US election minus four weeks

Biden extends his national lead after the first debate and Trump’s coronavirus. Meanwhile, NZ Labour retains a large lead.

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.

This is an updated version of an article I had published for The Conversation on Wednesday.

With four weeks left until the November 3 election, the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of US national polls gives Joe Biden a 9.5% lead over Donald Trump (51.7% to 42.2%). Biden’s lead has increased 1.9% since last week’s article.

In the key states, Biden leads by 7.7% in Michigan, 6.9% in Wisconsin, 6.9% in Pennsylvania, 4.6% in Florida and 4.4% in Arizona. If Biden wins the states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, he wins the election with at least 278 of the 538 Electoral Votes.

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are tied as the “tipping-point” states that could potentially put either Trump or Biden over the 270 EVs required to win. Pennsylvania has been polling closer to Wisconsin and Michigan than in the recent past. The current difference between Pennsylvania and the national vote is 2.6% in favour of Trump. At the moment, that gap isn’t much help to Trump.

There are five states where Biden is either just ahead or just behind: North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Ohio. If Biden won all of them, he would win a blowout victory with over 400 EVs.

In the FiveThirtyEight forecast, Trump still has a 16% chance to win, though only a 7% chance to win the popular vote. Trump’s chances have declined 5% since last week. Still, a 18% chance is the probability of rolling a six on a six-sided die.

Trump’s ratings with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are 43.4% approve, 53.3% disapprove (net -9.9%). With polls of likely or registered voters, Trump’s ratings are 43.8% approve, 53.2% disapprove (net -9.4%). His net approval has declined about one point since last week. RealClearPolitics averages have Biden at +6 net favourable, while Trump is at -12.

The FiveThirtyEight Classic Senate forecast gives Democrats a 72% chance to win, up 4% since last week. The most likely outcome is a narrow 51 to 49 Democratic majority, unchanged from last week. The forecast gives Democrats an 80% chance of holding between 48 and 55 seats after the election.

Trump’s coronavirus

Perhaps there would have been some public sympathy for Trump had his coronavirus appeared to be bad luck. But it is likely Trump and other prominent Republicans’ coronavirus infections occurred at a September 26 event to announce Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

Pictures in the linked article show people sitting close together, without face masks. This created an impression of reckless conduct by Trump and other Republicans in ignoring medical advice.

In a CNN poll taken after Trump’s coronavirus, 60% disapproved and 37% approved of Trump’s handling of coronavirus; his -23 net approval is a record low on that issue. By 63-33, voters thought Trump had acted irresponsibly.

An additional problem for Trump is that coronavirus is back in the headlines. As Trump is perceived to have been poor on this issue, that helps Biden. New US daily cases have plateaued between 30,000 and 50,000.

US employment growth slows

The September US jobs report was the last before the November 3 election. 661,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate dropped 0.5% to 7.9%. This was the first month with fewer than a million jobs added since the April nadir. The unemployment rate has almost halved from April’s 14.7%. But the gain in September was mainly attributable to a 0.3% slide in the participation rate, to 61.4%.

Trump may have undermined his advantage on the economy by withdrawing from negotiations with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a new stimulus bill. An article by analyst Nate Silver says stimulus spending was very popular: in a September Siena poll for The New York Times, voters supported a $US 2 trillion stimulus by a 72-23 margin.

NZ Colmar Brunton poll: Labour leads National by 47-32

With nine days left until the October 17 NZ election, a Colmar Brunton poll gave Labour 47% (steady since last week), National 32% (down one), the right-wing ACT 8% (steady), the Greens 6% (down one) and NZ First 2% (up one). Jacinda Ardern led Judith Collins as better PM by 50-23 (54-23 last week). This poll was conducted October 3-7 from a sample of 1,007.

If this was the election result, Labour would win 60 of the 120 seats, one short of a majority. National would win 41, ACT 11 and the Greens 8. However, the Greens will be anxious about clearing the 5% threshold, as NZ polls have tended to overstate them. If the Greens miss the threshold, Labour would win a majority on this poll, as it has a 47-40 lead over the combined vote for National and ACT. My personal website has more discussion of last week’s poll, including personal ratings of Ardern and Collins.

