“It’s the economy, stupid.” That was Bill Clinton strategist James Carville’s famous epitaph for George Bush’s loss in 1992. Donald Trump’s confidence about winning a second term could be similarly summed up: It’s the electoral college, stupid. He wouldn’t be wrong.
A constellation of national polls show Joe Biden’s lead anywhere from 3 to 18 percent, though his battleground state polls are much, much narrower: from 1 to 6 percent. In other words, almost most are within the margin of error. Or terror, if you’re hoping for a Trump loss.
Out there in the Kuiper Belt two or three pollsters generally favorable to the president have him winning Tuesday. They may be right–not because the polls are wrong. They’re not. But because once the margin of error is accounted for–it’s there for a reason: uncertainty is the human factor behind the numbers–the polls can be accurate and Trump can win, simply by eking out victories in even fewer states than he did in 2016.
It comes down to Florida and Pennsylvania. If Trump holds those two states, he doesn’t need Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota, assuming he also holds Arizona and North Carolina. Not necessarily an easy scenario, but not the insurmountable one Biden fans are making it out to be: Biden’s lead in none of those states is bankable. Democrats had a good lead in ballots cast so far in Florida, but Republicans have been narrowing it steadily and may erase it by Tuesday. The Democrats’ lead in Pennsylvania is larger so far, but far fewer votes have been turned in: most Pennsylvanian are voting in person.
And if non-college-educated white men were Trump’s ace in 2016, when pollsters ignored that demographic, Latinos are the invisible men of this election, and I do mean men: women aren’t as easily swayed by Trump’s “Potemkin patriarchy,” as Susan Faludi describes it. Latino men (and more Black men than voted for Trump in 2016) could provide the Hail Mary margins of 2016 in just those states where Trump needs them most. It looks like they’re doing it in Florida and Pennsylvania. If that holds, he’s halfway there. The rest is downhill. So the polls aren’t wrong, except maybe in Pennsylvania, where pollsters got it quite wrong in 2016 anyway. The Pennsylvanian topography isn’t as malleable as pollsters’ biases.
How to account for those national polls that have Biden winning by double digits? Again, the polls aren’t wrong, if we average them out and down to the more reasonable margin of 6 to 8 points. But they lead to outdated conclusions based on previous elections’ assumptions.
The nation is growing more polarized from election to election, not more purple. The blue-state vote gave Clinton a majority of nearly 3 million four years ago, and that was when Trump was running up his own red-state scores by big margins. This year the solid-blue states are voting in more massive numbers for Biden, and the red states are all voting for Trump in much slimmer margins than in 2016, at least according to polls: His Texas margin in 2016 was 9. It’s now 3, in a state that’s already matched the total vote of 2016 in ballots cast. Iowa was 10. It’s 1. West Virginia gave him a 44-point margin four years ago. It’s down to 29. And so on: Kentucky, 31 to 21, Idaho, 37 to 26, even Wyoming, 51 down to 40.
So a much less talked about phenomenon of this election is that Biden is stacking up millions of votes Clinton didn’t have from red states. But those states are still red, and the blue states are just bluer. Under that scenario, you can have a 6 to 8 million Biden popular vote margin in line with the national polls that see him, on average, winning by 7 percent (the actual divide will almost certainly be smaller). The end result is still the same. Trump wins the electoral college.
Of course it wouldn’t be easy and a lot of assumptions would have to align. And if Latino men are a key factor in this election, Texas may well live up to its old tourism campaign in the 2000s: “It’s more than you think.” In this case, it’s the youth vote in Texas that’s smashing all records and that could tip the state blue for the first time since Jimmy Carter carried it in 1976. If Texas goes blue, all bets are off and Trump can turn his attention to the popup books he’ll want for his presidential library. But we’re not there. Like its Hill Country, Texas can beguile and deceive.
Instead and back on earth, a Trump win seems to be less improbable than in 2016, not more, simply because of the narrower margins in battleground states and some of those less-calculated factors such as the Latino vote. (That the electoral college is as undemocratic and politically unconscionable as the three-fifth compromise is irrelevant. That’s the system we have.)
Because of the Texas factor and those blue-trending polls there’s talk of a Biden blowout. That too is possible. But if you’re the betting kind, you might want to take a look at the average in current odds, which has stayed in the 60-30 range for Biden all months, and remains there even 100 hours from Election Day. That’s not a confidence booster for Biden voters, considering that Clinton’s odds were far better this time four years ago.
If I were betting, I’d bet on Trump. But since I don’t bet on weapons of mass destruction, I’m shopping for shrinks and booking ahead for a Baker Act.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here.
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