Tuesday, November 05, 2019


I think attention must be paid to the New York Times/Siena poll that was released yesterday, but I don't believe its forecast of gloom and doom for Democratic presidential hopefuls in swing states. I don't believe the new WashingtonPost/ABC national poll either, even though I'd really like to:

I imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle. That's why I obsessively follow the polling averages at Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight.

But it's possible that the Times poll is correct about the difficulty faced by the Democratic nominee in trying to win the Electoral College. In The New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner has published an interview with Nate Cohn of the Times, who oversaw the Siena poll. An excerpt:
What is your biggest takeaway from all of the data you collected?

The President is better positioned in the battleground states than he is nationwide, and remains really competitive in the states likeliest to decide the election, despite all that’s happened to him.

What would you imagine the national numbers are if these are the numbers in the swing states you polled?

Over the summer, we did an analysis of what we thought the President’s approval rating was in every state. And in these states we thought the President’s approval rating was five points better than nationwide. So, if Biden is up two in these states, I would say maybe that he is up seven nationwide.
Cohn believes Biden is up by 2 over Trump in the six swing states surveyed. Here are the likely-voter numbers:

In the states that gave Trump his 2016 margin of victory, the poll sees Biden beating Trump, but barely. The numbers are well within the margin of error (+/-5.1% for Michigan, +/-4.4% for the other states).

Now, let's say the poll is off by 2 in Trump's favor. Let's say Biden is up by 5 nationwide. Under those circumstances, Trump could beat the state-by-state poll numbers by 2 points and win the Electoral College, while losing the popular vote by 5 points. (Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by just over 2 points.)

If that happened, what would the raw numbers look like? Let's go to the 2016 results. Third parties took 6% of the vote; Clinton won 48% and Trump won 46%.

Let's imagine a 2020 vote in which third parties take 5% of the vote. Now imagine the Democrat taking 50% and Trump taking 45%. If the total vote matches that of 2016 (136,669,276 votes overall), these could be the results:

Democrat: 68,334,638 (50%)
Trump: 61,501,174 (45%)

And yet, with a 5% margin, Trump could win the Electoral College, according to Nate Cohn's numbers.

Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report has said that Trump could win the Electoral College with a popular vote deficit of 5 million. The Times/Siena poll suggests that that number could be approximately 7 million. That would be outrageous and a travesty of democracy.

It may be that Cohn's polling unit has adjusted its metrics to overcorrect for the embarrassment of "the dial" on the Times website on election night 2016. For a lot of Democratic voters, that "dial" -- which showed Hillary Clinton with a massive advantage early on the evening of November 8, then showed the pointer moving inexorably toward a Trump victory -- is the most remembered visual symbol of the horrors of that night.

Or Cohn may be right, in which case Democrats need to fight like hell to win those swing states -- or need to tarnish Trump enough to win nationally by margins closer to the ones in the Post/ABC poll, which is a much taller order. (No one's won the popular vote by margins that large since Ronald Reagan in 1984.)

If Trump loses the popular vote by 7 million and wins reelection, we should all grab torches and pitchforks and take to the streets. At minimum, we should demand a government that reflects the will of the people -- the sort of reach-across-the-aisle government that would be insisted upon if a Democrat won this way. But it would be much better not to let it happen.

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