By Larry Levine –
First the Trump campaign cancelled its TV buy in Michigan. Many took it as a sign he was throwing in the towel there. Or at least his new campaign manager was giving up on Michigan. After all, the thinking went, Biden is opening up a comfortable polling lead in the state and the Trump campaign’s internal polling probably was not good.
I felt good for two reasons: 1) it was a potentially significant step toward removing him from the White House, and 2) because I was the first one to predict in writing that Michigan was flipped; it went for Trump in 2016 and now seemed secure for Biden. I did that the night of the Michigan Primary based on the Biden vs. Sanders vote compared to the Sanders – Clinton Primary in 2016 and the Trump – Clinton result in the 2016 General Election. Biden had defeated Sanders roundly in the same places that Sanders and Trump had defeated Clinton in 2016. I concluded Michigan would vote for a Democrat as long as the Democrat wasn’t Hillary Clinton. After all, the state went for Obama twice.
Michigan was one of six states that voted Obama twice and then flipped to Trump. The others were Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Flip those three (four if Iowa is included) and hold the Clinton ’16 states and Biden wins, went the conventional wisdom.
Since that date a couple of weeks ago, the Trump campaign cancelled its TV buy everywhere. The new manager apparently was reassessing the entire campaign strategy and message. But Michigan was first and at the time a stand-alone.
I raise this now as a preamble to a discussion of where the race stands today and why we have not published articles or provided links at The Political Dish to polling stories as they evolved.
WHY WE DON’T COVER THE POLLS AT THE POLITICAL DISH
Simply put, there are too many polls showing a variety of results by polling companies of varying quality. We leave it to the pundits on cable TV to fill their open ended hours with reports of polls.
Polls are not predictors in and of themselves. They can be indictors when polls by all or several of the more credible polling companies show the same trends over an extended time period.
There was a time when polls were done by campaigns, not commissioned by media outlets. Campaigns used polling to develop strategies. If the numbers were good, they would be leaked to reports and used to promote fundraising. Eventually, media outlets realized they were being used and manipulated. So, they stopped reporting on leaked polls and hired pollsters of their own.
Watch cable news shows these days and it can feel like half the universities in the nation are in the polling business. Commercial pollsters poll for candidates and they do separate, non-proprietary polling for release to the media for purposes of self-promotion. “I heard their person on CNN so they must be good. Let’s hire them.”
We have arrived at a time when cable TV outlets and commentators spend more time covering polls and less time covering the candidates.
This was true even before the pandemic changed the nature of campaigning. You don’t need field reporters on expense accounts following candidates around the country to sit behind a desk and read the results of a poll and then produce a panel of talking heads to tell us what it means.
All this leads casual observers to wonder why one poll shows Candidate A ahead by seven points when another poll has the same person ahead by only four points. A statistical margin of error is a foreign concept.
In the end, when the votes are counted and a winner is proclaimed, there are those who claim “the polls were wrong” and they can point to polls that actually were wrong while ignoring the ones that weren’t.
The most relevant polling I’ve seen regarding the current campaign are those that indicate only about 13 percent of the voters haven’t locked themselves into a candidate, which is good news for former vice president Joe Biden, because he’s comfortably ahead in most polls.
One more thing. National polls mean nothing. The election is all about the Electoral College. The only polls that mean anything, if any of them do, are the polls in swing states. A big polling lead in California doesn’t mean the candidate will carry Iowa.
WHAT IF THE ELECTION WERE TODAY?
Now that we’ve spent the preceding 730-ish words telling you why we don’t cover polls, here’s some news from the polling front. Our source for much of the following data regarding current polling is veteran polling guru Gene Bregman (www.politicalbluegene.com).
In reporting the current position of the candidates, Gene relied on the polling aggregator 538. That firm gathers and assesses the product of many polls. The firm also ranks polling companies on a letter-grade scale based on methodology and past performance.
Most projections for the November election begin with the assumption that Biden will win every state that Clinton won in 2016. It’s hard to think of a reason why any state that voted for Clinton would now find Trump to be so outstanding and upstanding as to switch to him.
Clinton won 227 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 304. It takes 270 votes to be elected. To win Biden would need to flip half the difference between the two – add 43 votes to the Clinton total. Michigan (16 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) and Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) top the list of possibles in the view of most political pros. Win those three states and Biden would have 273 electoral votes. He would be President.
Biden leads Trump in polling in Michigan by 8 percent. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Biden is up by 7 percent. In addition Biden leads in Arizona by 5 percent (11 electoral votes) and in Florida by 6 percent (29 electoral votes). Win these and Biden gets to 313 electoral votes.
For purposes of this report, we looked at states that Trump carried in 2016 but trails now by 5 percent or more – outside the general margin of error.
This doesn’t mean Biden will win, although it’s always nicer to be ahead than behind. And we need to remember, a poll, even multiple polls, are not predictors of the future. They are snapshots of a moment in time. But in this case they are a composite of many snapshots by different photographers over a period of time.