Where are we? The state of play in nothing but numbers.
No analysis, just data. What the polls say as we enter the penultimate month of campaigning.
What happened in August?
August was an important month for the campaign, both in terms of scheduled and unscheduled events. Joe Biden announced the California Senator, Kamala Harris, as his running mate ahead of the party’s virtual convention. A four day event which was generally received well considering the technical demands needed to execute it.
A week later, the Republicans attempted their own closed-to-the-press convention. A night of nepotism was the perfect backdrop for Donald Trump to pick up his party’s official nomination, smashing through the Hatch Act in the process. While this ordinarily isn’t an important observation, it is worth noting that millions more watched the Democratic convention than the Republican one. That upset some.
Outside of these set piece events, the Trump team planned to sue the state of Nevada because of its plans to increase mail-in-voting for its residents. All part of a wider political battle regarding the United States Postal Service, which saw the Oversight and Reform Committee hear from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
In addition, other legal battles continued to play out. New York judge denied an attempt by Trump to delay a defamation suit filed by E Jean Carroll, a woman who accuses the president of sexual assault, and the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, filed a civil lawsuit against the NRA.
A major, perhaps campaign shifting event was the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The event has sparked major protests and violent riots and looting across the state. Kyle Rittenhouse — a Trump supporting 17 year old — is suspected of killing civilians. Joe Biden delivered a speech condemning the violence; Donald Trump supported Rittenhouse. Similar violence continues to occur in Portland, Oregon.
Until now, the Coronavirus has been the defining issue of the campaign, however, if violence continues, the race could be reshaped.
What do the polls say?
Ahead of the conventions, there was a feeling that a traditional bounce would be lessened. The shift to virtual conventions, combined with a relatively high level of people already being engaged with the election, has perhaps contributed to this. There are also fewer undecided voters being reported at this stage, meaning that high levels of volatility are more unlikely.
These predictions have general proven to be accurate. The month started with Biden having a lead of 8.3% — a lead larger than any candidate at this stage since Bill Clinton in 1996. The month ended with a narrower, albeit still strong lead, of 7.1%. Biden’s lead peaked on August 24th at 9.3%.
One of the more telling observations beneath the unremarkable headlines is that Trump’s numbers are changing more than Biden’s. For example, at the end of July, Biden’s was polling 50.2%, at the end of August, he inched this up to 50.3%, whereas Trump went from 42% to 43.3% in the same time frame.
This trend has manifested in the swing states too; sometimes to an even starker degree. Minnesota, a state Clinton only narrowly won in 2016, is a good example of this. Throughout August, Biden’s average polling fell a negligible 0.2%, while Trump’s increased 1.6% from 42.9 to 44.5%, virtually identical to his 2016 number in the state.
Michigan and Pennsylvania are reporting similar situations. In Michigan, Biden went from 49.6% to 49.9% whereas Trump went from 41.5% to 42.9%, and in Pennsylvania Biden dropped 0.1% to 49.5%, while Trump went from 43% to 44.8%.
In all three of the aforementioned states, Biden still maintains strong overall leads. MN; 4.4%, MI; 6.2%, PA; 4.6%. He also leads in Wisconsin (5.2%), Arizona (2.9%), Florida (4.4%), and North Carolina (0.8%). Trump, however, has overtaken Biden in Iowa, Ohio, Georgia, and Texas, after briefly conceding the lead throughout June.
What would happen if the election was held today?
If the polls were accurate — and that is a big if — then Joe Biden would still be set to win handsomely, despite the drop in his numbers over the last few months. His national lead remains high at 7.1%, which is near the winning margin of Obama in 2008, and higher than his former boss’s 2012 margin. In practice, this would mean Joe Biden winning 333 electoral college votes to Donald Trump’s 205. Although it would also mean the Democrats fail to flip their ambitious targets of Texas and Georgia.
A winning margin of around 7 points would probably mean the Democrats secure a working majority in the Senate as well, flipping seats in Colorado, Maine, Arizona, and North Carolina, based purely on the Presidential polling numbers. Other states such as Montana and Iowa, maybe even Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas could also be put in play.
A month ago, Joe Biden did not have a running mate and the conventions had not happened. In one month’s time, we will be entering the final full month of campaigning. June was a bit of an anomalous month which saw Biden increase his lead at an unprecedented rate despite not really doing much. July chipped away at that lead, and August followed suit. With violent protests and riots continuing, the COVID pandemic still rolling on, the economy faltering, and unemployment remaining high, there is no way of knowing what is coming.
But if Biden has hit his ceiling then the only way change is possible is if Trump continues to improve his numbers, which he has steadily been doing over the last two months.