With little over a month to go for the US presidential election, the pundits seem to be in agreement: While nationwide polls indicate a comfortable lead for Joe Biden over Donald Trump the battleground states are pointing to the Democratic challenger handing the US president a defeat.
This is no surprise. Over the past few months, Biden has been hovering around the 50 percent mark and the president has been perennially trapped in the low-to-mid 40s (not being able to clear the 50 percent mark has, historically, been considered a danger sign for an incumbent).
As per the CNN poll of polls, Biden currently leads Trump 51 percent to 44 percent.
Teflon Don versus Steady Joe
This year has been quite the decade. A pandemic, protests, floods and fires.
But throughout the year, with all its ups and downs, Trump and Biden's positions in national polling have remained unchanged.
In 2016, we saw the advent of Teflon Don. In 2020, we're seeing the wonders of
sleepy steady Joe.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds Biden holding an eight point lead over Trump among registered voters (51 to 43 percent) as more than a plurality give the president a thumbs-down on his job performance.
"So far, despite major upheavals in the country, little has changed," Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, told NBC News.
"In 2020, the fundamentals of our country have been shaken to our core, while the fundamentals of the election have not," Horwitt added.
Trump continues to hold an edge when it comes to the economy, while Biden is overwhelmingly favoured when it comes to dealing with COVID.
"Trump's summer swoon is over," added McInturff, the GOP pollster.
While the challenger's national lead has been both comfortable and consistent throughout the year, one must remember that an edge in national polling, as Hillary Clinton discovered to her chagrin in 2016, does not translate to victory on election night.
Clinton, though she maintained a lead over Trump for the entirety of the 2016 campaign, and received nearly three million more votes in the general election, found her presidential bid undone thanks to the electoral college.
Remember, the United States picks its president via the electoral college system, where each state is allotted a number of electors. While there are 538 electoral votes up for grabs, the magic number is 270.
Trump, who ran up victories in the so-called Rust Belt states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, ultimately received 304 votes and Clinton, with 227, fell way short of the mark.
The difference between Trump and Clinton ultimately came down to just 78,000 votes in the three aforementioned Rust Belt States.
But 2020 is not 2016. And with Trump as the incumbent and America gripped by the coronavirus (200,000 dead and counting) and witnessing inflamed racial tensions in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, things are playing out a little differently on the ground, particularly where it matters the most.
Battlegrounds favour Biden
Biden, who would be the oldest sitting president if elected, has leads ranging from five to eight points in battleground states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, as per CNN Politics analyst Harry Enten.
Those are the very states that carried Trump to victory in 2016. Add those to the states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 totalling 227 electoral votes and Biden's tally touches 290, Enten points out. (remember, the magic number is 270).
And if Biden picks up Florida and North Carolina (both states in which he is leading that are usually solidly Republican) that brings his electoral college figure to 330 votes.
"The thing to keep in mind is that it is possible one candidate runs the board because polling errors are correlated across states. That's exactly what happened in 2016, when Trump won most of the close states," Enten writes.
"This year we just don't know how it's going to play out. Just keep in mind that the potential change in this race could go to Biden's benefit as well as Trump's."
Trump erosion with White votersTrump rode to victory in 2016 on the backs of White voters, particularly the wealthy and voters without college degrees.
And while Trump is, relatively speaking, doing well with Latino voters and garnering a bit more Black support than he did last time, he is doing nowhere near as well with noncollege educated White voters as he did in 2016.
While there's little chance that Biden will actually win the non-college White vote, which usually goes Republican by a healthy margin, all he has to do is keep things as close as he can.
In 2016, exit polls showed Trump with a 37 point edge over Clinton in that demographic, while in 2020 that lead is down to 23 points over Biden. While that number may look comforting to the president, it might prove to be nowhere near enough to keep him in office.
Let's take a closer look at the states that matter.
In Wisconsin, Trump stomped Clinton when it came to non-college educated White women in 2016, but is now trailing Biden by nine points as per an ABC News/Washington Post poll.
That's a whopping swing of 25 points!
And worse news is still to come for the president. Pennsylvania, which is Biden country (the former US vice-president was born in Scranton) where Trump won non college-educated white women by 16 percent four years ago but is now losing them by nine percentage points, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Biden, a favoured son of Pennsylvania, has pulled even with Trump among White voters overall, according to an NBC News/Marist Poll.
"It's a big, big swing," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told Politico. "What [Biden's] doing among Whites is more than offsetting the slippage among non-Whites ¦ The recipe is very different this time, right now anyway, in terms of White voters."
That's quite the understatement. If Trump can't get his numbers back to the 2016 levels among White voters, his goose is cooked.
Perhaps that's why he hasn't yet committed to peacefully transferring power were he to lose the 3 November election
The Ginsburg effect
In what is sure to come as a surprise to Trump, a majority of Americans (including Republicans!) want the winner of the 2020 election to pick Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the US Supreme Court.
As per a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday, in the aftermath of Ginsburg's death, 62 percent of Americans surveyed stated that the winner of the 3 November polls ought to pick her replacement. Only 23 percent disagreed with that notion, and the rest were unsure.
And then there was this eye popping number: Eight in 10 Democrats surveyed and 5 in 10 Republicans agreed that the nomination should wait after the election!
While Trump is eager to plough ahead, and has already dismissed Ginsburg's dying wish that he not pick her replacement as a 'liberal concoction', pundits warn that he should be worried.
Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney and currently a contributor for The Daily Beast, writes for CNN, "If you don't think these events have the potential to energise Democrats to possibly record election turnouts in November, you probably haven't seen what's going in the Democratic base."
Obeidallah in his piece, points to the record-breaking haul achieved by the Democrats in donations after RBG's demise.
"The polls between Trump and Joe Biden might not move right away to reflect Trump and the Senate GOP's hypocritical push to fill RBG's seat before a possible Biden administration takes office next year. But the impact will likely be felt in terms of the intensity of the supporters on each side. So far, the evidence shows that voters want to honor RBG's legacy by supporting Democrats to defeat Trump and his GOP enablers," Obeidallah writes.
That sudden influx of cash for Democrats, combined with reports that the Trump campaign has blown through a billion dollar war chest, could lead to an extremely long night on 3 November for the incumbent.