Will The General Election Look Anything Like The Polls Indicate
With numerous months separating today's world from Election Day 2020, polls have already been comparing possible democratic nominees with incumbent Donald Trump. How accurate is this practice of polling the American electorate over a hundred days out from the actual election. Or rather, what is the benefit of knowing the current leanings of American voters. Certainly the polling results now will likely look nothing at all like the results of the actual election as demonstrated by these case studies.
In March of 2016, polls compiled by RealClearPolitics found the lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump never fell below 6% and she averaged a lead of about 10.4%. Obviously this lead is far different from the final result, which Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1%.
In March of 2012, polls compiled by RealClearPolitics found the lead Barrack Obama had over Mitt Romney averaged 5%, fairly close to the final result of 3.9%, although the polling average in November of 2012 was a 0.7% in favor of Obama.
In March of 2008, polls showed a complete tossup, Obama and McCain were near equal in most polls, and the lead vacillated back and forth. the final result of the election was about a 7% victory for Obama who won it what may easily be considered an electoral landslide victory.
In March of 2004, Bush held an average lead of 0.8%, the final results had Bush win by 2.4% over Kerry.
In April of 2000, Bush lead Gore by an average of about 6%, the final results had Gore take the popular vote by 0.5%.
In January of 1996, the presidential race looked like it might actually be a race with Bob Dole only 4 points behind President Clinton. This ended up not looking much like the blowout victory which Clinton earned by a margin of nearly 10%.
A particularly wild example, in March of 1992, then President H.W. Bush lead Democratic nominee Clinton by a margin of 19%, in fact the margin between Ross Perot and Clinton was a bout 1%. In June, Ross Perot actually led the polls. however the final result would have Clinton surging to a 5.6% victory, albeit only with 43% of the vote. Clinton would be the only candidate to win reelection and yet never earn over 50% of the vote in either election.
In March of 1988, H.W. Bush lead Dukakis by 12%. By the election Dukakis not so incredibly was able to narrow the lead to only a slight landslide of 7.8%. Bush of course road to an easy victory on the coattails of Ronald Reagan's rather popular presidency earning 53.4% of the vote.
In March of 1984, Reagan lead Mondale by 5%, and sightly earlier in January, Mondale came to within 1 point of Reagan. However Reagan's wallowing in the mere low 50s, only a solid majority that is, in polling would be short lived as he ended up taking a job as a janitor in Washington D.C. where he used Mondale to wipe the floors. Reagan's landslide(landslide doesn't fully explain the margin of his victory) victory of 18.2% and electoral victory of all but 13 electoral votes.
In March of 1980, Jimmy Carter had a rather comfortable lead of about anywhere between 6-25%. Polling was a bit erratic back in the 80s. however by the election in November of 1980, Reagan would claw his way up to a 9.7% victory over the not so inspirational Carter.
The average difference between the polling data in March and the final results for Presidential elections since 1980 was about 8.5%. To put that in perspective, a swing of 8.5% to the losing candidate of any election since 1996 would easily flip the results of the popular vote and most certainly the results of the electoral college as well.
Currently the polling data on the 2020 election is leaning towards Democrats with a 6.5% average lead for Biden and a 4.9% average lead for Sanders when matched up against Trump. These numbers, however, are anything but conclusive. At points when Trump has been the target of positive coverage, or when the economy has been highlighted, Trump has managed to leap over his Democratic opponents with polls such as Emerson showing him with a 4 point lead. Easily the number one contributor to the coming swing in polling which is almost certain to happen, although to which side is uncertain, is awareness of each candidate. While most Americans know of Trump, it depends heavily on which sources they glean their information from as to how they view him. The public awareness of economic health, of handling the Corona Virus, of foreign policy, and many more topics, will be heightened immensely as Americans tune into the news, start reading for themselves, and begin seriously deciding who they want to vote for in 2020. Trump is probably hoping on the continuation of a vibrant economy to propel him into the general election, and also for a quick resolution to the Corona Virus which has been deeply politicized by many media outlets, something which is certainly taking a toll on Trumps polling numbers. At the opposite side, Sanders and Biden face an entirely different issue. They can't yet their sights on Trump as they need to go through each other first. Negative media coverage of Biden and Sanders will be at the forefront of political discussion in media as both camps attempt to get a leg up on their opponent. This phase of the election may end up being very beneficial to Republicans as the divisiveness between the anti-establishment far left and the center left elements of the Democratic party will be on full display for the American populace. The problem for Sanders and Biden, or perhaps a benefit, is that Americans just don't really know their stance on a plethora of major issues. While Trump's major campaign promises are well known throughout America, although perhaps greatly muddied by media anxious for increased viewership, Sanders is really only known for his 15 dollar minimum wage pledge, awareness of his healthcare policy and or his plan for ownership of major businesses is largely foreign to the overall public. Most Americans assume Biden will be similar to Obama in his stances, which Biden contributes to a fair bit by calling himself an "O'Biden-Bama" democrat. Issues like Sanders' stance of banning fracking will have massive impacts on his polling in states such as Pennsylvania where fracking plays a key role in the state economy, with public awareness still low on key issues such as this, its impossible to lend any real credence to current polling. All we can really know for sure right now is that Trump is coming in at a likely deficit and his ability to cripple the public view of his opponents will be important in him winning reelection. Whichever Democrat wins the nomination will need to cling to as much public approval as possible. Undoubtedly Sanders favorability numbers will drop a bit, so will Biden's. Trump has a solid base of somewhere from 40-45% of the American population, he can gain some among independents as shown by Gallup's poll which had him at 49% approval to 48% disapproval, and with major gains among independent voters, however the political climate in November will be key to his ability to keep independent voters. For Biden or Sanders' to win, they need to eclipse that 40-45% mark and then gain more independent voters then Trump, that will be difficult for Sanders who's rather radical views will place him at odds with moderates, Biden should have an easier time with this. Sanders will probably instead rely on a massive turnout of college voters to send him to the presidency on a wave of young voter support. Whatever happens in November, all we can tell from the polls right now is that Biden has a better chance then Sanders in the current political climate, and Trump has some work to do in his messaging if he is to survive the potential threat the Corona Virus poses to the nations economic well-being.