Two polls released this week on the U.S. presidential race in Wisconsin show why Tuesday’s election could surprise us. While almost no one expects a repeat of 2016, when Donald Trump pulled off an upset win over Hillary Clinton, the stark contrast between the results of the two Wisconsin polls has injected some last-minute suspense into this strangest of elections.
An ABC News/The Washington Post poll released on Wednesday showed Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a 17-percentage point lead over Mr. Trump. The Republican nominee won Wisconsin by a single percentage point in 2016 on his way to a narrow sweep of Rust Belt states that most pollsters had concluded Ms. Clinton would easily win. But not anywhere near as easily as the ABC/Wapo poll of 809 likely voters in Wisconsin suggests that Mr. Biden is set to carry the Badger State. If the poll with a four-percentage-point margin is accurate, Tuesday could indeed result in the Republican bloodbath that many in the party fear.
And yet, one of the rare pollsters to predict a Trump win in 2016 this week released a survey showing a neck-and-neck race in Wisconsin. The Trafalgar Research poll of 1,082 likely voters, with a margin of error of 2.89 percentage points, had Mr. Biden’s support at 47.5 per cent compared to 47.1 per cent for Mr. Trump. According to Trafalgar, the race is too close to call and the result will depend on which party does a better job of getting its voters to the polls.
The same might be said of the election overall. More than during perhaps any U.S. presidential election campaign in recent decades, very few voters have been truly up for grabs in this contest between two septuagenarian white men. That is not surprising. Despite their similar demographic profiles, Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are opposites when it comes to policy and personality. Each stands little chance of winning converts among the other guy’s supporters.
After nearly four years of the most polarizing president in anyone’s memory, there are not many Americans unsure about how they feel about Mr. Trump. His re-election has always hinged on his ability to mobilize his substantial but shrinking base of white voters without college degrees. He has done nothing in the past four years to expand his support beyond this group of voters.
Basic math would suggest his defeat is almost inevitable. White voters without college degrees make up about 40 per cent of American voters. Though they account for a higher proportion of the electorate in some battleground states, they remain far outnumbered by Mr. Biden’s coalition of minority voters and college-educated white voters. Mr. Trump’s supporters are more enthusiastic than Mr. Biden’s, however, which could dampen turnout for Democrats.
Polls overwhelmingly show that Mr. Trump has lost ground among seniors, largely due to unhappiness with his handling (or non-handling) of the COVID-19 pandemic. That will hurt him in Florida, a state the Trump campaign nevertheless could still win thanks to strong support from Latino voters with Cuban and Venezuelan roots.
While Florida has long been considered a bellwether state, most political junkies will be focusing on the results in Pennsylvania on Tuesday night. If the race is close, it might take until Friday (the deadline for counting mailed-in ballots) to determine a winner in Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign has wagered heavily on fears that a Biden administration would ban hydraulic fracturing, something the Democratic nominee has stridently denied wanting to do. Mr. Trump has also hammered on the law-and-order theme, accusing Mr. Biden of being soft on crime.
“Do me a favour, suburban women, would you please like me? I saved your damn neighbourhood, okay,” Mr. Trump bellowed at a rally in Pennsylvania this month, referring to his move to repeal a rule adopted under former president Barack Obama that requires municipalities receiving federal housing grants to address patterns of unfair racial bias in home ownership within their communities.
There was more than a hint of desperation in Mr. Trump’s plea. There are no doubt plenty of “hidden” Trump voters that most polls fail to account for. Trafalgar apparently still thinks there are enough of them to swing the election in his favour. It reckons that a sizeable portion of Mr. Trump’s voters simply refuse to tell pollsters the truth out of fear of being stigmatized.
Perhaps. But it is a safe bet that there are far fewer hidden Trump voters than there were in 2016. And while Mr. Biden does suffer from an enthusiasm gap among progressive Democratic voters, he has far higher favourability ratings than Ms. Clinton.
My gut tells me that Tuesday night will not be that suspenseful, after all. I hope I’m right.
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