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.

Colmar Brunton: NZ Labour leads National by 48-31

Three-and-a-half weeks before the October 17 New Zealand election, the first media poll since late July has Labour still well ahead.

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.

A New Zealand Colmar Brunton poll, conducted September 17-21 from a sample of 1,008, gave Labour 48% (down five since late July), National 31% (down one), the right-wing ACT 7% (up two), the Greens 6% (up one) and NZ First 2% (steady).  Labour PM Jacinda Ardern led Opposition Leader Judith Collins by 54-18 as better PM (54-20 in July).

Under New Zealand’s proportional representation system, parties must either win a single-member seat or clear the 5% threshold to be represented in parliament. NZ First, which is currently a Labour coalition partner, is unlikely to return to parliament.

Even though the Greens have 6% in this poll, they should be anxious about clearing the 5% threshold. In the past, NZ polls have overstated the Greens. ACT is far better placed as their leader holds the single-member seat of Epsom.

If these poll results were the outcome on October 17, Labour would win 62 of the 120 seats, just enough for a majority. National would win 41 seats, ACT nine and the Greens eight.

There have been two other relatively recent NZ polls. A privately conducted late August to early September UMR poll gave Labour 53%, National 29%, ACT 6.2%, NZ First 3.9% and the Greens 3.2%. A Morgan poll, conducted in August, gave Labour 48%, National 28.5%, the Greens 11.5%, ACT 6% and NZ First 2.5%.

A concern for Labour is that their vote could continue to fall. If Labour’s election vote is under 45%, they may need the Greens to clear the 5% threshold to form a Labour/Green government.

Time running out for Trump

Seven weeks before the November 3 election, Biden still leads Trump by about five points in the Electoral College tipping-point states.

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.

In FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate of Donald Trump vs Joe Biden polls, Biden leads Trump by 6.9% (50.3% to 43.4%). This is an improvement for Trump from three weeks ago, when he trailed by 8.2%. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.5% in Michigan, 6.8% in Wisconsin, 5.0% in Arizona, 4.8% in Pennsylvania and 2.3% in Florida.

In my article three weeks ago, the difference in Trump’s favour between the Electoral College tipping-point state and the national vote had widened to three points, but this difference has fallen back to two points, with Arizona and Pennsylvania currently two points more favourable to Trump than national polls.

If Biden wins all the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, he gets exactly 269 Electoral Votes, one short of the 270 required for a majority. Maine and Nebraska award one EV to the winner of each of their Congressional Districts, and two to the statewide winner. All other states award their EVs winner-takes-all.

Under this scenario, Biden would need one of either Nebraska’s or Maine’s second CDs for the 270 EVs required to win the Electoral College. Nebraska’s second is a more likely win for Biden as it is an urban district.

The US economy has rebounded strongly from the coronavirus nadir in April. Owing to this, the FiveThirtyEight forecast expects some narrowing as the election approaches. Every day that passes without evidence of narrowing in the tipping-point states is bad news for Trump. Biden’s chances of winning in the forecast have increased from a low of 67% on August 31 to 76% now.

While Trump has improved slightly in national polls, some state polls have been very good for Biden. Recently, Biden has had leads of 16 points in Minnesota, 21 points in Maine, 10 in Wisconsin and 10 in Arizona.

Trump’s ratings with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are currently 43.1% approve, 52.8% disapprove (net -9.7%). With polls of likely or registered voters, his ratings are 43.8% approve, 52.9% disapprove (net -9.1%). In the last three weeks, Trump has gained about two points on net approval, continuing a recovery from July lows.

The RealClearPolitics Senate map has 47 expected Democratic seats, 47 Republican seats and six toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51-49, unchanged from three weeks ago.

Coronavirus and the US economy

The US has just passed the grim milestone of over 200,000 deaths attributable to coronavirus. However, daily new cases have dropped into the 30,000 to 40,000 range from a peak of over 70,000 in July. Lower media attention on the coronavirus crisis assists Trump.

