Last Call for the Pollsters?

As Americans make their way to the voting booths, only one thing is certain: someone is very wrong about this election.

According to big media polls, Joe Biden is set for either a modest win over President Trump, or an Obama-besting landslide and total refutation of President Trump’s four years in the White House.

A divide never greater. And the polls agree. One pollster embodies both sides of this divide.

The USC Dornsife Daybreak tracking poll has Joe Biden 11 points ahead of President Trump with 53 percent of the vote.

That poll also finds President Trump within either three or 0.4 percentage points of Joe Biden and on course for an Electoral College victory.

How? Researchers ask two additional and separate questions alongside the main poll question.

One asks who one’s social contacts are voting for. The other asks who voters expect to win their state. These questions, researchers believe, unearth any “shy” voters unwilling to give their true opinions.

The results are markedly different from the main poll. The social-circle question finds the race with President Trump at 47 percent and Joe Biden at 50 percent—within the “insignificance range.”

The state-winner poll is particularly striking: President Trump gets 47.4 percent to Joe Biden’s 47.8 percent—a near-perfect statistical tie, and like the social-circle poll, a likely Electoral College win for President Trump.

The team used this method for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the 2017 French presidential election, the 2017 Dutch parliamentary election, the 2018 Swedish parliamentary election, and the 2018 U.S. midterm election. In all five, the social-circle question was more accurate than the traditional “Who are you voting for?” which has Biden winning by 12 points.

Nate Silver, of FiveThirtyEight, says Joe Biden needs a five-point popular vote cushion to be heavily favored to unseat President Trump.

A Biden win of 2 to 3 points per the social-circle poll gives President Trump a 57 percent chance of winning the Electoral College.

If the state-winner poll proves correct, that 0.4 percent gap gives President Trump an 89 percent chance of reelection.

And if USC Dornsife is right, pollsters will perhaps never ask “Who are you voting for?” ever again.

Of course, the state-level is where it matters. And President Trump is closing strong in key battleground states.

Trafalgar finds President Trump has increased his lead in Pennsylvania from under one percent to two percent and has erased a three-point deficit to take a razor-thin lead in Nevada.

In Florida, Trump leads by two. In Michigan, Trump leads by three. In North Carolina, Trump leads by two.

Atlas finds Trump one-point clear in Wisconsin where low early-vote margins have concerned Democrats.

Robert Cahaly, chief pollster at Trafalgar, thinks President Trump has a sizeable shy vote other pollsters miss, a theory apparently evident in the USC Dornsife polls mentioned above.

At the state level, Trafalgar is one of the most accurate pollsters according to RealClearPolitics, whose battleground poll average Tuesday morning gives Biden just a 2.3 point lead.

At the national level, some of 2016’s most accurate pollsters find a close race.

Indeed, the final Investor’s Business Daily (IBD)/TechnoMetrica Institute of Politics and Policy (TIPP) presidential election tracking poll finds a four-point race from three points on Monday.

According to IBD, Trump leads with 47 percent of Hispanics, and has 16 percent of the black vote.

Last week, at Rasmussen the black Trump vote averaged 30 percent. On Monday, that settled to 26 percent, while 44 percent of non-white likely voters say they’re voting for Trump.

Rasmussen’s final national poll had not been released at the time of this writing.

That poll on Monday had Biden leading 48 percent to 47 percent. Last week, the pair swapped places almost daily, sharing identical margins and leads.

The same poll on the final day of 2016’s election had Hillary Clinton two points clear of Donald Trump.

Biden was 12 points ahead according to that same metric early last month.

President Trump’s approval rating at Rasmussen was 49 percent. Last week, Trump averaged 51 percent. Forty-one percent of likely voters think the country is heading in the right direction, up three from last week and the highest since March this year.

Across the figures, President Trump’s approval rating is around the ballpark for re-elected incumbents and some eight points higher than losing incumbent presidents.

George W. Bush won re-election in 2004 with 48 percent job approval. The elder George Bush and Jimmy Carter both lost with approval ratings much below 40 percent.

The Democracy Institute finds Trump’s approval rating at 52 percent, chiming with Rasmussen and Gallup who found 46 percent of Americans approve of the president. 

Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania bakery that has predicted the last three elections correctly with its cookie poll says President Trump is going to win.

Lochel’s Bakery of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, shows President Trump leading Joe Biden handily, with 27,903 red Trump cookies sold compared to just 5,114 blue Biden cookies.

Perhaps that, as they say, is how the cookie crumbles.

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images