US election minus six weeks

While Trump could win the Electoral College owing to better numbers in Pennsylvania than nationally, Biden could equally win a blowout victory.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Six weeks before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate gives Joe Biden a 7.3% lead over Donald Trump (50.5% to 43.2%). This is a slight improvement for Biden since last week, when he led by 6.9%. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.4% in Michigan, 6.8% in Wisconsin, 4.6% in Pennsylvania, 3.8% in Arizona and 1.6% in Florida.

On Wednesday, Trump had his best high-quality poll for a long time in Florida, where an ABC/Washington Post poll gave him a four-point lead. In the last month, Florida has shifted towards Trump relative to national polls.

Pennsylvania returns to being the clear “tipping-point” state, and the gap between Pennsylvania and national polls has increased to 2.7% from about two points last week. If the national vote narrowed to under a five point margin, Trump could plausibly eke out a win in Pennsylvania and claim the Electoral College.

What this obscures is that we are also close to a Biden blowout in the Electoral College. He leads in North Carolina by one point and is within one point in Ohio, Iowa, Georgia and Texas. If Biden won these five states, he would win over 400 of the 538 Electoral Votes.

The FiveThirtyEight forecast gives Biden a 77% chance of winning the Electoral College, up from 76% last week. Biden has an 89% chance to win the popular vote.

Trump’s ratings are 42.8% approve, 53.2% disapprove in the FiveThirtyEight average (net -10.4%). With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.5% approve, 53.0% disapprove (net -9.5%). Trump’s net approval has dropped about half a point in the last week.

FiveThirtyEight now has a Senate forecast. The classic version takes polls and fundraising into account, but not experts’ ratings. That gives Democrats a 67% chance of winning the Senate, including scenarios where a 50-50 tie is broken by the winning vice president.

However, the most likely outcome is a close Democratic victory – 51 to 49. Given conservative Democrats, they need more to change Senate rules or increase the number of Supreme Court judges.

Electoral implications of Ginsburg’s death

As I wrote for The Conversation on Monday, Republicans are likely to confirm Trump’s nominee in the Senate to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That will take the Supreme Court to a 6-3 majority of conservative appointees.

I disagree with the proposition that this fight helps Trump because it fires up his evangelical base. In a recent Quinnipiac national poll, Biden led Trump by 52-42 despite Trump winning 91% of the Republican vote. Trump had just 2% with Democrats and trailed Biden 49-41 with independents. Trump does not have a base problem; he has a problem with all other voters. By 59-41, voters in a CNN poll thought the president elected in November should make the appointment.

While much attention on a likely conservative Supreme Court will be on abortion, Biden’s campaign will focus on the potential for such a court to strike down Obamacare. I believe this is dangerous for Trump; his ratings were at their worst in 2017, when Obamacare appeared endangered.

Furthermore, culture war issues distract Trump from what should be his core re-election message: the fast recovery of the US economy from the April coronavirus depths. Last week, I talked about how unemployment had fallen from 14.7% in April to 8.4% in August. Another important economic measure is GDP.

In the June quarter, the US GDP contracted 31.7% in annualised terms (almost 8% in Australia’s quarter on quarter terms). The live GDP now estimate is for an annualised rebound of 32.0% in the September quarter. The initial September GDP report will be released at the end of October. It’s probably good for Biden that a large portion of the electorate plans to vote by mail or early in-person.

29 comments on “US election minus six weeks”

  1. Adrian Beaumont

    Thanks.
    I’m thinking that Obamacare with respect to pre existing condition cover is very pertinent This is especially so with respect to long term effects of covid going forward.

  2. While it is usually Republicans who vote in high numbers on Supreme Court nominations/confirmations, the RBG (most prominent Democratic appointed Justice) death and replacement this close to an election has Democratic base motivator written all over it.

  3. I wouldn`t count electoral votes for Biden from Republican trifecta states (currently, not as a result of the election, due to lame duck sittings) until they are cast and counted because there is a serious chance that the Republicans are going to overrule their states voters and pick Trump electors, if they think they can win that way, like Florida was going to do if it lost Bush versus Gore.