33 comments on “US election minus four weeks”

  1. There’s also mean reversion: Biden’s got a boost from the debate and Trump’s coronavirus. But do voters forget about this as the election approaches?

    This was meant to go after Kevin Bonham’s comment.

  2. Trump on the skids. If you can’t manage Corona virus in your workplace then you can’t manage it anywhere. No longer the outsider cleaning up the swamp. Trump is the strange animal splashing around in the swamp.

  3. Nate Silver statistical methods are obviously insanely robust, and when we’re talking about a close-ish race probability necessarily takes on oversized importance, but Joe Biden’s national poll aggregate lead of 9.5% over Trump means that he’s getting 20% more votes than Trump, which in turn means that somehow more than 1/10 current Biden voters need to flip to Trump in the next four weeks for… reasons? Because he’s put an anti-abortion crusader on the Supreme Court? Hardly.

    Now at this point we are massively outside anything approximating a statistical margin of error for any single poll, let alone a poll aggregate of literally tens of thousands of voters. We’re also well outside the much smaller margins of actual error found in polling for Brexit and the last presidential race.

    It seems to me that describing Trump’s chances of winning the poll as something akin to rolling a one on a six sided dice is really abusing any reasonable use of probability and statistics, and being given outsized weight as a result of unearned false precision. There is no world in which Trump wins at this point short of some manufactured Tampa-like act of god completely outside the scope of current polling, and even there, Trump has over and over again proven to have not one ounce of political instinct that might enable him to take effective advantage of such an opportunity.

    There’s a point at which everyone just needs to accept either that polls have some residual, actual predictive value, otherwise everyone may as well simply be making things up. If Trump wins from a 9.5% deficit the whole polling industry needs to admit defeat, pack up their bags and start new jobs as marketing executives.

    But that’s not going to happen. All that’s happening with rubbish like one in six chances is more of the same group-think by people covering their own arses while giving themselves and everyone else something to talk about as if the election wasn’t already decided an easy six months ago. Pretty much the same thing that happened four years ago with a much smaller margin at play to quibble about, but with group-think and gut feelings running the other way.

  4. That is what the one in six is for. The election is in November.

    He is predicting their is a one in six chance of something crazy happening.

  5. He may have won a personal battle against the coronavirus, but Donald Trump is tipped to take an absolute hammering in the US Presidential Election in less than 30 days.

    It has been a rollercoaster week for the President which has seen him take on Joe Biden in the election’s first debate and, of course, the theatrics of his COVID recovery.

    However, the polls have only been heading in one direction, and it’s not pretty reading for the Republican camp.

    Mr Trump’s Democratic rival now leads by a massive 9.4 points, according to the RCP national average of all major US polls.

    That is up from 6.3 points just seven days ago, when the first presidential debate took place.

    Some polls, such as the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, show much larger gains for Mr Biden. Some show he is up to 14 points ahead.

    RCP has also looked at the key battleground states and found that Mr Biden is leading in states such as Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio which were once expected to be easy wins for Mr Trump. They show Mr Biden is now surging ahead by 4.7 points in those crucial states.

  6. “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum”

    The New England Journal of Medicine – 208 years old and venerated to the point of being referred to as the world’s most prestigious medical journal – takes a political stand for the first time in its history.

    …. this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.


    Plans to kidnap Whitmer, overthrow government spoiled, officials say
    Robert Snell Melissa Nann Burke The Detroit News

    Federal agents said Thursday they thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government and kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — a conspiracy that included visits to her home in northern Michigan and training with explosive devices.

    The alleged plot involved conspirators who met during a Second Amendment rally at the Capitol in Lansing in June and reached out to members of a Michigan militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen for reinforcements, according to state and federal officials.

