Trump can still win the U.S. election, despite lagging in the polls: experts

U.S. President Donald Trump continues to lag behind Democratic presidential nominee  Joe Biden in the polls, even in key battleground states, but experts warn that does not mean there is a clear winner.

Political analyst websites, FiveThirtyEight and Decision Desk HQ both project Biden as the winner of the 2020 U.S. election.

But turn back the clock four years ago, and Democratic leader Hillary Clinton was also predicted to win the election.

Two weeks from the 2016 election, Clinton had a 6.1 per cent lead over Trump, according to national polls from the time.

But 2016 showed that national leads can be irrelevant, as the number of votes you win is less important than where you win them. Winning the battleground states is a far more likely way to secure an overall victory, according to Clifford Young, president of Ipsos Public Affairs.

“It’s trending Biden in the polls, but the lead in some states is about the same as Clinton had in 2016, so there’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

Although Clinton gained nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump in 2016, he was able to claim victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which was enough to grab the presidency.

What the latest national polls say

The latest national polls from Global Strategy Group, (conducted Oct. 15-19), show that Trump’s approval ratings are in the negative on everything from the economy to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents disapproved of his handling of the economy, 57 per cent disapproved of his handling of the pandemic and 54 per cent disapproved of how he handled the protests stemming from George Floyd’s death.

An Ipsos Reid survey out of the U.S. (Oct. 13-19), asked respondents, “if the 2020 presidential election were held today, who would you vote for?”

Thirty-eight per cent said Trump and 46.2 per cent said Biden. The age demographic that gave Trump the most support was aged 65 and over (41. 3 per cent). Respondents aged 18-24 were more likely to favour Biden (54.8 per cent).

And the latest poll (conducted Oct. 15-18) from The New York Times and Siena College shows Biden holding a nine-point lead over Trump.

Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, recently warned supporters that despite the Democrat’s strong poll numbers, winning is still not set in stone.

“There is still a long way to go in this campaign,” O’Malley Dillon said on Twitter on Oct. 14. “We think this race is far closer than folks on this website (Twitter) think. Like a lot closer.”

How Trump could still win

Polls failed to predict the 2016 election

Predicting the outcome of a presidential election can be difficult as you don’t know who will actually show up to cast a ballot, who will change their mind last minute and who “lied” to pollsters.

For example, in examining what went wrong with the 2016 polls, Pew Research Center looked at a variety of reasons, including that some respondents may not be honest when answering polls, the nonpartisan think tank stated.

“Some have also suggested that many of those who were polled simply were not honest about whom they intended to vote for,” Pew Research Center stated. “The idea of so-called ‘shy Trumpers’ suggests that support for Trump was socially undesirable, and that his supporters were unwilling to admit their support to pollsters.”

However, Pew Research said this theory “might account for a small amount of the error in 2016 polls, but it was not among the main reasons.”

Simon Palamar, a research fellow at Centre for International Governance Innovation, told Global News in 2016 that because many polls are still conducted over the phone, they can be skewed by voters who don’t want to talk with pollsters.

“Let’s say you believe the polls are rigged and you like Trump — you might consciously and deliberately decide not to respond to pollsters,” Palamar said. “That will systematically omit a certain type of person from the poll.”

Final debate

The final debate between Trump and Biden is scheduled to take place Thursday evening and under new rules: the candidates’ microphones will be muted for a portion of it.

The two will share the stage three weeks after the first debate, which was dominated by Trump’s constant interrupting, a tactic that appeared to have hurt him, according to polls.

“Debates don’t always have a huge impact on the election,” Young said, adding that after Trump’s first performance, he “needs to win this debate, and Biden does not.”

Thursday’s final debate gives Trump an ability to pick up some momentum and “activate his base,” Young said.

“There aren’t any more persuadable (voters). Getting people to vote will be Trump’s focus,” he said.

Swing states

Most U.S. states safely lean Republican or Democratic before the election even begins. But every federal election a few “swing states” are up for grabs, which usually determine who wins the Electoral College.

There are six big swing states in the 2020 election. Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina are the states that are viewed as most likely to determine the outcome.

The biggest chance Trump has at winning the election is by securing the battleground states specifically in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, Young said.

“These four states are essential,” he explained. “Florida is big and is increasingly getting larger as the state’s population is growing. Historically, the state usually decides who the president is. If Florida goes Biden, then it’s over for Trump.”

Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida in the 2016 election, but by a very thin margin.

“Ultimately he will need these swing states to be able to take the election,” Young said.

The latest polling (conducted Oct. 13-19) from Reuters/Ipsos shows that Trump appeared to cut into Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania, one of the election’s most important battlegrounds. However, Biden has secured a solid lead in Wisconsin, another key swing state.

Here is a look at the latest polling from Ipsos and how it compared to 2016.

Pennsylvania

  • Voting for Biden: 49 per cent
  • Voting for Trump: 45 per cent

Clinton was up seven percentage points in 2016. Trump won with a 0.7 percentage point.

Wisconsin

  • Voting for Biden: 51 per cent
  • Voting for Trump: 43 per cent

Clinton was up six percentage points in 2016. Trump won with a 0.7 percentage point.

Florida

  • Voting for Biden: 49 per cent
  • Voting for Trump: 47 per cent

Clinton was up 3.5 percentage points in 2016. Trump won with a 1.2 percentage point.

Michigan

  • Voting for Biden: 51 per cent
  • Voting for Trump: 43 per cent

Clinton was up 11.4 percentage points in 2016. Trump won with a 0.3 percentage point.

‘Biden seems in better shape’

Despite Biden’s lead, Nick Gourevitch, a partner at Global Strategy Group who has been polling on the presidential race, told the Washington Post that a Trump win is still “within the realm of possibility.”

“I don’t know anyone in my Democratic pollster world who is sitting 100 per cent comfortably or anything like that,” Gourevitch said.

“Biden seems in better shape, but it is still a polarized country.”

But Young warns that the political landscape has changed dramatically in four years, so people should be “careful” when trying to compare the two elections.

“2016 was in 2016 — a lot has happened since then. But if anything, what happened four years ago should give us all a pause … at the end of the day it’s about activating your base and getting people to vote,” he said.

— With a file from Global News’ Andrew Russell

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