Yes, Trump Can Still Win
Trump may be down, but he isn’t out. Disregard Trump at your own risk.
1. Polls can be off. Again.
We are barraged with headlines that Biden is beating Trump. But the election hasn’t happened yet, and the political cognoscenti only assumes that Biden is headed towards victory because of polling.
But polling can be off, as we saw in 2016.
An oversimplified view of polling in the last presidential election: national polling was generally accurate (Clinton was +3 in national polls the day of the election, she finished +2) and some statewide polls were inaccurate because education wasn’t weighted enough (Trump outperformed expectations with non-college educated whites, which weren’t surveyed enough in some battleground polls).
Pollsters have remedied last election’s missteps. But it is still possible that another polling error, perhaps even greater than 2016’s, could allow Trump to narrowly edge out Biden in the Electoral College.
Two silver linings for Biden:
Even if you account for the same polling error in 2016, Biden would still be favored to win. For example, if Biden leads in Wisconsin by eight, as some polls have him currently faring, the Democrat would still win Wisconsin by less than one point with 2016’s margin of error in sampling. In fact, given Biden’s robust leads, the only swing state that Trump would win even with a similar margin of error would be North Carolina.
Secondly, polls, and their newly tuned projections, are coming off of an incredibly accurate 2017–2019 cycle. Nate Silver notes,
…the 2017–19 cycle was one of the most accurate on record for polling. The average error of 5.0 points in polls of U.S. House elections is the second-best in our database, trailing only 1999–2000. The 4.3-point error associated with U.S. Senate elections is also the second-best, slightly trailing 2005–06. And gubernatorial polls had an average error of 5.3 points, which is about average by historical standards.
Combining all different types of elections together, we find that polls from 2017 onward have been associated with an average error of 5.0 points, which is considerably better than the 6.7-point average for 2015–16, and the best in any election cycle since 2003–04…
The polls have become more accurate, which is good news for the guy leading them.
2. The Electoral College advantages Republicans (including Trump).
In 2016, Trump received only 46% of the vote share, falling almost three million votes shy of Hillary Clinton. Despite this, Trump occupies the White House.
Unfortunately, the Electoral College will once more favor Donald Trump. FiveThirtyEight ran a series of projections to determine which state would be the “tipping point” (which state would provide the decisive vote in the Electoral College.)
Fourteen states registered at least a 1% likelihood of being the tipping point in this year’s election. Unsurprisingly, these states are considered the “swing states” in the election.
The problem for Democrats is that 11 of these 14 states lean Republican relative to the country writ large. Pennsylvania (32%), Florida (12%), Michigan (9%), and Wisconsin (9%) are the four states most likely to cast the deciding electoral college vote. All the states (+2.5, +5.7, +0.1, +0.9, respectively) lean Republican. The three potential tipping point states that lean Democratic are Minnesota, Colorado, and Virginia, but there is only a collective 7% chance that the tipping point comes from one of these blue states.
The projections from FiveThirtyEight, which were among the more accurate models in 2016, estimate that Trump has a 4% chance of winning the popular vote, but a 12% chance of winning the Electoral College. Because of our current system of voting for a president, Trump is three times more likely to win the Electoral College than he is of winning the popular vote.
3. Republican voter registration is surging.
Republicans have been knocking on doors to register potential GOP voters. Democrats have generally avoided door-knocking amid the pandemic, but Republicans haven’t.
In Florida, for example, Republicans have cut the Democratic registration advantage. In 2012, Democrats had a 5.6 point voter registration advantage over Republicans, and Obama carried the state by less than one point. In 2016, Democrats held a 2.6 point advantage in voter registration and lost the state by 1.2 points. Now, the Democratic advantage is half of the 2016 margin — down to 1.3 points — going into this election.
Republicans have continued to register new voters during the pandemic in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, too.
4. The debate.
The debate is only a few hours away, so by the time you read this, this point may be moot.
The commission has decided to mute the microphone of the candidate not answering the question. The MAGAsphere predictably exploded in feigned anger, but I was the one who was most angry.
This move actually benefits Trump. The commission is literally saving the president from himself because he is so incapable of changing. Every time Trump interrupted Biden, his already abysmal polling with the elderly and suburban women plummeted even further. Biden was viewed as the candidate with ideas, and the victim of bullying. Trump was a crazed lunatic, bickering about Fox News conspiracies involving the mayor of Moscow and other drab that 90% of the electorate is both ignorant of and indifferent towards.
Anytime Trump interrupted Biden, he seemed worse. Please, let him continue.
5. The economy can become the final stretch issue.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, voters generally give Trump a slight advantage on the issue of the economy over Biden. His tax cut disproportionately benefitted the super-wealthy, there are fewer jobs in America today than the day he took office, and his soaring budget deficits will cripple the American economy for generations to come.
But…he has good slogans! America first, China is the sole reason for every problem, draining the swamp, etc.
The bad news for Trump is that a third wave of coronavirus seems to be ravaging parts of the country, with infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths on the rise in a majority of the states. The fact that the national conversation will be dominated by the public health crisis isn’t a political winner for the president. Neither is Hunter Biden’s laptop.
6. Trump still winning enthusiasm.
The most recent polling has 68% of Trump’s supporters “enthusiastically” supporting him, compared to only 40% of Biden supporters “enthusiastically” supporting Biden.
Why does this matter? After all, a voter can only vote once, and it doesn’t matter how strongly he or she pulls the voting lever.
But enthusiasm does correlate with turnout, as voters that are more motivated to vote for their candidate generally show up. More lukewarm support for a candidate can lead to higher levels of staying home on election day.
Trump may need be the favorite, but he is certainly not out of it. It is very possible that the incumbent wins a second term.