• National polls give Biden a substantial lead over President Trump
  • States polls, key to the Electoral College are much closer and closing.
  • Comparisons to 2016 make the contest a dead heat.
  • Trump campaign appears to have the edge in energy and momentum.

Of all the variables in a nationwide election the one that invariably receives the most attention is polling. The limitations of forecasting the decisions of millions from the answers of thousands were amply demonstrated in 2016. The polling results in close contests, which seem so statistically grounded, are in reality determined as much by the modeling choices of the pollsters as by the responses of the electorate.

The crucial factor in the failure of most surveys the last time around was their inability to either find or correctly assess support for the Republican Candidate Donald Trump. This so-called “shy Trump voter' delivered the greatest surprise in American Presidential politics and nothing has been the same in Washington or the nation since.

In five of the six states whose electoral votes gave candidate Trump the White House, his election percentage was higher than his final RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average. The performance edge ranged from 1% in Florida to 3.7% in Michigan. Only in Arizona were his returns less than the RCP average.

These same six states, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin will decide Tuesday's election. In this post we will compare the final RCP averages on Monday evening to President Trump's additional vote from the 2016 election and based on that surmise estimate which candidate is favored to win each state.

Shy voters

Nate Silver, the creator and editor of the well-known polling and analysis website FiveThirtyEight, has said that he does not believe that the shy voter is an appreciable factor in this election.

However, Robert Cahaly, the chief pollster at Trafalgar Polling, the only major outfit to predict Trump's victory in 2016, doing so largely on the basis of their method of accounting for this effect, has said he expects this phenomenon to have an even greater impact on the final vote this year. Trafalgar has again predicted a Trump victory.

It is my own belief that the the problem of unidentified or deliberately misleading Trump voters is real and a factor that must be included in polling estimates, even if its reclusive nature makes accuracy more difficult than normal. Given the the rhetorical and actual violence this year and the numerous and well-publicized cases of people losing their jobs or public shaming for political beliefs and the obvious censorship of news by Twitter and Facebook, logic and emotion suggests an even greater reluctance by voters to reveal their intentions.

A final consideration that we will examine is momentum. In the last election the movement to Trump came in the final days before the vote. To account for that potential shift we will look at the last two polls in each state and see if there is any change in lead or leader from the prior polls. Half the percentage differential bettween the final polls and the earlier surveys will then be added or subtracted to candidates projected total to account for the shift in voter sentiment.

National polls

On election eve Democrat Joe Biden holds a 6.7% lead in the national average with the last poll from Economist/YouGov at 10%, 53% to 43%. This is the smallest advantage since 6.1% on September 29th and is down from 10.3% on October 11th. In a polling record that goes back to September 1, 2019 Mr. Trump has never led and Mr. Biden's smallest edge was 4.5 points last December.

                                                          In 2016 Hillary Clinton the Democratic candidate held a 3.2% lead over Donald Trump on November 7th the day before that election.

State Polls: Florida

The Sunshine State is the most crucial race in the country. Its 29 electoral votes are the largest prize in the swing contests. Earning those electors opens up multiple pathways to the White House for the winner and diminishes the odds substantially for the loser.

In the final pre-election RCP average in 2016 Donald Trump led by 0.2%. He won Florida by 1.2%, giving him a 1% performance edge. We will call that the shy voter advantage.

This year the final average has Biden ahead by 1.8%, so even if Mr Trump again improved his vote by 1% he would still lose the state by 0.8%.

The last two polls have Trump up by 1% each, while the prior six polls show a Biden advantage of 2.8%. How much of that 1.8% polling switch should be counted as actual movement to Trump and added to his likely performance advantage is impossible to determine. We will use half, 0.9%, to represent actual votes, added to the Republican total and Florida becomes the slimmest Trump victory at 0.1%.

If Trump's shy voter and enthusiasm edge is greater than the 1% in 2016, Florida moves progressively farther towards Trump.



The Keystone State's 20 electoral votes is the College's second prize. Ms Clinton led in 2016 by 1.9% on November 7, Trump won the state by 0.7%, a gain of 2.6% on the polls. Currently Biden is 2.6% ahead in the RCP average which gives Trump a tie at the performance level.

The last two polls have the Democrat up by 1%. The previous seven give Biden a 2.6% edge. As above using half the difference to measure movement to Trump he wins the state by that amount, 0.8%, slightly larger than his win in 2016.



Clinton led the race for the state's 16 electoral votes in 2016 by 3.4%. Trump won by the thinnest of margins at 0.3%, a 3.7% improvement. This year Joe Biden is ahead 5.1%, leaving a 1.4% Democratic margin at Trump's 2016 performance.

The final two polls have the Biden advantage at 2.5%, which is a 4% movement from the 6.5% average of four earlier surveys. Using half of that, 2%, as the momentum factor Trumps wins the state by 0.6%, twice his 2016 margin.

North Carolina

Just one electoral vote short of Michigan at 15, North Carolina has Trump with the slimmest of leads this year at 0.2%. In 2016 he led by 1% in the polls but landed at 3.7% in the actually tally, a 2.7% increase. If he adds that margin he wins by 2.9%.

The latest two polls have Trump up by 1%, the prior six had a Biden lead of 0.2%. Half of the difference is 0.6%, which would give the President almost the same victory as 2016 at 3.5%.


The southwest state is the only one where Trump's vote in 2016, 3.5%, was less than his final poll average of 4%. This year Mr. Biden lead by 0.9%. If Trump fades 0.5%, he loses the state by 1.4%.

The final two polls have Biden ahead by 1.5%. This is a 0.9% climb from his 0.6% edge in the first five polls. Add half to Mr Biden's and he wins Arizona by 1.85%.


The Badger State was the biggest numerical surprise in 2016. Ms Clinton seemed to be in command with a 6.5% margin before the 2016 election. She lost the state by 0.7%, a remarkable 7.2% miss by the pollsters. Today Biden leads by 6.7%. Should Mr. Trump again triumph his margin would be 0.5%.

The final polls have Mr. Biden up by 5.5%, a drop of 1.7% from 7.2% in the previous six surveys. Again adding half, 0.85%, to the end tally would give Mr Trump the state at 1.35%.


This post is one attempt to incorporate the intangibles of the 'shy Trump voter' and electorate enthusiasm into the polling predictions. 

If all other 44 states are won by their current polling leaders the Electoral College would stand at 234 for Biden and 203 for Trump with 270 needed to win. This would be the map.

                              Awarding Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Trump would give him 293 vote and adding Arizona to Biden would bring him to 243. Trump could afford to lose any of the five except Florida and still win the election.

National polling tends to be skewed by large Democratic majorities in the populous states of New York and California. In 2016 the Clinton margin in the popular vote in California alone was greater than Trump's majority in the rest of the country.

President Trump has been crossing the country in the final campaign days, drawing vast crowds wherever he stops. In 2016 his ability to motivate his voters and their evident enthusiasm was one of the signs that the election was not playing out as portrayed in the polls and the media.

Is the same dynamic on exhibit on display this year and are the chroniclers of the election missing the transformation of the campaign in the final month?  

Please see our other election coverage:

2020 US Elections: The case for a historic Trump defeat, in five quick charts

2020 US Election: Equities in three scenarios

2020 US Elections: Three states tradres should watch, plus places that could provide surprises

2020 US Elections: Handicapping the Presidential Race--polls, registrationand the shy Trump voter

2020 Elections: Seven reasons why this is not 2016, time to focus on the Senate

2020 US Elections: Democrats nominate Biden and Harris--will Trump hatred be enough?





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