This week the United States decides its future. Trump and Biden are playing a difficult game and the opinion polls seem not to favour the current president. But surprises should not be ruled out.
According to the statistics website FiveThirtyEight, the president has barely a 13 per cent chance of winning the presidential elections – or in other words, less than the odds of rolling a six.
In a similar vein, British weekly, The Economist, puts Trump’s chances of winning a second term at 5 per cent.
However, on 8 November 2016 – the day before the last vote – The New York Times gave the Republican magnate a 15 per cent chance of winning.
FiveThirtyEight was a little more cautious, citing his odds at 28.8 per cent; while The Economist didn’t want strong emotions, and that year didn’t join in the game.
For analyst Pablo Pardo, the questions are obvious: will the same thing happen in 2020? Are the polls capturing voting intention? Pardo points out that in the 2018 congressional elections, in which the Democratic Party swept the board, the polls got it completely right.
But Trump is unpredictable. So, in 2020 nobody is sure – the Democrats less than anyone.
In a recent memo to her team, director of the Joe Biden campaign, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, asked them to “campaign like we’re trailing”, because “even the best polling can be wrong”.
It is not just about the precedent set in 2016, but also the 2020 data.
For example, it’s true that at the national level Biden has double the advantage that Clinton had: around 9 points to Clinton’s 4.5.
But the important thing is the states that can swing the election. And when these places are taken into account – Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona – Biden’s lead over Trump is 3.9 points, according to web media RealClearPolitics.
The problem for the Democratic candidate is that Clinton was ahead by 3.5 points at this stage of the 2016 elections. And she lost in each and every one of these states.
The opinion poll companies created the narrative that they didn’t get it wrong in 2016, but that, quite simply, states that weren’t considered to be in doubt, had an unexpected change of heart and favoured Trump.
For Pardo, this idea doesn’t hold much weight, as the companies should have detected that Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could be in dispute, which they did not.
Moreover, as the analyst points out, when they polled voting intention in these states, they got it totally wrong.
In Wisconsin, each and every one of the 28 polls cited Clinton as victor. In Michigan, only one of the 37 opinion polls put Donald Trump ahead, yet the current president went on to win both states.
In the United Kingdom, Biden has 64.4 per cent chance of winning, and Trump 35.4 per cent. However, it is better to consider the polls with a healthy dose of scepticism. (PL)