Thursday, June 6, 2019

Early Polls Show Trump and GOP Face Possibility of Landslide Electoral Loss in 2020

As I've pointed out on these pages before, Donald Trump is not a strong general election candidate.  Even though he faced the most unpopular Democratic candidate in history, Trump still lost the popular vote and only won the electoral college vote by a very narrow margin. If just 39,000 people in three states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) had switched their vote from Trump to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton would be in the White House.

Former Vice President Joe Biden
Looking at the 2016 results, one finds that scores of GOP congressional candidates across the country did better than Trump at the polls.  (Indiana was a notable exception to this.)  Trump's win was not based so much on traditional Democrats switching to Republican, but that GOP-leaning turnout being juiced thanks in no small part because of Trump being on the ballot.  Meanwhile, Democrats, dissatisfied with their candidate, stayed home. 

Trump's performance in office has changed that 2016 dynamic.  While the GOP voters remain energized, now Democratic-leaning voters, wanting to send a message to the President, are as well.  In 2018, we had the opportunity to see what happens in the rare election in which both sides are energized.  The result was an historic Democratic victory, winning a, net, 40 seats in the U.S. House.

How bad can 2020  be for Trump and Republicans.  ?  Let's look at some of the state polling:

Texas:   In 2016, Trump beat Hillary by 9 points in Texas.  (By way of comparison, the GOP candidate for State Railroad Commissioner won by 15%).   A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday has former Vice President Joe Biden beating Trump by 4% in Texas.  All the other Democratic candidates poll in the head-to-head contest with President Trump trailed by less than 4 points, well within the margin of error.  Lest anyone think the Quinnipiac Texas poll is an aberration, a late April poll of Texas voters also showed Biden beating Trump by one point in the Lone Star State. 

North Carolina:  Trump won the state by 3.6% in 2016.  In a poll, just released, Biden beats Trump in the Tar Heel state by 11%.  Sanders is up by 8%.  Even South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg leads Trump by 4 points in North Carolina.

Florida:  Trump won the state in 2016 by 1.2%.  He remains surprisingly popular in the Sunshine State two years later.  A May poll shows Biden only running even with Trump.

Pennsylvania:  Trump won this critical state in 2016 by less than 1% of the vote.  A mid-May poll has Biden up 11 points in the Keystone State.  Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is up by 8 and Sanders up by 7.  In fact every Democratic presidential candidate the pollster asked about leads Trump in Pennsylvania except for former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

Arizona:  Trump won the state by 3.6% in 2016.  An early May poll shows Biden ahead by 5 points.

Nevada:  Trump lost the state by 2.4% in 2016.  But Biden's lead in a 3/31 poll is only 4 points.  This is an example of a 2016 blue state that the GOP should probably target.  

Iowa:  Although the Hawkeye State is ideally suited for Trump (heavily white and rural) and Trump won by over 9.5 points in 2016, he polls as down to Biden by 6 points.  The same March 25th poll has even Sanders leading (by 2 points) Trump in Iowa.

Wisconsin:  Along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin was a critical victory for Trump in 2016.  He won the state by about .7% of the vote.  In a March poll, Biden beats Trump by 8 points in the Badger State, while Warren and Sanders lead by 4.   In fact, all of the Democratic presidential candidates polll ahead of Trump in Wisconsin.

Michigan:  The closest state in the 2016 election, Trump won Michigan by .23%.  But a poll just released yesterday shows Biden and Sanders beating Trump by 12 points in Michigan.  March polls show Trump trailing badly in the state, with Biden up 8 points, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar ahead by 6 points, Sanders up by 5.  No Democratic presidential candidate polled as running behind Trump.  Even Buttigieg polls ahead of Trump by 6 points in Michigan.

New Hampshire:  Trump lost the state by .37% in 2016 and it is apparently being targeted by the GOP for pickup in 2020.  But February polling show Biden and Sanders both beating Trump by 10 points in 2016.

If you take how the swing states are currently polling (as outlined above), a Joe Biden would defeat President Trump 348-190 in the electoral college.  That's assuming that Florida, which currently polls as even, is won by Trump.  There are other red states - Ohio and Georgia, for example - which are well within striking district for Democrats.

Undoubtedly the Trump cult will call the polls "fake news" and claim that 2016 election results show how wrong the polls were that year.  Except that the polls in 2016 weren't wrong  In every swing state, the election result for that state was within the margin of error in the Real Clear Politics average.  (Wisconsin with a spread of 7.2% was by far the closest to being outside of the MOE.)  To clarify, contrary to how it is reported, the MOE in polling is not the margin between two competing candidates' numbers but rather a statistical aberration for each candidates' poll numbers.  Thus, in a two candidate race a 4 point MOE provides for a possible 8 point swing.

Of course, polls can change. After all, despite the unpopularity of Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Obama at their first mid-term, all ended up with big re-election victories.  So there is a possibility that Trump's popularity could increase and he could win a big re-election in 2020.  But what militates against that happening is that unlike the fluid approval numbers Reagan, Clinton and Obama had, Trump's numbers appear to be set in stone.  Trump's approval numbers have barely moved in two years.  People seem to have made up their minds about Trump early on and nothing seems to be changing that.  Perhaps independent voters would punish Democrats pushing impeach by voting for Trump to have a second term, but that seems like a long shot at best.  

A side note:  A recent story noted the Trump campaign's acknowledgement of the shifting map and the decision by the President's team to target certain Democratic states to offset those rust belt states he turned red in 2016 but are likely to go back to the Democrats in 2020.  The states being targeted are New Hampshire, New Mexico and Nevada.  Odd.  First, those states together have just 15 electoral votes while Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, key states Trump won in 2016, have a total of 46 electoral votes.  There is no chance the Trump campaign is competitive in New Mexico and a win in New Hampshire is unlikely due to Trump's unpopularity there.  Nevada is definitely in play for Trump, but how is Minnesota not on the Trump list of blue states that can be turned red?

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