In the US August jobs report, 1.4 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 1.8% to 8.4%. The unemployment rate has greatly improved from its April nadir of 14.7%. The headline jobs gained or lost are from the establishment survey, while the household survey is used for the unemployment rate. In August, the household survey numbers were much better than the establishment survey, with almost 3.8 million jobs added.

It is probably fortunate for Biden that the September jobs report, to be released in early October, will be the last voters see before the election. The October report will be released November 6, three days after the election.

I believe Trump should focus on the surging economy in the lead-up to the election, and ignore other issues like the Kenosha violence and culture war issues.

With the election drawing closer, I will do these reports every week from now on.

NZ: poll drought continues

A month out from the October 17 New Zealand election, there have not been any media-commissioned polls since late July. The only recently reported poll is a privately-commissioned UMR poll, conducted August 25 to September 2. That gave Labour 53%, National 29%, ACT 6.2%, NZ First 3.9% and the Greens just 3.2%.

The Greens’ low figure in this poll is very different from a Morgan NZ poll, conducted during August, which had the Greens on 11.5%. That poll gave Labour 48% and National 28.5%. Unless a party wins a single-member seat, the threshold required to enter parliament is 5%.

Electoral College may save Trump

Just over two months before the November 3 election, the gap between Biden’s national lead and the likeliest tipping-point states widens to about three points.

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.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 42.2% approve, 54.3% disapprove (net -12.1%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 43.3% approve, 53.4% disapprove (net -10.1%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about one point, continuing a recovery from July lows.

In FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate of Joe Biden vs Trump polls, Biden’s lead has slightly increased to a 50.6% to 42.2% margin, from a 50.0% to 42.5% margin three weeks ago. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.6% in Michigan, 5.9% in Wisconsin, 5.3% in Pennsylvania, 5.1% in Florida and 3.7% in Arizona. FiveThirtyEight adjusts state polls to the current national vote trends.

On current polling, Pennsylvania and Florida are the most likely tipping-point state. If Biden wins either of those states, and all other states more favourable for him, he wins the Electoral College. Trump wins by winning Pennsylvania, Florida and more pro-Trump states.

The problem for Biden is that the gap between the national vote and the vote in the tipping-point state has widened from 1.5% three weeks ago to 3.1%. That makes the scenario where Trump loses the popular vote by up to five points, but sneaks a win in the Electoral College more realistic. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.1%, but won the tipping-point state by 0.8% – a 2.9% difference.

FiveThirtyEight now has a model forecasting the election result, and that model currently gives Biden a 70% chance to win, down from about 72-73% a few days ago. Biden has received virtually no bounce from the Democratic national convention last week, while Trump could get some bounce from the Republican convention that concluded Friday in Australia.

Why has the national vote to tipping-point state gap widened recently? The Midwestern states have a higher percentage of non-University educated whites than nationally. Trump’s general behaviour has offended better-educated voters, and they are likely to vote for Biden.

Whites without a university education may have moved slightly back to Trump because new US coronavirus cases are slowing and the economy is improving. There are currently 30,000 to 50,000 daily new coronavirus cases, down from a peak of over 78,000 in late July. There are over 1,000 daily deaths on most days, but this is down from the April peak of well over 2,000.

On the economy, there is a clear downward trend in new jobless claims since their peak in April, and also a down trend in continuing jobless claims. As I wrote last time, the sharp increase in real disposable income in April owing to a stimulus explained Trump’s better economy ratings.

If the jobs situation continues to improve, and there is no resurgence in coronavirus, Trump could win another term in the same way he won his first term – by exploiting the greater share of whites without university education in the electoral battlegrounds than nationally. The swing to the right among such voters explained the Coalition’s win in Australia and the Conservative triumph in the UK last year. Will they be enough to re-elect Trump?

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans currently lead Democrats by 46 seats to 44, with ten toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49, unchanged from three weeks ago.

