Duane Townsend

Current Affairs - September 18, 2020

Ok, but how could the polls be wrong? Why specifically would they have underestimated Trump? Simple: Biden has made a decision that no other presidential campaign has ever made. He’s not running in-person campaign operations in critical swing states. No offices. No door-knocking. No tabling. Nada."

Joe Biden, most experts say, is beating Donald Trump. If the election were held today, we are told that Biden would win comfortably. Biden’s lead is “the steadiest on record,” says Harry Enten of CNN: “Biden’s up 52 percent to 42 percent over President Donald Trump among likely voters nationally, and he has a 50 percent to 44 percent edge over Trump in the key battleground state of Wisconsin as well.” Biden’s lead is so strong that some are saying Biden may simply “coast to victory.” The Biden campaign has not opened field offices in battleground states and is not doing in-person canvassing, but they do not appear worried. After all, they have the steadiest lead on record. Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times cautions people against “freaking out,” saying that while “as of this writing FiveThirtyEight gives Trump a 24 percent chance of winning” (in 2016 they gave him 29 percent), and while some on-the-ground organizers are “terrified” at the campaign’s inaction, party officials and the Biden campaign have offered assurance that a “digital” strategy will work. Donald Trump’s campaign may be knocking on a million doors a week to Biden’s 0, but Biden is winning in every poll.

I haven’t been nearly as reassured by this, because in 2016 everyone was telling me Trump couldn’t win and I thought they were delusional. I’ve recommended that the Biden campaign get its ass in gear and step up the fight, because after all, it never hurts to have too many votes. But when I’ve said this to people, they’ve responded to me with the signature piece of data: the polls. The polls. And, admittedly, I hadn’t really scrutinized the polls closely, so I assumed they were right that Biden’s lead was comfortable and steady.

Well, now I’ve looked at the polls. And I’m far more worried. So worried that I don’t think it’s even responsible to say that “Biden is winning.” Our working assumption should actually be that Biden is losing.

First, every single time you see a “national” polling average of Biden versus Trump, put it out of your head. It’s meaningless, or at least on its own it can’t tell you whether he’s likely to win the election. This is because we do not live in a system where the person who gets the most votes wins. Instead, we have the Electoral College, which is massively unfair and totally indefensible on rational grounds (people use absurd arguments to stick up for it). But those are the rules under which the game is played and thus the ones which will determine who wins. Hillary won the popular vote. She did not win the election. Biden could lead Trump 60-40 in the national polls and still lose the election if his voters were concentrated in deep blue states. ...
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