  4. Democrats need 51 anti-filibuster Senators to scrap the filibuster because if they have 50 or less then there are 51 votes to adopt the existing Senate rules for the next term, with Pence as tiebreaker for the first 17 days (from noon on the 3rd to noon on the 20th) of the new Senate.

  5. The biggest threat to the Democrats taking the White House is the electoral college. It doesn’t matter a single jot if they get the popular vote by a large percentage if the college votes for the Orange Monster then it’s all over.

  6. Moscow Mitch and other Republicans seem to be spooked by Trump’s declaration that he will try to cling to power if he loses the election.

    Top Republicans dismiss Trump’s refusal to commit to peaceful transfer

    Mitch McConnell insists ‘there will be an orderly transition’ while Trump ally Lindsey Graham says ‘I assure you it will be peaceful’

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/24/republicans-trump-peaceful-transfer-presidency

  7. Fox news just dropped some state polls. Very favourable to Biden. Up by 8 in Pa and 5 in Ohio.

    Todays Sienna polls are also good for Biden, suggesting he is well aheadin Iowa and neck and neck in Georgia.

    Monmouth polls showing a much tighter race.

  8. And Emerson polling continues to show it tighter in the national head to head than other pollsters. Biden ahead by 4 (or 3 if you look at 538) which is actually an improvement on last month.

    Some question the inclusion of the MTurk online panel in the sampling mix (about 50% – with the rest automated landline and SMS to Web). 538 still rate them highly (A-).

  9. The biggest threat to the Democrats taking the White House is the electoral college. It doesn’t matter a single jot if they get the popular vote by a large percentage if the college votes for the Orange Monster then it’s all over.

    We know.

  10. Honestly, I am a lot less bullish on the Senate than the Presidency. At this point, I’d say it’s most likely Biden will win the election (despite the media’s ridiculous levels of bothsiding.) Last time I checked, Nate Silver had it at 77% and I think that’s a fair assessment of probability.

    The Senate on the other hand is a tricky little nugget and I still am not confident of a Dem majority. Even if there is one, it probably would be 50-50 with Harris breaking the tie or 51-49. Either of which is bad news for those who want filibuster reform. Already Dianne Feinstein has said she opposes removing the filibuster (because she’s a dinosaur whose formative years in the Senate were when people would still reach across the aisle and their was a big crossbench of moderates from both sides) and I haven’t heard from Manchin or Sinema yet (although there is an incentive for red state Dems, as they have a lot more power when the party is trying to whip up 50/51 votes, than when they’re trying to whip up 60.)

    The ideal scenario is Biden winning big and having extra-long coattails and the majority being 52-48, or even 53-47. It can happen but I am not going to bet my house on it (and, even then, I am unsure that’s enough to get necessary reforms through with the resistance from the old-guard and red-staters.)

  11. I think Zerlo is referring to me, because my article four weeks ago was headlined “Electoral College may save Trump”.

    It may still save Trump, it’s just less likely than it was then. Biden wins the popular vote 89% of the time in 538’s forecast, but only wins the EC 77% of the time. Thus over half of Trump’s wins are those where he wins the EC while losing the PV.

  12. I figured as much. Which is silly to mock because, even if you are changing your mind about anything, it’s clear you’re using an evidence-based approach, rather than just gut feeling or hoping for a preferred outcome. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable to change your mind on something when new evidence presents itself.

  13. There’s been some talk in recent days about attempts by Trump and the Republicans to somehow “steal” the election. While I don’t for one minute underestimate the venality and anti-democratic tendencies on the modern Republican Party, it’s actually not that easy to achieve.

    The basic principle in play is that States with a GOP “trifecta” (ie control of both house, the Governorship, and the Secretary of State) could ignore the actual votes in that state, and simply appoint their own Electors in the Electoral College to vote for Trump. The problem with this plan is that there aren’t really enough in play states with the required trifecta to pull this off.

    Electoral-vote.com has a good outline of the problems with trying to steal the election in this way. Taking into account the 23 states where Joe Biden currently enjoys consistent leads by 5% or more, there are no GOP trifectas, and so it would not be possible for the Republicans in those states to do anything other than award their Electoral Votes to the winner of the popular vote in that State.