    The court filing alleges the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer’s personal vacation home in northern Michigan and discussed kidnapping her to a “secure location” in Wisconsin to stand “trial” for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election.

    “Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit. “The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.”

  8. Barr may still try something on in the closing weeks. Some are predicting it. 2 things…

    I am not sure he believes it is in his interest to do so.
    I doubt it will work.

    The two are probably related.

    What does Barr have to gain from another 4 years of Trump? Does he actually gain from Trump losing? Barr and Pompeo cant be trusted – but they can be relied on to do what is in their interests.

  9. Thanks for the summary Adrian.

    I see on 538 Trump’s chance of winning has gone from 21% just before the first debate to 16% in a little over a week. That isn’t winning.

    Speaking of winning, I thought Trump said “winners never quit”. He is quitting the debates, so I presume he thinks he has lost.

  10. @Catprog says: He is predicting their is a one in six chance of something crazy happening.

    That’s not how Silver’s spaghetti sauce of an algorithm works. There is an allowance for uncertainty but this close to the election it’s a declining fraction every day and nothing close to 16%. Just throwing in an arbitrary 16% allowance for “something crazy” to happen would obviously be a ludicrous and nonsensical proposition, particularly since such things go both ways.

    In practice Silver is not that stupid. The bulk of the victory paths for Trump are coming out of the tapering upper end of the bell curve in a series of simulations where state polls are wrong in all of the wrong states, well outside of any reasonable statistical margin of error.

    It’s a misuse of statistics to put an actual probability on the wild upper end of a curve that is already far too full of heroic assumptions for the level of precision being ascribed to it. It’s nothing more than a curious PhD project for an advanced mathematics student.

  11. The reasons for the uncertainty in the 538 projections are:

    * Trump has a sizeable advantage in the Electoral College. He can lose the popular vote by a few percent, perhaps even 4-5%, and still win.
    * As well as state poll errors there may be global errors affecting polls generally – the “house effect” of each specific election, so Biden may not be really 10 points ahead. These tend, when they occur, to be way outside the margin of error implied by aggregates of polling.
    * Actual voting intention still has some time to change.

    Feels to me like Trump has very little chance now unless he successfully cheats on a massive scale but I can’t say that I could demonstrate that objectively.

  12. He may have won a personal battle against the coronavirus

    Perhaps dexamethasone ( may help Donald Trump and I do hope it keeps him out of hospital however it’s not a cure for Covid.
    The fact that he was given it in the first place should be subject for concern. I think the worst is most likely to come for Trump. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not re-admitted in the next few days and this time on a respirator fighting for his life, not just supplemental Oxygen.
    In the meantime we’ve got a Crazy nutjob in the White house with various personality disorders taking a drug with some serious psychotic side effects that will only enhance those disorders. I think if we’re very lucky he’ll lose in a landslide and be shown the door.
    If we’re not then we are looking at a US Civil war, a war with China and/or any number of other scenarios ranging in degree from bizarre to downright frightening.

  13. A thought on Trump not accepting another debate with Biden.

    Trump only plays when he knows he can win. That way he never loses. Maybe it simply means that Trump is afraid. And Fear is his weakness.

    Also, walking away is a tactic that attempts to unsettle your opponent, by frustrating them and leaving them guessing what you might do next. (You need a overarching pressure on your opponent though to make them want to continue.) Trump likewise did it with the stimulus negotiations. It doesn’t need any underlying logic.

  14. There also must be a lot of uncertainty in an election undertaken during a pandemic with a clusterF of scattered and loose election rules overseen by politicised officials and judges.

    “Appeals court stops Wisconsin from accepting mail-in ballots after Election Day“

  15. @Adrian Beaumont I’m much more comfortable criticising betting markets than Nate Silver.

    At least Nate Silver has an actual model behind him, and not a bad one on balance if it wasn’t giving far too much credibility to outcomes at the extreme end of the simulation, as if elections were a literal roulette wheel. In practice, all that 1/6 is showing here is some kind of quantification of the limitations of Silver’s model itself.

