Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in voting intentions will be more difficult to overcome than that of Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The first reaction of many observers to Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in the voting intention polls is to say that it cannot be trusted, since the polls also gave a lead for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and we know the rest. Forget for now the primary critics who reject all polls that don’t reflect their preferences or who persist in saying that the 2016 polls were wrong. (They were fair enough: Clinton’s lead in the popular vote was less than a point from the average predicted by the polls.) There are many signs that Biden’s current lead is of great concern to Trump. .
A stronger advance than in 2016
First, within five months of the election, the average of the polls as calculated by Real Clear Politics indicates an advance of 8 points for Biden, against 3 points at the same date in 2016 for Clinton. More generally, if we compare the trends of 2016 and 2020 from 1er January to June 8, we can observe some key differences.
Graph 1: Polls of Clinton vs Trump voting intentions, 1er January-June 8, 2016
Chart 2: Biden vs Trump voting intention polls, 1er January-June 8, 2020
First we see that the average support of Hillary Clinton was around 46%, with a ceiling of about 50% and a floor of 43% while Trump then had an average of about 41%, a floor by 39% and a ceiling of 44%. We also note that the difference between the two candidates is very variable. In 2020, Biden’s average is around 49% and Trump’s average around 43%, with respective floors of 47% and 41.5% and ceilings of 51% and 45.5%.
At first glance, Biden has an average lead twice that of Clinton. It is also noteworthy that there were significantly fewer undecided or discreet voters in 2020 than there were in 2016 at the same dates. In 2020, the proportion of undecided and discreet people fluctuated between 5% and 11%, whereas it was between 8% and 17% in 2020.
A less mobile electorate
Biden’s lead is not only higher than Clinton’s in 2016, but there is less room for change. This is important because an observation of the trend in opinion in 2016 shows that voting intentions were subject to significant variations, as shown by the general trend for the whole of the year preceding the 2016 election. We can probably expect fewer variations by next November.
Chart 3: Polls of Clinton vs Trump voting intentions, 1er January-November 8, 2016
We also note in the polls carried out to date in 2020 that Joe Biden has frequently reached or exceeded the symbolic threshold of an absolute majority (50%) in individual polls (27 times out of 71 polls since 1er January) when Hillary Clinton had rarely reached this threshold (only once in the average of surveys in April 2016 and 13 times in individual surveys between January and June 2016).
On the other hand, in 2016 we observed several times a “mirror” effect in both directions, which suggests a back and forth of the voting intentions from one candidate to another and therefore a certain fluidity of supports. This back-and-forth movement, which was present to some extent between Trump and Biden at the end of 2019, seems much less present in 2020. Eight times during 2016, the support levels of Clinton and of Trump approached less than two percentage points. The current president was fortunate that one of these rapprochements took place just before the election.
Donald Trump narrowly won in November 2016. He lost the popular vote by two percentage points and won the electoral college by a slim margin of about 80,000 votes in three key states. What are its chances of repeating this feat under current conditions?
It is always risky to make predictions, especially if they concern the future, but it is already possible to note that not only Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump is higher and more stable than that which Hillary Clinton had over him four years ago, but the undecided or removable voters are extremely rare and it will be all the more difficult for him to bring them back to him.
If we add to this general picture the bleak situation of support for Trump in several key states that he cannot afford to lose and the marked decline in his support among several groups of voters who form the core of his partisan base (I’ll come back to this), it is not surprising that an air of panic begins to be felt in the White House and that several Republican legislators begin to consider distancing themselves from a president which increasingly looks like a burden on their prospects for re-election.