Biden his time 📊 April 26, 2020

The presumptive Democratic nominee is watching from the sidelines as Donald Trump’s re-election bid implodes

Welcome! I’m G. Elliott Morris, a data journalist at The Economist and blogger of polls, elections, and political science. Happy Sunday! This is my weekly email where I write about politics using data and share links to what I’ve been reading and writing. 

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Dear reader,

We are all tired. That’s why this week’s newsletter is being distributed on a Monday night rather than the usual Sunday. But I assure you it is still filled with the normal amount of goodies. Read on and we can spend a few minutes virtually connecting with each other over data and politics this evening. I will be back to my regular schedule by next weekend (unless you’re a paying subscriber, in which case you’ll hear from me on or about Wednesday). My best to you all.


Biden his time

The presumptive Democratic nominee is watching from the sidelines as Donald Trump’s re-election bid implodes

I wrote a post for subscribers a few weeks ago about why Joe Biden is favored to win the election. Since I wrote it he has only gained more ground. But before we get to his recent numbers, let me just recap where we are so far.

Here are a few indicators I think worth keeping your eyes on:

Trump is at a historic disadvantage in the national polls

Since 1948, no incumbent president has polled as poorly as Donald Trump does today. He has been stuck about 6 points behind Joe Biden for the last couple of months and shows no signs of improving… yet. Still, a deficit this large is not a death sentence. Per my modeling, Trump retains a 30-40% chance of winning based on this measure. (But keep in mind it is not the only measure!)

The economy is really bad now…

Not only has growth has been pretty mild since even before Trump took office, the emerging depression has pushed his “fundamentals” expectation for November into the worst re-election position ever for this point in the election year.

…and bad economies hurt the incumbent

Historically, presidents lose voters when the economy turns sour. A recession this sever would doom most incumbents. However, Trump is not most incumbents. Extreme partisan polarization might just keep him in the White House. That’s a hard caveat to model, but hopefully, we can do something about it. In the meantime, this is what the traditional “fundamentals” political science model (the president’s approval rating + GDP growth in the second quarter of the election year) say we should expect at the state level:

Trump’s approval bounce from covid is fading

A new poll from YouGov this morning found Trump’s ratings where they were before the outbreak of coronavirus:

So did a new national poll released by Monmouth University today.

Biden is the clear favorite, but not guaranteed a win

The 2016 election ought to have taught most political observers and election watchers that it’s foolish to treat the political climate, especially one this far out from an election, as either stable or all that predictive of the one that follows. Polls, the economy and the competitiveness of key states today forecast a Biden victory. But arriving at a probability is hard, and relying on different types of information and methods produces different predictions:

Absence has made hearts grow fonder for Joe Biden

As the situation with the coronavirus has worsened, voters have evidently warmed to the former vice president. No doubt he represents a calmer and more even-keeled alternative to the incumbent—this at a time when the value of cool and collected leadership is on display each evening during the nightly news. Since March, Joe Biden’s favorability ratings have increased nearly 10 percentage points among all adults:

The pattern in Biden’s numbers harkens back to 2016 when news coverage of Donald Trump was negatively correlated with his standing in trial-heat polls. If the president continues to dominate the airwaves he will have a hard time making any material gains. But recent allegations of sexual assault against Biden could turn this pattern on its heads, stunting gains he might otherwise be making right now. A tangential but perhaps more important point: what option do advocates for human decency have this election? It’s not like people turned off by Biden’s history can vote for Donald Trump…

So, in sum, things are uncertain. But that doesn’t blind you from the signal. Today, Donald Trump is a clear underdog—and one that’s far behind at that.


Posts for subscribers


Links and Other Stuff

How much weight should we put on early polls?

FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley points out today that they can miss pretty badly, but have gotten much more accurate in recent years. My math puts the margin of error for polls fielded 200 days before the election around 13 percentage points. If you account for polarization in the electorate, that shrinks to about 8 points.


What I'm Reading and Working On

Polls, polls, and more polls — modeling polling data, making predictions, etc. I apparently can’t see too much of polls these days.


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