How Trump has broken the polls

Poll of the week: A new...

Posted: May 3, 2020 10:39 AM
Updated: May 4, 2020 9:02 AM

Poll of the week: A new Ipsos/Reuters poll finds that former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by a 45% to 39% margin.

The Ipsos poll is just the latest to find Biden ahead. He's never not been ahead in the polling average. Right now, Biden has an average-6 point lead nationally and is up in key battleground states such as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

What's the point: The polls clearly show that Biden is ahead and by a larger margin than Hillary Clinton was on the eve of the 2016 election. You might think that would make people believe that Biden is more likely to win, even if it were far from a certainty.

Yet, the evidence suggests that Trump's surprising 2016 victory has warped people into believing that Trump has some magic up his sleeve. They don't believe he will lose.

An average of recent polls finds that a majority of voters (about 55%) believe that Trump will defeat Biden in the election. Trump's edge on this question has remained fairly consistent over time.

A majority or plurality of voters thought he'd be re-elected in a February Fox News poll and a September 2019 Marist College poll. During none of these periods was Trump ahead when pollsters asked voters who they would vote for, not who they thought would win.

Historically, the question of who people thought would win had actually been a pretty good predictor. One study even determined that from 1988 to 2012, asking people who they believed would win was more accurate than polls of voter preference of who they wanted to win.

Voters, though, thought that Clinton would beat Trump in 2016. Of course, she did not.

Now, it seems Americans have probably overreacted to the 2016 result. They don't trust the numbers that are in front of them. Americans think the polls are underestimating Republicans.

You can see this really well by looking not just at the 2020 polls, but the 2018 polling as well. Gallup asked Americans just before that election whether they thought Democrats or Republicans would control the US House after the election. By a 50% to 44% margin, they said Republicans. This came even as Democrats were clear favorites in pretty much every forecast and when that same Gallup poll showed Democrats with an 11-point lead on the generic congressional ballot.

This 2018 poll marked the first time that Americans incorrectly forecasted who would win the House. Americans had previously correctly called every other House election and flip of the chamber in the years Gallup polled (1946, 1948, 2006 and 2010).

For 2020, it seems that Americans are continuing to think that the polls are underestimating Republicans. That may be the case, but it seems like a bad bet given that polls did pretty well in 2018.

My advice would be that in gauging the electorate, you shouldn't be of the mindset that Trump is going to pull it out if the polls continue to suggest he won't. Even Trump's own polling reportedly has him behind.

Trump's a politician, not a magician.

CORRECTION: The story has been corrected to reflect that Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee for the 2016 election.

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