    Of course, if the election ends up being very close, then all bets are off, and anything is possible, but if, as looks increasingly likely, that we have a comfortable Biden victory, then it will be next to impossible for Trump to cling to office in defiance of a clear election loss.

  14. Trump now offering to buy the votes of Seniors, who have deserted him over C19, by offering them $200 cheques using money that has not been correctly appropriated by Congress! Rubber cheques are so Trumpesque.

  15. But his supporters will write it off as Fake News.

    Why would they even bother going that far? They’ll praise it as quality tax minimization and an example of how to keep the government’s hands off your money. Proves just how “smart” Trump is.

    Taxes are evil, and paying them is stupid. Every right-winger knows it!

  16. Sure enough, Trump’s tax returns are written off as Fake News. He is not a clever liar; he is boringly predictable. He gambles his base won’t care, but hopefully this will motivate Democrats to vote.
    https://www.theage.com.au/world/north-america/trump-lashes-out-at-report-that-he-paid-little-or-no-federal-income-tax-for-12-years-20200929-p56049.html

    Rational Leftist

    Sorry I made several mistakes in my (mis)understanding of the events leading to Republican dominance of the US Supreme Court last week. I still think the Dems were far too weak when they had control, but I see now it was Ginsberg’s fault she did not step down when they last had control. Apparently others have done it before.

  17. I forced myself to sit and watch the first 2020 US Presidential Election Debate for the full 90 minutes. It was supposed to be a debate with the two main contenders putting their case to the American people. However, what unfolded was nothing of the sort. Trump grandstanded telling everyone how great he is and what a great President mixed with a refusal to answer questions (including if it was true he only paid $750 tax in 2015 and 2017), made unsubstantiated claims postal voting was certain to be abused by his opponents, and bullied, hectored Biden and the debate compere. It was also disturbing that Trump refused to denounce the rise of ultra right wing white supremacist groups across the USA and their propensity for violence. However, he really blew it when attacking Biden personally and Biden’s son (who is an Iraq war US veteran). Hardly, presidential….and certainly not engaging in a reasoned and respectful debate about the huge problems facing the USA in the 21st century (on-going covid 19 pandemic – now cost over 200,000 lives; a wounded and struggling economy; the high cost of health care; growing inequalities across US society…and the long running social “sore” of racial inequality. If the polls are accurate, Biden should get over the line….but who knows if Trump’s constant lying and blustering may get him another 4 years in the White House.

  18. preconditions for extra-constitutional transfer of power : chaos & confusion (doubt)
    – stack the courts for four (4) years, at all levels : with fed. soc. partisans who will find for the republican party regardless of evidence or law. (mcconnell gave judicial appointments preference above other senate business, even during the pandemic when relief for citizens is being held up by his party) (attorney general barr at the apex of the legal system works for trump, not the united states).
    – appoint a loyal handler to wreck the postal service : so that mail ballots will be very delayed, making it easier for local area republicans to challenge their inclusion in the count.
    – gerrymander : voters suspected of favoring the democrats are being refused, votes by any means possible, on the basis that a vote for a democrat is a fraudulent vote.
    specious legal challenges : being launched now, will intensify, intended to foment election chaos, judges will exploit these challenges to prevent mail votes being counted, where that helps trump.
    – steal electoral college votes : republican states have the power (its the constitution) to vote trump in the electoral college, if their voters don’t choose trump, by claiming the vote was rigged.
    – repeatedly describe any democrat win as fraud : in doing this trump encourages far right violent insurgency & far right armed intimidation.

    he didn’t go to cleveland to debate, he went there to perform : in his performance he reiterated his claim that if he is not elected it would be by fraud, he told his followers to “guard against fraud” at voting places, he told “his judges” they would be “counting ballots”, he told his irregulars to “stand ready”. -a.v.

  19. According to 538, there has been quite a sharp increase in Biden’s lead to 7.6‰ and also Trump’s disapproval rating, which is up 9.2%. It’s not entirely clear to what extent any of this movement reflects Trump’s debate performance, but I expect Biden’s polling numbers will improve even more over the next 2 or 3 days as the debate’s impact gets factored in. If the polling lead blows out to 9% +, the 4 weeks to go to election day will be gruesomely fascinating.

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