Tuesday, November 03, 2020


Four years ago, on the moring of the election, I wrote a post called "I'm Concerned." A Hillary Clinton win was widely expected, but I saw bad signs, particularly the Real Clear Politics map with each state's race resolved in favor of the polling leader, regardless of how tight the race was. At that point, Clinton's lead was only 272-266.

Right now, it's 319-219 in Joe Biden's favor. It's better. Clinton's national lead had collapsed to 3.2 points; Biden's lead right now is 6.7.

FiveThirtyEight thought Clinton had a 71.4% chance of winning; this year it's 89%.

That year, Nate Silver was warning that Donald Trump might lose the popular vote but win the Electoral College. This year, Silver notes that Biden leads nationally (in FiveThirtyEight's estimation) by more than 8 points. He notes that the race has been stable for months. He notes that there was no effective late surprise this year. He notes that there are fewer undecided voters this year.

But the swing states are very close.
... with a 3-point error in Trump’s direction — more or less what happened in 2016 — the race would become competitive. Biden would probably hold on, but he’d only be the outright favorite in states (and congressional districts) containing 279 electoral votes. In Pennsylvania, the tipping-point state, he’d be projected to win by 1.7 percentage points — not within the recount margin, but a close race.

Such a scenario would not be the end of the world for Biden. The extra cushion that he has relative to Clinton helps a lot; it means that with a 2016-style polling error, he’d narrowly win some states that she narrowly lost. Biden has polled well recently in Michigan and Wisconsin in particular and has big leads there. Still, this would not be the sort of outcome that Democrats were hoping for.
But if there's a 3-point error in Trump's favor, that means Biden will struggle to win while leading in the popular vote by 5 points. If the vote total is, as expected 150 million votes, that means Biden wins by 7,500,000 votes -- roughly Bill Clinton's 1996 popular-vote margin, when he won 379 of 538 electoral votes -- but the race will come down to a nail-biter in Pennsylvania.

My worry is that it's worse than that -- Biden could win by 8, 9, 10 million or more and still be at risk of losing the Electoral College, because so much of his support is in California, New York, Illinois, and other large blue states.

And I'm not even getting into legal machinations that could -- and probably will -- reduce Biden's totals. (I expect that at least some of the court cases that seem to have been resolved in Biden's favor will be thrown to Trump today and in the next few days.)

This should be an easy victory for Biden. A majority of Americans are sick of Trump. But that's not how our elections work. So it's still close.

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