Each poll shows a double-digit shift in the margins from the 2016 election toward the Democrats. And each of them suggests Biden’s advantage is wholly intact and might have grown in recent days since the first debate of the 2020 general election and Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis.
And yet, for very understandable reasons, Democrats are taking nothing for granted. The lessons of 2016 and the unpredictability of the first covid-19 election have left them virtually incapable of believing the race is won until it’s actually won.
At the same time, it’s worth putting things in perspective. Even if these new polls are outliers to some degree — the margins are bigger than some other recent polls — the fact that you’d have outliers with such margins says something about the race. And simply looking at the polling averages right now suggests a race that’s more lopsided than any other in recent decades.
1. Biden’s 14-point lead in the NBC/WSJ poll ties the most lopsided October poll of the 2016 race, according to RealClear Politics’ compilation of polls. There was one 2016 poll that showed Hillary Clinton leading by 14; it was also from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, and it was also in early October.
2. Biden’s 16-point lead in the CNN poll is the most lopsided October poll we’ve seen in any election in the 21st century. Even in the most lopsided race in recent years — 2008 — Barack Obama never led John McCain by more than 15 points in any poll throughout the race. George W. Bush led by 16 points in one Pew Research Center poll in September 2004 but never by that much in any other poll and never by double digits in October.
3. Biden’s 9.2-point lead in the RCP average of polls is his biggest since late July and the biggest general election lead of any race this century. That includes the Obama-McCain race, when Obama’s biggest average lead was eight points. It’s also bigger than any average lead Clinton held after April 2016, when she was still fending off Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for the Democratic nomination.
4. We haven’t had a presidential race decided by nine points or more since 1984, when Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale by 18 points. The biggest margins since then were Obama in 2008 (seven points), George H.W. Bush in 1988 (eight points) and Bill Clinton in 1996 (8.5 points).
5. Biden’s average share of the vote is 51.3 percent in the RCP average, which no candidate in the 21st century has matched in October of an election year. Obama crested slightly above 50 percent by late October 2008, but he was just shy of that at this juncture, while Hillary Clinton’s average at this point was 48 percent. While Clinton’s lead was somewhat comparable to what we see today, there were fewer undecided voters and more flirting with third-party candidates, which The Washington Post’s Philip Bump notes, and exit polls showed them breaking for Trump.
6. Even if Biden sheds five points off his current margins in the RCP average across the board, he’d still carry all three crucial states of Michigan (currently plus 5.8), Pennsylvania (plus 6.5) and Wisconsin (plus 5.6), which would in all likelihood deliver him the presidency. Biden can very likely lose one of them and still win, and he could lose more than one if he picks off Arizona or Florida (both of which Trump won in 2016 but where Biden also leads).
7. Biden hasn’t trailed in a high-quality national poll since last year, which is unprecedented in the 21st century. What’s more, each previous race has shown both candidates leading for at least a little while in the polling averages. Clinton trailed Trump in a handful of polls in 2016 and even a couple times in the RCP average. McCain showed leads for a large chunk of September 2008. Biden’s lead is as notable for its size as for how consistent it has been; his average lead hasn’t dipped below six points since May and never dipped below four points.
None of it means the race is done, and we’ll have to see what other high-quality polls show in the days ahead. There is also plenty of unpredictability as voters — particularly Democratic ones — embrace voting by mail. But it’s pretty safe to say that right now, Biden leads by more than any recent candidate at this juncture of the race, and that lead has been more consistent. Trump needs to change things in a hurry, even as he appears set to continue running the same campaign he ran at the start of this year.