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.