It still remains something of a mystery to me why there’s so little apprehension among liberal pundits and Democrats about the similarities between 2020 and 2016 polling in battleground states.
The RealClearPolitics average had Clinton +6.5 in Wisconsin on Election Day. In August, she had been +11.5. Not a single poll featured on RCP during the 2016 campaign showed Trump winning the state. Biden has a + 3.5 average right now — which is to say, he is underperforming Clinton in the middle of a pandemic and economic collapse. This is the case in a number of battleground states. What happens if the coronavirus continues to ebb or the economy starts rebounding over the next couple of months? A new CNBC poll finds that as serious concerns about the coronavirus fell in six 2020 battleground states, approval of Trump’s handling of COVID-19 rose.
This average, incidentally, was taken before the Kenosha riots. As Wisconsin’s Dan O’Donnell points out to me, many Republicans in the state believe the August 2016 riots in Milwaukee over the shooting death of Sylville Smith (eventually ruled to be justified) played a role Trump’s win. It was around the time the race began to tighten. “Milwaukee is seen outstate as being wholly unlike the rest of the largely rural population because of its crime and Democrat policies,” O’Donnell says. “If people in, say, Appleton and Oshkosh (the other big swing area) and the heavily red suburbs think Milwaukee-style rioting could come to their cities next, Democrats are in big trouble here.”
Other states have similar stories. Biden is +5.5 in Pennsylvania today. Hillary was +9.2 the same day in 2016. Polls would tighten, but Hillary still ended up +2 on Election Day. Biden is +7 in Michigan today, and Hillary was +9 on the same day in 2016.
Florida is the only battleground state where Biden (+3.7) is outperforming Clinton (+2.7). Hillary was up +2.8 in August. The polls would tighten. If Trump loses Florida, the other states won’t matter. That said, Andrew Gillum was + 3.6 over Ron DeSantis in the governor’s race and Bill Nelson was +2.6 over Rick Scott in the Senate race on Election Day in 2018. Both Democrats were above 50 percent in at least three of the last five polls conducted in the state, and both lost. That’s a trend.
I’m no prognosticator. I was convinced Trump would be beaten soundly in 2016. And perhaps Biden’s lead will prove more durable than Clinton’s. What I don’t understand, though, is why so many people seem so utterly convinced that this time will be different.