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Political Horse Race: The Problem with Polling

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Political Horse Race: The Problem with Polling

The Candidates’ Market Report

If the polls are to be believed, Joe Biden is on course for a landslide victory in November. Not a single major national survey since late February has given Donald Trump the lead. So why is his team so confident that this is going to be a sure thing for the incumbent?

Clearly, the polls in 2016 were out by a huge margin, and pollsters are keen to point out that they have removed these kinks. Is this a case of the Swamp dwellers protesting too much? The reality may just be that the art of polling no longer works in its present form and that a complete rethink is needed on what data points really matter.

With the added fly of the Electoral College in the ointment, it’s a brave soul who makes a confident prediction during the 2020 election cycle.

This Week’s Major Players

Approval Ratings:

  • Donald Trump – 45% ( – 2% )
  • Congress – 18% ( + 1% )

What the Gamblers Say

As with most things, if you follow the money, you can’t go too far wrong. This is a selection of the odds for key races and events.

Democratic Party Nominee:

  • Joe Biden – 1/33
  • Hillary Clinton – 12/1
  • Michelle Obama – 33/1
  • Bernie Sanders – 50/1
  • Andrew Cuomo – 66/1
  • Kamala Harris – 100/1
  • Elizabeth Warren – 100/1

Joe Biden seems to have the world at his fingertips. All major polling supports the idea that he will be the next president of the United States. Despite 20% of his own party believing he suffers from serious cognitive decline, Democrats appear to be ready to get out and stump for their all-but-certain candidate. But what if the polls are looking in the wrong direction?

One of the few polling methods that accurately predicted President Trump’s 2016 win was carried out by political science professor Helmut Norpoth. His way has been accurate for 25 out of 27 elections since 1912, and is based on turnout in the primary stages, and thus voter enthusiasm.

If we look at the primary numbers for Trump this cycle, many have been record-shattering, and according to the professor, give Trump a 91% chance of winning. Norpoth predicts President Trump could even increase his EC vote to 362.

Biden’s Running Mate:

  • Kamala Harris – Even
  • Susan Rice – 4/1
  • Tammy Duckworth – 6/1
  • Elizabeth Warren – 12/1
  • Val Demings – 12/1
  • Keisha Lance Bottoms – 14/1
  • Michelle Obama – 16/1
  • Stacey Abrams – 22/1
  • Gretchen Whitmer – 25/1

Swing State Odds

Certain states hold the keys to power in 2020. The following are the ones that President Trump needs to do well in if he intends to serve another four years. As Liberty Nation’s Tim Donner puts it:

“Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin – he must win Florida and two of the others to squeak by. In fact, if he wins the 27 other states he won in ’16, he could win just one of Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Wisconsin and still win with exactly 270 electoral votes. On the other hand, Virginia and Colorado will be telling – both swing states Trump lost in ’16. A true bellwether is probably Minnesota, which he lost narrowly and is going after hard this time. Through all of this COVID stuff, I will stick with my prediction of 350 electoral votes or more, at least for now.”

The odds of each party winning the following states:

  • Florida: Democrats – 8/13; Republicans – 6/5
  • Arizona: Democrats – 8/13; Republicans – 6/5
  • Michigan: Democrats – 1/5; Republicans – 11/4
  • Wisconsin: Democrats – 8/15; Republicans – 11/8

Presidential Election:

  • Joe Biden – 4/7
  • Donald Trump – 13/8
  • Mike Pence – 50/1
  • Hillary Clinton – 50/1
  • Kanye West – 100/1
  • Nikki Haley – 100/1
  • Michelle Obama – 100/1
  • Andrew Cuomo – 150/1
  • Bernie Sanders – 200/1
  • Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – 500/1

There are some major factors at play in determining the outcome of the 2020 election.

First, predictions of a huge turnout upset the apple cart. Traditionally, a lot of voters heading to the polls has been a solid indication of a Democratic Party victory, primarily because Dems do better with registered voters as opposed to non-voters. But all this changed in the age of Trump. If there is a surge to the ballot box this year, it will likely come from those who have not voted before — and these folks disproportionately favor Donald Trump.

Also, the non-voter boost in 2016 was enough to hand Trump the presidency, but many folks stayed home who supported the insurgent Trump because polling suggested it was a lost cause. Will those potential voters make the same judgment this time around?

Donald Trump and the Electoral College:

Number of Electoral College votes awarded to Trump:

  • 251 – 269 = 12/1
  • 270 – 275 = 16/1
  • 276 – 280 = 16/1
  • 281 – 290 = 14/1
  • 291 – 300 = 14/1
  • 301 – 315 = 8/1
  • 316 – 330 = 8/1
  • 331 – 350 = 12/1

Make sure to check back next week for all the numbers that count.


Read more from Mark Angelides.

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