    On the other hand, all that betting markets are reflecting is a bunch of groupthink based largely on being wrong last time and overcompensating in the other direction.

    We know that betting markets are virtually useless predictors of election outcomes. The volumes of cash involved are too low, and in any case, there is no inside trading/inside information possible. Political operatives are just as clueless as the rest of us and have access to more or less exactly the same data, arguably even worse data given that what they do have is biased to the interests of one side only and is therefore highly susceptible to house effects and optimism bias.

    At the end of the day not one person, anywhere, regardless of experience or qualifications, is smarter than a properly constituted opinion poll.

  16. The VP debate is unlikely to have any effect on the polls:

    Slightly more than half of voters who watched Wednesday night’s debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence declared Harris the winner, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult flash poll conducted on Thursday.

    Four in 10 voters gave Pence the win, the poll found, compared with 51 percent who said Harris, in her first debate as a vice presidential candidate, bested Pence.

    That perception broke down, predictably, along party lines, with nearly 90 percent of Democrats dubbing their party’s nominee, Harris, the winner and 80 percent of Republicans choosing Pence.

    Pence beat Harris among independent voters, however, 41 percent to 39 percent.

  17. I don’t know why people are upset at Silver giving Trump a 16% chance. 16% is horrible odds for an incumbent presidential candidate. It’s not going to hit 0% (not unless the model stays live after 270 electoral votes have been declared for Biden.)

    I say this right now, as somebody whose comments on here will have absolutely no influence on any potential American voter who could get complacent and feel they don’t need to vote now: Trump is finished. This is (and has been for most of the year) a one-sided election. Sure he could actively cheat or something something dictatorship but on the psephology alone (that can’t account for extraordinary variables like that) he is done.

    Amusingly enough, this thread also mentions the NZ election. Something which is rarely talked about on here partly because it is obviously such a one-sided formality that there’s nothing to really discuss. There’s no weak attempts to try and turn it into a competitive horse race, no discussion of hail-marys that the NZ opposition could do to change things around, no both-siding. Just an acceptance of what is apparent reality.

  18. @Rational Leftist I am, personally, not ‘upset’ that Silver is giving Trump a 16% chance. I just think it’s a misuse of the data. Which is all I’m here to do, to discuss the data, which is also why I have no interest in participating in the odious main thread.

    The NZ election is a done deal, no question, although the lack of discussion here is pretty typical and largely reflects on both the near irrelevance of the NZ election to Australia and, related to that, the near total absence of any significant coverage on this side of the pond. It’s therefore kinda hard to have any opinion at all, let alone an informed opinion.

  19. Things could still get interesting in Aotearoa if the Greens fall below the 5% threshold and the National/ACT combined gain ground on Labour. One should not count your chooks before they hatch.

    I watched both the US and NZ debates on the same day. While more polite, relative to Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins is probably as bad as Donald Trump is relative to Biden.

  20. I don’t see how it is a misuse of data. His breakdowns show how the polls are now and how he forecasts that to change. For example, if the election were held today both Georgia and Iowa would fall to Biden, but he forecasts that won’t happen… and he outlines why.

    He could make that the headline (Or shared headline)… “if election were held today then…”. Instead of just the forecast. That might be a fair criticism.

    We should also keep in mind we are talking very small sample state polls in a non-compulsory voting system. These pollsters make a lot of adjustments before they get to Silver. And a lot of this adjustments could well be broadly biased across many pollsters. That must be taken into account.

    Also, Silver makes his own assumptions in things like allocating undecideds (etc). These assumptions, based on polls with MOEs, all come with uncertainty.

    But in general I personally (and more than a little unscientifically) think you are right and the only uncertainty for me is the counting or noncounting of mail in ballots.

  21. In his latest podcast, Silver gives Trump a 5% chance if election held today.

    And he says hi to Australian followers of his website.

  22. Another important point. The election is not 3 weeks away. Through mail in voting and the early face-to-face voting many states offer, millions of votes have already been cast. Even here in Texas early voting begins tomorrow. And the voting is taking place amongst some of the worst news cycles Trump’s ever experienced.

