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Horowitz: Early morning, Election Day: The polls actually show a map nearly identical to 2016


Here we go

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If you listen to the horse race commentators and the national polls they tout, Trump is underperforming his 2016 performance in nearly every demographic and will lose in a landslide. However, if you look at the Real Clear Politics (RCP) polling average of the most critical states, they are roughly in line with where they were in 2016 … when Trump won. Given what we already know about early voting dynamics in some of the critical states, this analysis actually shows that, even according to the same polling baseline of 2016, Trump is very much in the game.

Here is a table of key states from 2016 comparing the final RCP polling averages to the final election results.

Now let's take the differential in the 2016 RCP average for each state and add the difference to the current RCP state averages for this election. These averages were posted as of 5:00 a.m. ET, November 3, 2020.

Even if we assume the exact same bias and that the polls are not more compromised than they were last time, Trump would very much be in the game. In fact, technically, Trump would be on pace to win Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, while easily maintaining Iowa, Ohio, and North Carolina. That would give him 260 electoral votes, though with a very quixotic mix of states.

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Among the remaining states, Trump would be just 0.3 points behind in Michigan, 1 point behind in Arizona, and a nail-biting 0.1 behind in Florida.

With that said, very few people believe Trump will not win Florida, given the increased strength of Republican voter registration, the strong early vote turnout, and the flip of the Cubans in Miami-Dade County to Trump. Even Larry Sabato, who has Trump losing every other battleground state, believes he will win Florida. Assuming the polls are wrong about the other states, there's no reason to believe Florida polls this cycle would somehow have a more pro-Trump bias.

Thus, such a result would actually net a map of 289 for Trump.

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However, if Trump really were to win the Rust Belt and Midwest states again, it's hard to see him losing Arizona. Moreover, with the polling even more out of whack this year, the polling in Michigan could easily be off an additional 1-2 points, as we've seen the polls tend to be wildly off in the Midwest. Also, in 2016, Arizona was not polled nearly as much, because it was only viewed as marginally in reach for Democrats, so Trump actually underperformed his polling. It's reasonable to believe that if the other key swing states are off by that much, Arizona's polling would fall more in line with the polls we are seeing from states like North Carolina and Ohio.

Finally, almost all of the polls show Trump closing strong in some of the critical states, such as Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia. In the critical state of Pennsylvania, for example, the trend line for Trump is straight up, and unlike other battleground states, the Keystone State doesn't have early voting. Thus, Trump will capitalize on a larger pool of voters at his peak performance.

To be clear, all these states, under this analysis, would be very close. It doesn't mean Trump is necessarily going to win. But it does mean that he fundamentally has the same map he did in 2016, give or take, and is not starring down the barrel of a Barry Goldwater-style blowout, as many of the national polls are predicting. He will likely bleed some voters he won last time but win others within the same contours of those Rust Belt states. How much he gives and how much he takes will determine the entire ballgame.

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