The Other McCain

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Biden Loses Ground in Latest Poll

Posted on | May 6, 2020 | Comments Off on Biden Loses Ground in Latest Poll

Twenty years ago, part of my job at The Washington Times was compiling the weekly round-up of election poll data, and I learned a good bit about the polling business in the process. First, as pollsters say, what they seek to provide is a “snapshot” of public opinion, which is not a prediction of future results. For this reason, early polls should always be interpreted cautiously. You can’t look at polls six months ahead of an election and predict the outcome in November. Since the days when I was searching the Internet and wire services to find the latest numbers, it has become easier to find polls. Everybody interested in polls goes to Real Clear Politics for up-to-the-minute numbers, and a veritable army of online pundits offer their interpretations of the latest trend, like Roman augurs examining the entrails. This has made it a dull game.

One of the no-no’s in polling is to take a single survey as proof of a trend. You need to follow the numbers over time to see what direction public opinion is taking, and yet there is this:

Joe Biden’s advantage over President Donald Trump in popular support has eroded in recent weeks as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee struggles for visibility with voters during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.
The opinion poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday found that 43% of registered voters said they would support Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election, while 41% said they would back Trump. That makes the contest essentially a toss-up, as the results are within the poll’s credibility interval.
Biden led by 6 percentage points in a similar poll last week and by 8 points in a poll that ran April 15 to 21. . . .

Is this significant? We don’t know. It’s too early. Six months is a long time in politics, and there’s no telling what might happen to shift opinions between now and November. But the fact that Biden has suffered a net loss of six points in the space of two weeks tells, among other things, that Biden’s support is “soft.” He suffers from a lack of what the pundits call voter “intensity.” Of course, the vast majority of voters are more or less firmly partisan — about 40% will always vote Democrat and 40% will always vote Republican, so that elections are determined by the persuadable 20% of undecided voters in the middle.

The establishment Democrats who pulled out all the stops to help Biden clinch the nomination did this because they believed Biden to be the most “electable” candidate, especially in terms of winning back the working-class white voters who had defected to support Trump in 2016. This involved a calculation as to what the fall election campaign would be about, and what kind of candidate would be best able to beat Trump. But if Biden seemed like the “safe” choice for Democrats in March, there was always a downside risk that, by running a 77-year-old white man as their candidate, Democrats risked a loss of voter intensity, especially among their minority/female voter base. In other words, like Republicans nominating Mitt Romney in 2012, the “safe” candidate for Democrats is not necessarily the best candidate. We cannot predict what this will mean in November, however, but this poll does offer evidence — a data point — indicating that beating Trump will not be easy for Biden.



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