Trump's Chances In 2020: Poll Analysis

September 6th, 2020 | TC

The 2016 election had America's mainstream pundits and forecasters reeling and scratching their heads for years. The Real Clear Politics average had Clinton beating Trump by 3% nationally, which was not incorrect, but was not where polling agencies should have been focussing their attention. The focus should have been on a state level. A handful of battlegrounds will pick the winner in November and, as of now, the polls are revealing the same trends they showed in 2016, which could be bad news for both candidates. 

These are the trends and keys that could tell us whether or not Donald Trump will win a second term, or lose and become the first one-term wonder since 1992. The first clue is in each candidate's favorability rating. The second is in what the state-by-state polls in swing states are saying. The third is within the 13 keys  for victory that were identified by Allan Lichtman. (Lichtman has successfully predicted the outcomes of the past five presidential elections.)

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If polls and statistics from 2020 are any indication, Donald Trump's chances of being elected are not much worse than they were in 2016. However, in some respects, Trump's chances of re-election have declined. 

Favorability Ratings

In 2016, Trump and Clinton had historically low favorability ratings. Their favorability ratings were so low, it was considered to be a notable historic anomaly. RCP's average for both candidates was at one of the lowest ever seen. In a true rarity, two highly unpopular candidates were competing for the same job. 

In 2016, the average favorability ratings for both Clinton and Trump were below 45%.


Hillary Clinton - 42% favorable / 54% unfavorable

Donald Trump - 42% favorable / 55% unfavorable

Despite a slightly higher unfavorable rating (not accounting for any margin of error), Trump still beat Clinton in more battleground states to win the Electoral College. In what is a slightly better standing for Joe Biden, the 2020 polls still show dismal ratings for the Democratic nominee. 


Joe Biden - 44% favorable / 46% unfavorable

Donald Trump: 42% favorable / 55% unfavorable

In 2020, Joe Biden has an advantage in the favorability score compared to Hillary Clinton. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Clinton's favorability ratings never moved and Trump's have remained consistent ever since. If these trends carry forward, these will be the final numbers leading into November for both Biden and Trump. We should not expect the ratings to change between now and November. 

One point for: Joe Biden

Battleground Polls

All but one polling agency failed to successfully predict the winner in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016. The Trafalgar Group was the only polling agency to predict that Trump would win all three states, while mainstream polling agencies for CNN, Fox News and ABC predicted a Clinton win.

In Michigan, Trafalgar Group predicted the outcome with surprising accuracy, although they over-estimated Trump's vote share by 2%. Trafalgar predicted Clinton would win 47% and Trump would win 49%. The final result saw Clinton win 47% and Trump 47.3%.

Trafalgar predicted Pennsylvania with better accuracy, putting Trump at 48% and Clinton at 47%. The final results came in at 48.2% for Trump and 47.5% for Clinton. 

As of September 2020, Trafalgar is again predicting that Trump will win Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Florida. However, their results show a smaller lead for Trump in some of these states than they did in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. In Michigan, as of August 28, Trafalgar placed Trump ahead of Biden by only 1.4%. Like in 2016, their poll results run contrary to the results of mainstream polling agencies. 

In 2020, Trafalgar will be a polling agency to watch. 

The mainstream polls show similar results as they did in 2016, at the same point in time. 

Through September of 2016, Clinton held a steady RCP average of 4% over Trump in Pennsylvania. At the end of August 2020, Biden held a RCP average of 4.2% over Trump. That number will likely hold steady through September. Here are the RCP averages for comparison in major battlegrounds at the moment:

Michigan 2016: Clinton 47%, Trump 43% - Michigan 2020: Biden 47%, Trump 45% - Trump +2

Wisconsin 2016: Clinton 47%, Trump 40% - Wisconsin 2020: Biden 48%, Trump 44% - Trump +4

Arizona 2016: Trump 47%, Clinton 43% - Arizona 2020: Biden 49%, Trump 44% - Biden +6

Ohio 2016: Trump 46%, Clinton 44% - Ohio 2020: Biden 47%, Trump 45% - Biden +3

North Carolina 2016: Trump 46%, Clinton 46% - North Carolina 2020: Biden 48%, Trump 47% - Biden +2, Trump +1

Nevada 2016: Trump 46%, Clinton 45% - Nevada 2020: Biden 48%, Trump 44% - Biden +3

Florida 2016: Trump 47%, Clinton 47% - Florida 2020: Biden 48%, Trump 46% - Biden +1

If we change the 2016 electoral map to match who made gains in the RCP average in 2020 by flipping states where Biden has gained over Clinton (when needed), the 2020 Electoral College map looks like this:

Although Biden's gains over Clinton in Ohio, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina could fall within the margin of error, the rise in support for Biden is a worrying sign for Donald Trump. This is based only on the change in the Real Clear Politics polling average from 2016. 

If we change the 2016 Electoral College map to match the current results from Trafalgar Group in 2020 and keep the RCP gains above for states where Trafalgar has not yet published data, we still see Trump losing: 

Unless Trafalgar shows Trump leading in Pennsylvania and North Carolina by late October, Trump could become a one-term president. With the results above, it would only take Trump keeping Georgia to narrowly win the Electoral College in 2020. 

A one-point win for Trump in the college, however, may not be enough when faithless electors become a factor. In such a case, two faithless electors could change the whole outcome.

Another point for: Joe Biden

13 Keys To The White House

Alan Lichtman has predicted that Joe Biden will win the election in November. He hasn't been wrong so far (he predicted Trump's win in 2016), but a couple of his conclusions are questionable. 

Lichtman claims that the Coronavirus pandemic has robbed Trump of two important keys: long and short term economic gains. These two keys could flip, as the US unemployment rate has fallen nearly 2% in one month. If the trend continues, Trump could be sitting on a 6% unemployment rate by the end of October, marking a stunning improvement from June. 

Lichtman also claims that Trump has not had any significant foreign achievements. This could be argued against by using the latest peace deal between the UAE and Israel, the new USMCA trade deal and a decline in acts of hostility by North Korea in recent months. Together with other keys that work to help Trump, like having no failed military interventions and an opponent who lacks charisma, the three negative keys mentioned above could change by November and push Trump to victory. 

As of this moment, however, Lichtman is predicting that Trump will lose in November. Together with the two previous factors (favorability and battleground polling), Trump's chances of re-election have declined. In every area, Trump has declined from 2016, or Joe Biden has made gains over Hillary Clinton. With Trump's very narrow win in 2016, any gains made by a Democratic challenger are dangerous. 

Other factors that are not being counted could be at play and the polls could be farther off the mark than they were in 2016, but as of now and with the information we have, things do not look good for our commander-in-chief.

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