NZ: Ardern has large leads over Collins on economy and coronavirus

Owing to the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Auckland, the New Zealand election has been moved from September 19 to October 17. Sadly, there have been no voting intention polls since late July, before this outbreak.

The only recent poll is a Horizon Research poll, conducted in late August, that did not ask voting intentions. Labour PM Jacinda Ardern led National leader Judith Collins by 54% to 26% on managing the economic recovery from coronavirus, and by 64% to 18% on managing coronavirus. Both leads were down from Ardern’s leads over Todd Muller in July.

Biden’s lead over Trump narrows

Three months before the November 3 election, Biden’s lead over Trump has narrowed despite the continuing coronavirus crisis.

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.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 54.5% disapprove (net -12.6%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.

In FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate of Joe Biden vs Trump polls, Biden’s lead has narrowed to a 50.0% to 42.5% margin, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.7% in Michigan, 7.4% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.1% in Florida and 3.4% in Arizona.

On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is about 1.5% more pro-Trump than the national average.

Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.

I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement, although the economic data is mostly pre-July, when the second coronavirus wave started. The US July jobs report will be released on Friday.

Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Nate Silver says that real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.

A danger for Trump is that extending the stimulus is stalled in Congress. This close to the election, Republicans should be eager to stimulate the economy, but there are many Republicans who are ideologically opposed to government spending.

Danger for Democrats in mail voting

Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.

As Cook Political analyst Dave Wassserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. There could thus be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.

If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races. If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 47 races, Democrats lead in 46 and there are seven toss-ups; that situation is unchanged from three weeks ago. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.

Reid Research: NZ Labour with massive poll lead

Eight weeks before the September 19 New Zealand election, a new poll gives Labour a 61% to 25% lead over the opposition National.

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.

There have been three leaders of the conservative National party in the last two months. On May 22, the unpopular Simon Bridges was ousted in a leadership spill, and replaced by Todd Muller. However on July 14, Muller resigned for health reasons, and was replaced by Judith Collins.

A Reid Research poll, conducted July 16-24 – after the second leadership change – gave Labour a thumping 60.9% (up 4.4% since the last Reid Research poll in early May). National was on 25.1% (down 5.5%).

New Zealand seats are allocated proportionally to parties that either win at least 5% of the national vote or a single-member seat. The Greens, with 5.7% in this poll, appear the only other party likely to clear the 5% threshold, although the right-wing ACT, with 3.3%, will also qualify if their leader holds Epsom. NZ First, which is currently a Labour coalition partner, has just 2.0%, and is unlikely to re-enter parliament.

After polls in May showed a blowout Labour lead, there was a much better poll for National in late June, when Muller was leader. That Colmar Brunton poll had Labour’s lead dropping to 50% to 38%, from 59% to 29% in May. I believe the big differences between the June Colmar Brunton poll and the July Reid Research poll are most likely caused by the coronavirus response, not by National leadership chaos.

In June, there was a mess-up in New Zealand’s quarantine system, in which two women from Britain were allowed to leave quarantine on compassionate grounds without being tested for coronavirus; they later tested positive. Alarm over this incident, which could have revived coronavirus in New Zealand, likely contributed to Labour’s poll drop.

Since this incident, quarantine has been strictly enforced. While there are 21 active coronavirus cases in New Zealand, these are returned overseas travellers, and there has been no recent news that would indicate community spread.

Globally, there have been over 16 million coronavirus cases and over 650,000 deaths. Up until a month ago, Australia looked good, but the hundreds of new cases in Victoria every day have damaged Australia. So it’s not as if New Zealanders need to look far afield to see what happens in countries that do not handle coronavirus well.

In my opinion, this election is primarily about handling of coronavirus. If there are no community transmissions in New Zealand before the September 19 election, Labour is likely to win easily. If the virus comes back, the election will likely be more competitive.

Jacinda Ardern’s performance recorded 85.3% approved of in this poll, and just 8.2% disapproved, for a net approval of +77.1. Collins was at 39.5% approve and 30.8% disapprove (net +8.7).