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The 2016 Donald Trump win shocked pollsters and the political world alike.
But if Trump doesn’t begin to close the polling gap with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, then the president would need an even bigger polling upset on election day to pull out a 2020 victory.
Four years ago Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton went into election night polling ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania (+1.9 percentage points), Michigan (+3.4 points), and Wisconsin (+6.5 points). Trump won all three and took White House—although he did lose Nevada, where he had a 0.8 percentage point polling average lead, according to RealClearPolitics.
But this go around, Trump might need to come from behind in even more states: Biden currently leads Trump in polling averages in seven states the president won in 2016, including Arizona (+5.6 points) Florida (+1.2 points), Pennsylvania (+4.3 points), Michigan (+4.2 points), North Carolina (+0.8 points), Ohio (+2.4 points), and Wisconsin (+6.3 points).
In most electoral scenarios, Trump would need to win at least five of those states to get to 270 electoral votes. Trump would win, for example, if he pulls off upsets in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—and wins everywhere he’s currently leading.
While Biden leads polling in Ohio, election models do still give Trump the advantage in the Buckeye State. FiveThirtyEight gives the president a 55% chance of winning Ohio in November, while the Economist gives Trump a 71% chance of taking Ohio. Those same models have Biden the favorite in all the other states he’s currently leading polls.
And keep in mind these polls could change between now and the election. Look no further than the 2016 polls, which saw considerable tightening in the final weeks of the race. And we still have all three presidential debates and the vice presidential debate to go.
The bad news for Trump is that Biden’s national polling lead (+7.5 points) is much stronger than Clinton’s (+3.2 points) during the 2016 campaign. Clinton ended up with a 2.1 percentage point popular vote win.
If Biden actually beats Trump in the popular vote by 6 percentage points his chances of winning the election are 99%, according to FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver. But a 1 to 2 percentage point Biden popular vote win equates to just a 22% chance of a Biden electoral college win.
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