Data from a wide variety of pollsters has Biden winning handily over Trump, and possibly picking up a victory in Texas. But Republicans still have a clear path to victory, and will almost certainly be winning on election night.
Everyone remembers 2016 election night, when Hillary Clinton was leading over Trump in nearly every political forecast. FiveThirtyEight gave Clinton a 71% chance of victory. She had what was considered a sufficient lead in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. For many, it seemed like it was already settled; Hillary Clinton was to be the next president.
Of course, we all know how that turned out. Donald Trump swept up most of the Rust Belt, in addition to Florida and North Carolina. Much to the dismay of CNN news anchors, Donald Trump not only won the electoral college, but he won it in a landslide, and he didn’t even need the popular vote to do it.
In 2020, the story is not that similar, at least at first glance. Biden appears to be winning by a larger margin than Clinton was in 2016. Not only is he polling ahead of Clinton in the Rust Belt, but also in states like Florida and Texas. Biden’s largest advantage is in the popular vote, where he has maintained a steady lead at around 7%.
This seems reasonable considering the state of the nation. Roughly 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, there is widespread financial discomfort and racial issues have led to civil unrest. In many ways, the country is more chaotic now than it was four years ago.
Regardless of whether or not you deem Trump responsible for all or any of these problems, one cannot deny the negative impact they will have on his chances of reelection. In 2016, Trump ran as the political outsider. But in 2020, he is now running as the incumbent. As an active president, the state of the nation largely determines how likely he is to get reelected.
An uncertain political climate throws doubt on the incumbent’s chances.
But do not be fooled. There is still a significant chance Trump will win this election. While Biden is doing better than Clinton did in most states, several are still only a few percentage points away from being within the margin of error. Some states, like Texas, are nearly tied.
There are too many swing states this election cycle for a definitive prediction to have any real meaning. We could see a close finish, or we could see Trump outperform the polls and claim a massive victory. The only definite statement that can be made about this election cycle is that it is unlikely that Trump wins by the same large margin as he did in 2016. The race will, at the very least, be closer.
On Election Day itself, Trump is the favorite to win, due to mail-in voting. A recent poll found that Republicans are 30% more likely to vote in person than Democrats. Since it takes time for mail-in ballots to be counted, and since so many states are considered swing states this year, it is quite likely that the victor on election night will not match the ultimate winner of the race.
In that situation, we could see Trump easily picking up Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and more on Nov. 3 before slowly losing these states to Biden as mail-in ballots are counted. Election Day may not determine victory in 2020.
Whatever happens on that day, and in the days afterward, voters can be sure of one thing: this election will be messy and unpredictable. Vote, and hope for the best, but don’t count on polls to tell you the future.