    Assuming ballots in key states favour Biden in a manner close to what the polls are suggesting, making up the deficit becomes increasingly tricky for Trump.

  23. Traveler @ #27 Monday, October 12th, 2020 – 2:27 pm

    Another important point. The election is not 3 weeks away. Through mail in voting and the early face-to-face voting many states offer, millions of votes have already been cast. Even here in Texas early voting begins tomorrow. And the voting is taking place amongst some of the worst news cycles Trump’s ever experienced.

    Assuming ballots in key states favour Biden in a manner close to what the polls are suggesting, making up the deficit becomes increasingly tricky for Trump.

    Yes. And there is a lot of anger in the USA. Anger, in my mind, motivates people far more than fear or hope does, and the fear of another 4 years under Trump is there too. Anger gets you off your bum, or in US terms it gets you off your butt. (We voted the day that mail in voting opened. In anger.) I suspect that on the whole, Biden voters are angrier than Trump voters. And when Trump dismisses Biden as a weak candidate he’s promoting ridicule among his supporters, not fear and not anger. I suspect those images of long lines of voters in Georgia that we see today reflect anger at Trump, and not fear of Biden. Because voting is optional the tricky bit will be the undecided or “don’t cares”. Trump has to motivate them to get them off their butts and to vote for him. Trump’s dilemma is that he has made sure there are fewer of those this time round. I doubt there’s a single American over the age of 5 who doesn’t have an opinion on the guy.

  24. Trump has to motivate them to get them off their butts and to vote for him. Trump’s dilemma is that he has made sure there are fewer of those this time round. I doubt there’s a single American over the age of 5 who doesn’t have an opinion on the guy.

    With only 55ish% of eligible voters voting, one has to wonder who the 45% are and what would get them to vote (and for who). Trump is focussing on his base only now. Is there more blood in that stone to turn out?

    I know that cities have lower turnout than the suburbs. between 5-15% lower.

    But this seems to be narrowing for the upcoming election.

    But all of that still leaves a LOT of non-voters (many simply are unable to vote). Can Trump sway and encourage them with his bravado? Or will his moronic behavior (to quote PvO) at the rallies turn peeps off or the other way?

  25. With only 55ish% of eligible voters voting, one has to wonder who the 45% are and what would get them to vote

    Holding the election on a weekend would probably help, for starters. Dealing with the ridiculously long lines at polling places is probably a good idea too.

    But all of that still leaves a LOT of non-voters (many simply are unable to vote). Can Trump sway and encourage them with his bravado?

    To the extent that they’re not voting due to pragmatic concerns (don’t want strife at work over taking time off to vote), convenience (don’t want to stand in line all day and maybe not even get to vote), or rank disinterest, no.

    If Trump wanted to get them voting for him, he should have at least encouraged postal voting instead of undermining it at every turn.

  26. If Trump wanted to get them voting for him, he should have at least encouraged postal voting instead of undermining it at every turn.

    His strategy overtly recognises the anti-Trump voter and strives to prevent her vote. Whether it will succeed is the question.

  27. 45% is a lot of potential voters, they can’t all be put in one or two baskets.

    If we credit Trump and his campaign with some intelligence then their tactics must be aimed at getting more rural potential voters engaged in his cult and to turnout in swing states. Because it appears they have given up on independents and wavering traditional Republicans.

  28. SK. You’re right 45% is too big a fraction to be confidently categorised into one or two groups. It just leaves a lot of questions. The effort at voter suppression is telling though that the Republicans fear that fraction. I also read this today.

    Democrats have said a massive victory is the surest way to avoid lengthy legal disputes that could even spill over into street violence. Trump has spent months seeking to undermine the credibility of the election in general and mail-in voting in particular.

    Half (50%) of voters are worried that if the president loses the election, he will not concede.

    I think the article gives us another reason more people will vote this time. Fear of violence.

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