To refresh your memory, the 2016 national polls were not wrong; the interpretation was. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 2 percent; polling averages put her lead at about 3 percent. (Some state polls were certainly off, but more often than not had the races right within the margin of error. Some 78,000 votes in three states going the other way would have given her the presidency.)
We are all well-attuned to the potential for the popular vote to diverge from the electoral college vote. However, as the popular vote lead gets bigger, the potential for a different result in the electoral college drops. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver provides a sliding scale:
The good news for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is that he is doing extremely well in national polling. His lead has hovered around an average of 7 points in FiveThirtyEight’s average and in the RealClearPolitics average.
With the exception of one outlier, every poll released on Wednesday had Biden with a lead of between 6 and 11 points. Taking Quinnipiac’s numbers, we see a now-familiar pattern: Biden has a huge lead with women (20 points) and has closed the gap with men (he is down only 1 point); he has recaptured White women, whom Clinton lost by 9 points (Biden is up 2 points); and has turned Clinton’s small deficit of negative 3 points with White, college-educated voters into a huge lead (24 points) — while improving just a tad with White non-college-educated voters (Clinton was down 27 points; Biden is down 24). Biden has also improved with seniors (now even) and with younger voters (he is up 31 points).
State polls are beginning to reflect a substantial Biden lead. The New York Times and Siena College polls released Thursday show Biden with a narrow lead in Iowa (45-42) and tied in Georgia. Trump should have secured these states, both of which he won easily in 2016, long ago. In Wisconsin, Michigan and even Arizona Biden leads in multiple polls.
Beyond the numbers, several factors should allay Democrats’ habitual anxiety. First, for all the caterwauling from Democrats about the Biden campaign (Not out enough! Not progressive enough!), this is among the best-run and best-financed campaigns I have witnessed. The Biden team deserves credit — if for nothing else, for shutting out the noise of under-informed consultants and disregarding Twitter’s self-appointed experts. It has both harnessed the left and enticed a steady parade of Republicans (Cindy McCain being the latest) to back him.
Second, the mainstream media is spectacularly awful at predicting what events may help President Trump (e.g., civil unrest, an open Supreme Court seat). Trump has the unique ability to provoke a backlash among critics equal to or greater than whatever benefit he derives from the nonstop flow of incendiary rhetoric, knee-jerk actions and reality aversion. Stunts such as jamming through a new justice are not helping matters. As CNN reports:
Nearly six in 10 Americans say that the president elected in November should be the one to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.That finding comes as a plurality of the public says that President Donald Trump’s choices for the court have changed it for the worse (38% say so) and most disapprove (at 54%) of the Senate’s rules changes that have allowed Supreme Court nominees to move forward to a vote with the support from a simple majority rather than the traditional 60 votes.
Third, the consistency with which Trump enablers blow themselves up — from Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) empty, compromised report on Burisma to the smackdown of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) by the usually mild-mannered Anthony S. Fauci — should remind us that Republicans have been remarkably ineffectual both in their anti-Biden attacks and Trump defenses. Outside the cocoon of right-wing media, they often appear feckless and inept.
This is where the usual caveats appear (things can change overnight!). However, I am hard-pressed to come up with a series of events that could change the direction of the race. From everything we’ve seen, Biden is more than holding his own in the final stretch of the race.