HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Election day is 13 days away and nervous Democrats and Republicans are wondering if there will be a repeat of the 2016 presidential election.
Then-candidate Donald Trump trailed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the national polls and lost the popular vote, but he won enough states to win the presidency.
As your Local Election Headquarters News 19 is working to make sense of the presidential polling.
News 19 political analyst Jess Brown has analyzed the A-graded polls from the fivethirtyeight.com website. The site started two decades ago by Nate Silver, who may be the most prominent statistician in the country, looks at and evaluates polls. Brown has outlined why he’s focused on those polls.
“He has evaluated, as best I can tell, over 400 polls looking at over 15 years of data,” Brown said. “He developed a grading system and roughly 3 percent of all the polls he evaluates — he gives this ‘A grade’ to.”
For the third straight week of Brown’s analysis, it the polls show Democrat Joe Biden leading.
The top graded polls conducted over the past two weeks shows the former vice president averaging nearly 53-percent of the popular vote to president trump’s 42-percent — with a sample of nearly 6-thousand voters.
But Trump was also trailing in 2016 and managed to make a late surge. Brown said the leading national polls — much criticized after the election — were off by less than a percentage point in calculating the popular vote. The final tally showed Clinton received 65.8 million votes, 48 percent, while Trump got 62.9 million votes, 45.9 percent of the vote. Fivethirtyeight’s own final prediction showed Clinton winning the Electoral College and the popular vote. The site’s popular vote projection was 48.5 for Clinton and 44.9 for Trump.
Brown says the conditions and the candidates in 2020 are very different than in 2016. “As of October 21st, 2016, Clinton enjoyed an 8 point lead with 47 percent of the electorate. Trump was roughly at 39, she enjoyed a lead, but keep in mind, if you put those numbers together you’ve got about 85 percent of the electorate.
With two weeks to go in the 2016 race there were still a lot of undecided voters.
“So by the time we got to Election Day, neither candidate last time was trusted, both candidates had substantial negatives,” Brown said. “And a lot of those Independent voters and particularly working-class white voters in this country said, ‘I’m going to give this sort of bombastic Manhattan developer a chance.’”
The 2020 race finds Trump with a different kind of opponent in former Vice President Joe Biden, Brown said.
“He is viewed fundamentally different by Independent voters than Hillary Clinton was,” he said. ‘And I don’t think the Trump campaign has adjusted very well to that difference.”
Brown said the Trump campaign is running a very similar race to 2016, but there are fewer late-breaking voters this time and Trump has been unable to expand his voter base of around 43 percent.
“So Biden today enjoys a slightly larger lead than Clinton did, but what’s more important, is that earlier in the campaign a larger proportion of the electorate is committed to one candidate or the other. There’s not much flexibility or wiggle room left for campaigns.”
Brown said there is still a path for Trump to win the Electoral College and reelection while losing the popular vote. But Brown said it’s historically difficult, with about 90 percent of the popular vote winners claiming the presidency.
The surprise Trump win in 2016 was fueled by narrow wins in key battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Brown says the top-graded polling operations didn’t do battleground polling in 2016. That’s changed for 2020 and, so far, those figures also show Biden with a generally solid lead with two weeks to go.
Brown says Trump’s advantage of being the outsider candidate running against a Clinton, a longtime national political figure, no longer applies since he’s been in the White House for nearly four years.
“But for voters who aren’t very partisan and they make the difference in these kinds of elections, this is basically a referendum on Trump,” Brown said. “It was –two weeks ago, it was — a week ago, it is today, and it will be on Election Day. It is simply a referendum on Donald Trump.”
Another key difference from 2016, Brown said, is how well Biden is performing with college-educated women voters, who favor Biden 2 to 1 over Trump.
Black voters, who didn’t turn out for Clinton in 2016, are also seen by pollsters as heavily interested in the 2020 election.
Brown said if the polls are going to wind up wrong on Election Day it will most likely be due to turnout among various subgroups of voters being even larger than the models forecast.