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Polling from battleground states may indicate some momentum for Trump, points to competitive election

Let's break it down

Samuel Corum/Getty Images

New polls released this week from battleground states crucial to the November election may show President Donald Trump gaining momentum against former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Polling from Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Michigan shows Trump and Biden statistically tied. This marks an improvement for Trump, who has previously trailed behind Biden in surveys from these states, which collectively represent 90 Electoral College votes up for grabs on Nov. 3.

Here's the latest polling

An ABC News/Washington Post poll published Wednesday shows Trump leading Biden 51% to 47% among likely voters in Florida, Fox News reported. The poll also has Trump with a 1-point lead over Biden in Arizona. The sampling error of both polls is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, placing the differentials within the margin for error, meaning Trump and Biden are statistically tied in this survey.

A Monmouth University poll also released Wednesday has Trump leading Biden 48% to 46% in Georgia in a high likely voter turnout model. This 2-point differential is within the survey's 4.9% margin of error, again a statistical tie. In the poll's low-turnout model, Trump leads Biden 50% to 45% among likely voters.

A poll of likely voters in Michigan conducted by the Republican polling firm Trafalgar Group and released Thursday finds Trump narrowly leading Biden 46.7% to 46%. The margin of error for this poll is 2.99%.

Lastly, a Quinnipiac poll of likely voters in Ohio found Biden leading Trump by 1 point, 48% to 47%. The margin for error of this poll is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A note on polls

As always with analyzing political polling, it is important to remember that polls do not predict election results. These statistical ties do not necessarily mean the election will be close to a tie in these states. Polls are snapshots of a sample of the electorate at whatever time the poll was taken. One poll released at a given time may be an outlier compared to other polls taken of the same state. It is bad practice to extrapolate electoral results from a single poll, or even a handful of polls, but polling is useful for showing trends, whether a candidate is gaining or losing support over time.

Additionally, keep in mind that polls of likely voters cannot be compared to polls of registered voters. They are different samples of the electorate that will yield different results.

So what are the trends?

Previous polls of these battleground states catalogued by RealClearPolitics show Biden with wider margins over Trump, with the exception of Georgia.

In Arizona, Biden was leading Trump among likely voters by as much as 9 points in a Fox News poll taken from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. Other polls from CBS News or Monmouth taken earlier in September showed Biden with a narrow 2- or 3-point lead over Trump. The ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week is the first poll to show Trump with a lead over Biden among likely voters since a Trafalgar poll conducted in early August. The RCP average of polls for Arizona shows Biden with a 3.2-point lead over Trump, which hovers in the margin of error for most of the polls released.

There's a similar story in Florida, where Biden was leading or tied with Trump in the vast majority of likely voter polls conducted in July, August, and so far in September. Trump has only outright led one poll in Florida before Wednesday, and that was again a Trafalgar poll from Sept. 1 to Sept. 3.

In Michigan, Biden has enjoyed wider leads anywhere from 4 points to 8 points over Trump consistently among likely voters through August and September. The outlier is another poll from Trafalgar taken from Aug. 14 - Aug. 23 which showed Trump with a 2-point lead over Biden. Given that Trafalgar is the only polling firm showing Trump with a lead in Michigan since April, some may write the poll off as an outlier.

It is worth noting, however, that the Trafalgar Group was the only pollster to correctly predict Donald Trump was leading in Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016. A Trafalgar poll of Michigan likely voters in June found Biden with a 1-point lead over Trump, again within the margin for error.

There have only been three other likely voter polls of Ohio recorded by RCP, and of those three two Rassmusen polls show Biden with a 4-point lead over Trump and a CBS News poll had Trump with a 1-point lead.

Polling from Georgia tells a slightly different story. Consistent polling of likely voters in Georgia began in earnest in July and of nine polls recorded by RCP, Trump led five, Biden led two, and two were tied. Trump's highest leads were 7 points in a Trafalgar poll taken in July and a WSB-TV poll taken at the end of August. Since then, a University of Georgia poll and a New York Times/Siena poll showed tied results. Trump's most recent 2-point lead, still being within the margin for error, suggests he's lost some ground in September since his high water mark among likely voters in August.

Conclusions

The bottom line is the 2020 presidential election in these battleground states is extremely competitive, with most recent polls showing Trump and Biden running neck-and-neck.

Ohio and Georgia are both competitive with trend lines showing statistical ties.

Trump appears to be gaining momentum in Arizona and Florida, where previous polls showed Biden holding a wider lead over Trump.

The Trafalgar poll in Michigan is good news for the Trump campaign, but one poll alone, even by a pollster who was right in 2016, is not enough to definitively say he is leading. If, however, more polling continues to show Biden's lead in the margin for error, don't be shocked if Trump carries the state again.

Ultimately there are more factors to a campaign's victory or defeat than leading or being tied in the polls. Elections are determined by voter enthusiasm, campaign operations to drive voter turn-out, and occasionally disruptive political events no one can predict. These polls won't tell you who's winning the presidential election.

But they're not bad news for the Trump campaign.

One last thing…
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