What if the polls are as wrong today as they were in 2016? [Spoiler Alert: Biden Wins]
No doubt you have heard Trump supporters deride the polls indicating a large Biden lead, to include in key states, as “fake news” with the attending triumphant cry that “the polls were wrong 2016 and they are wrong now.” I decided to assume that the polls today are every bit as wrong today as they were in 2016 and evaluate how that would impact the election today.
I took nine key states that Trump won in 2016 and where polls currently (October 13th) show Trump is behind. I compared that to polling on October 13, 2016. In both cases I used Nate Silver’s 538 polling data. This data reflects a compilation or aggregation of numerous polls, a poll of polls. For each of these nine key states I compared Trump’s predicted result by the polls on October 13, 2016 vs. his actual result in the election. In every case Trump outperformed the October 13, 2016 polling on election day. That difference in Trump’s favor became “2016 Error” in the chart below.
That error was then used to handicap the current polls for each of the nine states. Trump was credited with full amount of the 2016 error in the current polls.
The results are summarized in the chart below. By way of explanation, for each of the columns of polls the number reflects Trump’s relative position to his democratic opponent. For example, Trump was down in the polls by 0.6 to Clinton in Florida in 2016 and is down in the polls by 4.6 to Biden in Florida today. The 2016 polling error is then calculated as the difference between the 2016 election and actual election result. In Florida that error was 1.8. The amount of that error is then subtracted from Biden’s current lead to show that even if the Florida polling is off by as much as it was in 2016 then Biden would still win by 2.8%.
Two things should be emphasized. First, Trump won all of these states in 2016. Even assuming the polling error is just as bad today as it was in 2016 then Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Arizona all flip to Biden. Under this model Trump hangs on to hold Georgia, Iowa and Ohio even though polling has him currently behind in those states.
Second, the assumption that the polls are just as biased against Trump today as they were in 2016 is probably wrong. According to Nate Silver, pollsters are in no mood to repeat their embarrassment from 2016. Accordingly, pollsters have worked hard to tweak the demographics of their polling to catch more voters who are likely to vote for Trump. Most pollsters are more concerned that they may have overcompensated and are now inflating Trump’s standing in the polls.
As stated this model predicts that six states won by Trump in 2016 will flip to Biden in 2020. The model predicts three states where Biden currently leads in the polls will actually be won by Trump. One of those states, Georgia, is very close with Trump winning it by only 0.5% with the handicapped scoring. That’s very much in play and if pollsters have indeed overcompensated from 2016 in favor of Trump that state could end up for Biden. None of the states where Biden leads, even after giving Trump the benefit of his handicap, are that close.
Assuming Biden wins all the states Clinton won, and the six states this model predicts, he will achieve a net gain of 101 electoral college votes over what Clinton received. Biden would receive 333 electoral college votes, a landslide greatly exceeding Trump’s claimed record “landslide” of 306 electoral college votes.
Assuming Trump wins all the other states he won in 2016, to include the three where he is currently polling behind but the model predicts he will win, he finishes with 205 electoral college votes.
The predicted 333 electoral college votes Biden would receive is 63 more than the 270 required to win. Biden could lose any of the six states he is predicted to flip and still win big. In fact, he could lose any two of those states and still win. If Biden lost both the two biggest states of Florida and Pennsylvania he would still win easily, even if the polls today are just as wrong as they were in 2016. [Faithless electors have been excluded from these calculations].