way of the state’s presidential vote. 

Since 2012, according to Pew Research, 122 of 139 (87.8 per cent) “have been won by candidates who belonged to or were aligned with the party that won that state’s most recent presidential race”.

According to the current electoral map based on polling averages, that would mean that the Democrats would turn the currently red GOP Senate seats in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina and Iowa blue. 

Their only loss in this model would be in Alabama. That would give the Democrats a 51-49 edge and make Chuck Schumer (New York) the new majority leader.

“If this holds up,” wrote Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium, “…the consequences could affect as many as five Senate races, six state legislatures and redistricting of over 90 House seats for a decade."

Why is the correlation so strong in this modern electorate? “One obvious reason is that straight-ticket voting is on the rise,” he added. “As we become more polarized, party preference overwhelms other considerations.”

Mr Wang’s model has Biden winning 369 electoral votes, substantially higher than the required 270. It also estimates the polls would have to move in the direction of Mr Trump by an average of 6.0 points in the next three weeks to make the race a toss-up.

The FiveThirtyEight model, that focuses on state polling and weights them for accuracy, has Biden winning in 86 per cent of the 40,000 simulations. The most frequent of these outcomes has Biden north of 400 electoral votes.

The 2020 Forecast averages 35 models and has the Biden win probability at 82.9 per cent.

What’s becoming increasingly interesting is that the betting models have barely moved the past couple of weeks as the support in polls for President Trump has seemingly collapsed. Bettors still give the incumbent about a 39 per cent implied chance for a second term. That's at least twice what the polling models forecast. Why the difference?

“This suggests the betting markets think there are other factors — outside of polling error and October surprises — which could lead to a Trump win,” Taegan Goddard of Political Wire observes. 

“That could mean Joe Biden dying before the election. But it could also mean Trump ‘winning’ in key states through other means — such as cheating or legal shenanigans.”

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