We’ve got just two weeks until the election and the race is tightening in some of the polls that matter the most, key battleground states, while one major national polls shows President Trump, who’s trailed for months now, within just 2 points of Joe Biden — about where he was against Hillary Clinton around this time in 2016.
Trump’s 304–227 electoral defeat of Clinton in 2016, despite heading into election day with a predicted loss of at least 6 votes, was a product of multiple election day reversals in key battleground states: polls showed Trump trailing in Michigan by 3.4, but he won by 1 point; Trump trailed by 6.5 points in Wisconsin, won by 1; Trump trailed by 2 in Pennsylvania, eked out another 1-point win again.
This year, there are realistically only 12 true battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Of those, Trump must win Texas and likely Florida to have any chance. Along with those two major states, Trump needs at least another 5 states to gain enough electoral votes to win.
Right now, Trump is only favored in 2 of the 12 battleground states (Ohio, barely, and Texas by a comfortable margin). However, the gaps in 6 of the remaining 10 states are very thin: Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. If Trump were to win all 8 of those states, he would likely win the election with about 278 electoral votes (270 are needed to win). Of the 8 states where it’s close or he leads, he could only afford to lose Iowa (worth just 6 electoral votes).
Trump has seen improvement in recent weeks in 6 of the 12 battleground states (AZ, FL, NV, OH, PA and TX), while he has lost ground in the other 6 (GA, IA, MI, MN, NC and WI). Here’s where things stand in the key battleground states, according to RCP’s averages:
Arizona — Biden +3.4 (down from Biden +5) — 2016: Trump won by 3.6
Georgia — Biden +1.2 (flipped from Trump +1.8) — 2016: Trump won by 5
Florida — Biden +1.6 (down from Biden +2.3) — 2016: Trump won by 1.2
Iowa — Biden +1.7 (flipped from Trump +1.7) — 2016: Trump won by 9.4
Michigan — Biden +7.2 (up from Biden +2.6) — 2016: Trump won by 0.2
Minnesota — Biden +9.4 (up from Biden +5) — 2016: Trump lost by 1.5
Nevada — Biden +5.2 (down from Biden +5.8) — 2016: Trump lost by 2.4
Ohio — Trump +0.2 (flipped from Biden +2.4) — 2016: Trump won by 8
North Carolina — Biden +2.3 (up from Biden +0.6) — 2016: Trump won by 3.6
Pennsylvania — Biden +3.7 (down from Biden +6.6) — 2016: Trump won by 1.7
Texas — Trump +4.4 (up from Trump +3.2) — 2016: Trump won by 9
Wisconsin — Biden +6.3 (up from Biden +3.2) — 2016: Trump won by 0.7
For those looking for hope for Trump, here’s a postmortem on how much the state pollsters botched the 2016 election. Below is how the Electoral College map is shaping up:
After one chaotic presidential debate, a more civil but still testy vice presidential debate, and a virtual debate that Trump opted to skip, the average of the major national polls show Trump and Biden in about the same place they were a few weeks ago: Biden leading by about 8 points by average. A new poll from IBD/TIPP, however, is giving Democrats a 2016 flashback: showing Biden barely edging Trump (49-47).
Most of the other recent national polls giving Biden an advantage of 7-10 points. Here are the seven most recent polls:
YouGov (10/18-20) — Biden +9
IBD/TIPP (10/16-20) — Biden +2
CNBC (10/17-18) — Biden +10
SUSA (10/16-19) — Biden +10
NYT/Siena (10/15-18) — Biden +9
JTN/RMG Research (10/1-3) — Biden +8
The Hill (10/10-13) — Biden +7
How does this compare to 2016?
At the same point in the previous presidential election cycle (Oct. 26), Clinton led Trump in the national polls by an average of 5.4 points (48.4–43). By Election Day (Nov. 8), Clinton’s lead had diminished to 3.2%. Clinton would go on to win the popular vote by 2.1% but lose the Electoral College by a wide margin (304–227).
The 2016 polls were far more volatile than 2020, the gap between Clinton and Trump repeatedly expanding and shrinking dramatically — with Trump at times even taking a razor-thin lead. That hasn’t been the case in 2020. For the first part of the year, through mid-March, the gap between Biden and Trump steadily held at around 5%. As the pandemic lockdowns began, the divide roughly doubled, reaching its June 23 peak of 10.2%, by which point the George Floyd-sparked protests and riots were in full swing. Biden’s advantage shrunk to just 5.8% mid-September but has since expanded.
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