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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Perhaps Lost in the Polling: The Race for President Is Still Close - The New York Times

Perhaps Lost in the Polling: The Race for President Is Still Close

"Though he trails in the polls, President Biden has mostly held his support among white voters. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin probably offer his clearest path to victory.

President Biden will be counting on Pennsylvania. He grew up in Scranton.Yuri Gripas for The New York Times

There’s no way around it: The news for President Biden hasn’t been great.

He has trailed in national and battleground state polls for months. His approval ratings are among the lowest on record for a first-term president. He’s struggling among young, Black and Hispanic voters. And all of this against an opponent who faces several criminal trials, including one that could have a verdict this week.

But the news is not all bad for Mr. Biden — or, at least, it’s not all that bad. The race is still pretty close. It’s close enough that he would have a very serious chance to win if the election were held tomorrow. And of course, the race won’t be held tomorrow: There are five-plus months to go for a possible Biden comeback.

Together, there’s a case for taking a glass-almost-half-full perspective on Mr. Biden’s chances. Right or wrong, it’s a case that maybe hasn’t gotten quite as much attention as it deserves.

The electoral map

How is the race close? Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

If Mr. Biden won those battleground states, he’d probably be re-elected as president. They would combine to give him exactly 270 electoral college votes provided he held everywhere he won by six percentage points or more in 2020. That means he could lose all of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and so on, and still win.

Yes, Donald J. Trump does lead most polls of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But the race is close in all three states.

In our recent New York Times/Philadelphia Inquirer/Siena College polls, Mr. Trump led by an average of one percentage point across the three states among likely voters. The 538 and RealClearPolitics polling averages both show Mr. Trump ahead by just one point across those states, and Mr. Trump doesn’t appear to lead by more than around two points in any of them.

As a consequence, Mr. Biden is within two points in states worth 270 electoral votes. Looking back over the longer run, his two-point deficit in the key states makes this election closer than those heading into Election Day in 2020, 2016, 2012 and 2008. If the election were held tomorrow, it wouldn’t be especially surprising if Mr. Biden won by narrowly sweeping these three states.

In fact, Mr. Biden could win if the election were held tomorrow even if the polls had an above-average year in terms of accuracy, simply because the polls don’t have to be off by much at all for him to prevail.

One reason Mr. Biden’s resilience in these states may be overlooked is that many organizations, including The Times, have been conducting polls of all six battleground states. Mr. Biden trails narrowly in the three Northern states, but Mr. Trump often claims a significant lead in the three Sun Belt states. Together, it’s clearly a bad set of numbers for Mr. Biden. But his overall deficit across these six states may overstate his challenge.


Why is Mr. Biden competitive in the Northern battlegrounds? White voters and older voters.

In Times/Siena polling this year, Mr. Biden is running only about a point behind how he fared among white voters in 2020. For good measure, he’s also faring a bit better than he did among voters over 65. Other polls tell a similar story.

Mr. Biden’s resilience among white voters and older voters hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but it’s very important. White voters will make up around 70 percent of the electorate in November, and their share will be even higher in the Northern battleground states that Mr. Biden will be counting on. And voters over 65 will outnumber those under 30.

In a sense, Mr. Biden has already done what would ordinarily be the hard part for a Democrat. All he needs now is what’s supposed to be the easy part: getting the usual big Democratic margins among young, Black and Hispanic voters.


We’ve spent a lot of time explaining that Democratic strength in special elections can mostly be attributed to a pronounced advantage among the most highly engaged, high-turnout voters. As such, Democrats’ big wins in special elections do nothing to really disprove Mr. Biden’s weakness in general election polling.

But his strength among high-turnout voters is nonetheless an important edge. We just wrote about this last week, so I won’t dwell too much on it. But it raises the possibility that Mr. Biden may yet be able to win back many of the less engaged voters who support Mr. Trump in the polls. And if not, perhaps many of his disengaged defectors simply won’t show up.

Many months to go

The polls aren’t perfect — they’ve been off before and they’ll be off again. They wouldn’t really need to be off-target by much at all for Mr. Biden to squeak out a victory.

But even if the polls were exactly “right,” in the sense that Mr. Trump would win if the election were held tomorrow by the precise margins implied by the recent polls, Mr. Biden would still have a very real chance to win in November.

More than five months, after all, is a very long time in presidential politics. A billion dollars in advertisements, the debates, a possible conviction and countless other events are all still ahead. This year, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a large number of so-called “double-haters,” and Mr. Trump’s dependence on traditionally Democratic young and nonwhite voters make it even easier to see how the race might become volatile. The issue of democracy may not dominate the news today, but it will almost certainly be a central theme in the final weeks — perhaps especially if Mr. Trump is ahead.

Mr. Biden may be down slightly today, but there’s still a long way to go."

Perhaps Lost in the Polling: The Race for President Is Still Close - The New York Times

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