While we are still more than 6 months away from the Presidential Election, only one thing is very clear: Joe Biden currently has a wide lead against Donald Trump. While this is true nationally and in key swing states, it is very clear that Biden is performing better than Clinton across the board with almost every key constituency.
One point many experts highlight, that could help the GOP is that in September, pollsters will move to Likely voter screens, which tend to help the GOP gain a few points in the polls. Right now, all of the polls that we have that show Biden winning are Registered Voter polls, where pollsters call registered voters in a state, and ask who they are going to vote for. In the past these polls have been more Democratic leaning, as typically the electorates (minority) that benefit Democrats tend to have a lower propensity to vote in elections, while the electorates that benefit Republicans (whiter, older voters) are much more likely to vote, and therefore count more in likely voter screens.
This can clearly be seen in 2016, as after the DNC and RNC conventions in July of that year. Clinton rose to somewhere between a 5 and 7 point lead in August, which fell to only a 2 point lead by the first week of September, when Likely voter screens started making up a majority of new polls. Now, of course, that polling change also coincided with Clinton’s health incident at the 9/11 Memorial in New York, but it’s clear that a switch to Likely Voter screens helped reduce some of her early polling advantage.
However, 2018 was a very different story. While the Democratic lead hit a near historic bottom in mid-August, before most Likely Voter polls can into effect, the Democratic lead soared to a roughly 8 point lead by the beginning of September, which coincided with the launch of the Likely Voter screens. Interestingly enough, one of the most remarkable things about the 2018 Generic ballot is how stable it was throughout the election, something which the current Biden lead seems poised to replicate, as it has been remarkably stable through the last few months.
So what is the argument that Likely Voter screens in 2020 will look more like Likely Voter screens from 2018 in a not large net change for the Democrats? The Democratic coalition has changed. One of the Democrats best groups, white voters with a college degree, is the group that most likely to turnout nationwide, and will likely only gain representation from Likely Voter screens, not lose it. Also, Biden is currently doing much better with White non-college voters than Clinton did in 2016. Even if those white non-college voters Biden is pulling in have a lower likelihood of voting that the ones voting for Trump, the net benefit will still be present for Biden, and it should keep his margins steady when the switch to Likely Voter screens happens.
What about minority voters though? The group that typically gets shunned by the Likely Voter screens. Currently in the polling, Biden is seeing a swing against him with this group. In state after state poll (and some national polls too) Biden is getting substantially less of the African American vote and less of the Hispanic vote that Clinton got in 2016. Additionally, there are a lot of undecided minority voters in these polls, and if they are removed Biden’s margins with non-whites approaches normal margins. Could Trump currently be receiving the support of low propensity non-white voters? Could Likely Voter screens actually hurt Trump? We won’t know until September.
Additionally, from the polls I have looked at, pollsters are doing a much better job at weighing by education and race than they have in previous elections. This simple step will make the change from Registered Voters to Likely voters substantially less radical, and will likely keep the Biden/Trump margin in a very similar place to where it is now, with Biden in a commanding lead.
Although it is currently too soon to tell (in May) I would not bet on Likely Voter screens substantially helping Trump’s chances in November. While its certainly possible it can, as the current polling might be overweighing white Biden voters, there is no evidence that those white voters are more likely to vote than the voters who are supporting Trump in that same poll. Additionally, Biden and general Democratic strength with White college voters will help when the switch to Likely voter screens occur, as this relatively new coalition for the Democrats has not shown up for them in recent elections, and their absence has hurt them in the change from Registered to Likely Voters. While it’s too early to tell, if there is no historically predictable shift to Trump when pollsters abandon Registered voter polls, the shift coalitions of voters in the US will be the main reason why.
(All of the polling data from this article is from the Real Clear Politics average)
Robert Martin is founder and CEO of LeanTossUp.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.