Election 2020: State of Play and Accuracy of Polls

UPDATED AT 4:00 PM CST, 11/04/20

In yesterday’s post, I forecast a 285-253 electoral-vote victory for Biden. As of this morning afternoon, according to FoxNews, Biden has locked up 264 electoral votes and is leading in three States (Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin) whose electoral votes would give him a total of 270 — just enough for victory. It’s possible that Biden’s total could be higher, given the number of votes still to be counted in Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, where Trump is currently ahead. And, of course, Biden could still lose any or all of the three undecided States where he is currently ahead. And both candidates can be expected to demand recounts, and recounts of recounts, and to seek judicial intervention all the way to the Supreme Court. But, whatever the outcome, I am pleased by the accuracy of my forecast. (Though I will be most displeased by the outcome if Biden proves to be the winner.)

I based my forecast on polling conducted by Rasmussen Reports, which has been my go-to source for presidential polling for the past 12 years. Rasmussen has acquired a bum rap for being pro-Republican because its generally accurate polls aren’t biased toward Democrats as are most other polls. This year’s presidential race provides further evidence of Rasmussen’s lack of bias.

As of now, Biden has a 2 percentage-point lead over Trump in the nationwide tally of popular votes. That lead might rise a bit when all of the Left Coast votes have been counted, but it’s statistically the same as the 1-percent edge forecast in Rasmussen’s final poll. And how did Rasmussen do relative to other major polls? See for yourself:

Election 2020: Don’t Believe What You Read about Biden’s “Lead” in the Polls

I have read commentary to the effect that Biden is in better shape now than Clinton was at this point in 2016 because he has a bigger lead in the polls than Clinton did. I believe that observation is flawed because it seems to rely on conglomerations of polls (like those tracked by RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight), the quality and composition of which varies from day to day, and which has probably changed a lot since 2016.

I follow White House Watch at Rasmussen Reports. It’s superior to most polls because it’s a tracking poll that samples the same group of likely voters throughout a campaign. I suspect (but don’t know for sure) that there’s a lot of overlap between the 2016 sample and the 2020 sample.

The graph below compares Clinton’s and Biden’s lead or deficits against Trump, given the number of days left before election day. As that day draws nigh, Biden is actually doing worse than Clinton.

Notably, the final Rasmussen poll in 2016 hit the popular vote gap right on the head: Clinton “won” the mythical nationwide popular vote by 2 percentage points. And it did her no good because her popular-vote “victory” was the result of lopsided outcomes in deep-Blue States (e.g., California), where extra popular votes didn’t translate into extra electoral votes. I expect the same kind of result this year, though some of the States that went narrowly for Trump in 2016 may flip in 2020.

Election 2020: Keep Your Eye on Rasmussen Reports

In my previous post I contrasted the results of polling by Rasmussen Reports with two indicators published by RealClearPolitics: its the “poll of polls” and its summary of election betting markets. Although Rasmussen’s numbers (as of September 30) look bad for Trump, they’re not as bad as the numbers produced by most polls and betting markets.

Why is that?  Rasmussen’s polls yield better — more accurate — results than most other polls because Rasmussen’s polls are unbiased. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Rasmussen has an excellent track record. Many pollsters and pundits try to dismiss Rasmussen as pro-Republican, or to denigrate Rasmussen’s methods. This is a classic example of psychological projection because most polls are systematically biased toward Democrats.

There are two reasons for that. Pro-Democrat pollsters (and their media allies) don’t like to publish bad news about Democrats. By the same token, underestimating the electoral prospects of Republicans is a devious form of election-rigging: It helps to demoralize Republican voters and therefore reduce pro-Republican turnout at election time.

How biased are the other polls? On average, extremely biased. The following graph shows the relationship between Rasmussen’s polling on the 2020 presidential election and the average of the dozen-or-so polls tracked by RealClearPolitics:

If I had removed Rasmussen’s poll from RCP’s average, the result would have been more stark, but it’s stark enough as it is. Rasmussen’s (presumably) accurate poll (White House Watch) would have to show Trump leading Biden with 70 percent of likely voters before the RCP average would show Trump tied with Biden.

The moral of the story: I won’t cite the RCP “poll of polls” again.

I will however cite RCP’s summary of betting markets. They don’t estimate the split of the popular vote, but they do measure the degree of confidence that one or another candidate will win. Unfortunately, there is growing confidence on the part of bettors that Biden will win.

I will close with a reminder of what’s at stake in this election: liberty.

Trump Catches Obama


For many years, Rasmussen Reports has published a daily poll of likely voters’ views of the incumbent president. Respondents are asked if they approve or disapprove the performance of the incumbent, and whether their approval or disapproval is strong. Rasmussen derives a presidential approval rating for each polling day by subtracting the percentage of respondents who strongly disapprove from the percentage who strongly approve. The complete polling history for Obama is here; the polling history for Trump, to date, is here.

The following graph shows, by day of presidency, the approval ratings for Obama (blue line) and Trump (red line). The difference between the two — Obama’s rating minus Trump’s rating — is plotted as a black line. Obama was well ahead of Trump for about 200 days. Trump has since closed the gap, and is now slightly more popular (or less unpopular) than Obama was at this stage (the 336th  350th day).


Ending As He Began

Rasmussen Reports has issued the last of its almost-daily polls of Obama’s popularity (mostly the lack thereof). His final surge (see graph below) can only be seen as a backhanded compliment: (a) a belief shared by a lot of voters that Trump or Clinton would have been worse; (b) relief that the power-grabbing, quasi-socialist, race-baiting, feckless (or traitorous) “statesman” is leaving office; and (c) forgetfulness about the atrocities that marked Obama’s first seven years in office (e.g., Obamacare, the IRS scandal, fiascos in the Middle East, weakness vs. Russia, the defense draw-down, soaring health-insurance premiums, the gleeful uprooting of long-standing social norms).


It’s a great relief to me that Obama is leaving office, and that he won’t be succeeded by Hillary Clinton. It’s also a great relief that I can now abandon the almost-daily chore of recording Obama’s standing in Rasumssen’s poll. It’s been a l-o-o-o-n-g eight years.

It should be said of Obama that nothing became his presidency so well as the leaving of it.