A series of new polls shows that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, a narrow margin – or a tie – over President Donald Trump in the southern states of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas is a potentially promising sign of Biden's chances of winning the white man House.
In this election cycle, political analysts see Florida and North Carolina as swing states – and Texas and Georgia as possible swing states. Given that Trump won everyone in 2016 – including the 9 percent superiority of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in Texas – the new poll addresses the president's weaknesses as election day fast approaches.
The latest polls by CBS News Battleground Tracker show that Biden Trump leads 50 to 48 percent among likely Florida voters. Biden over Trump in North Carolina, 51 to 47 percent; and Biden tied with Trump 49-49 in Georgia.
The results are close enough that Trump could regain his advantage before November 3, but it's noteworthy that Biden is doing so well in states that Trump previously won easily, and that a Democratic candidate in a region that is going wrong , Republicans have been putting up big numbers for decades.
In a broader average of the most recent polls collected by FiveThirtyEight Oct. 25, Biden tops Florida at 2.4 percentage points and North Carolina at 2.6 percentage points, but is essentially tied in Georgia, where he is only a small half percentage point has lead.
Perhaps most worrying for Trump is that Biden is gaining more voter confidence in the top priority of handling the coronavirus pandemic. According to the CBS poll, Biden leads Trump in Florida with 49 to 41 percent. in North Carolina it leads 50 to 39 percent; and in Georgia 48 to 41 percent.
CNN polling expert Harry Enten has argued that this is bad news for Trump, as historical poll data suggests that in elections where there is an issue that outweighs the attention of the economy, “the one who is in the most trusted non-economic issue will likely win the election. "And, as Vox's Roge Karma wrote, polls suggest that the pandemic is not necessarily the number one concern for Trump voters. However, polls suggest that this is a key issue is for the undecided voters who could swing all three states towards either Trump or Biden.
Texas is looking good for Biden too. A new poll from Dallas Morning News / University of Texas in Tyler shows Biden is ousting Trump by 48 to 45 percent of likely voters.
Mark Owens, the political scientist at UT-Tyler who conducted the survey, told the Dallas Morning News that he considered Texas a "mistake" because of the shift in attitudes toward Trump. The Cook Political Report rated the race as a "Lean Republican". The average of the polls by FiveThirtyEight for Texas also shows a tie race: 47.5 percentage points for Biden and 47.6 percentage points for Trump.
Owens noted that the number of voters in Texas looking into Trump's handling of the coronavirus appears to be increasing. In September, 32 percent of Texans said they didn't trust Trump to protect communities from the pandemic. In the last survey, however, that number rose to 44 percent.
Most Texans preferred Trump to Biden in the economy. 53 percent of likely voters said Trump would handle it better, and 46 percent felt the same way about Biden.
Government polls should be done with a grain of salt
Polls in battlefield nations are important, especially given that the US presidential election is determined by the electoral college, not a referendum. Together, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas make up 98 of the 270 electoral college votes a candidate needs to win the White House.
However, the state polls also have significant limitations, and Biden's position in those states (as well as other closely watched swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania) should not be taken as a surefire sign of winning the general election.
Note that in an October 2016 survey by the Marquette Law School in Wisconsin, Clinton gained 6 percentage points – but Trump ultimately won the state by 0.7 points.
As Vox's Li Zhou explained, there are many reasons why a number of polls in 2016 did not hit the mark when compared to the final election results. Some of these were corrected during this electoral cycle – for example, leading up to 2016, Clinton voters were overrepresented in some polls for not taking into account differences in educational level, and for the most part that is no longer the case: Both the CBS News and Dallas Morning polls News, for example, was weighted according to education.
But there are still many obstacles. The poll is always a snapshot of a specific time and group of voters and ultimately cannot provide any definitive insight into the likelihood that someone who shares their preference with a pollster will actually show up at the polling booth on election day. Nor can it necessarily predict the patterns of late voters deciding on their candidate in the days leading up to the election (which played a crucial role in Trump's victory).
Adding to the uncertainty is that the pandemic makes predictions based on surveys particularly difficult, as Zhou explains:
In particular, the use of voting by email due to the coronavirus pandemic makes it much more difficult to predict the composition of the electorate. It is unclear how closely voter turnout will align with previous years as there are public health concerns about polling stations and questions about the number of people using postal ballot paper instead.
"It's difficult to build a switch model because you're not sure who will turn out to be. With an election that involves heavy voting via email, it becomes even more difficult," said Lonna Atkeson, professor of political science at the University of New Mexico .
Bottom Line: This survey in the southern swing state looks promising for Biden, but surveys shouldn't be confused with perfect predictions of the outcome.
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