Every other day, I’ve taken part in anxious phone calls with friends and relatives who want to talk to me about the presidential race; they don’t want to get their hopes up. Democrats are scared to utter any words of confidence or phrases like “I’m feeling food about Election Day.” I understand everyone’s anxiety; I feel it too. In 2016, I remember that feeling of certainty, of inevitability; we were about to witness history. The polls were saying it, professional pundits were predicting it, everyone had that clear and logical image of Hillary being sworn in on January 20th. She was the serious candidate — the most prepared individual for the presidency. Trump was just a reality TV star. He had no plan except displays of machismo and assuaging white identity politics.
And then, like melting snow, a Hillary Clinton presidency slipped through America’s fingers. She lost not only the key swing states, but allowed the historically impervious “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to crumble. Because of 77,810 votes, Donald Trump was elected president and a dream was snatched from the majority of Americans who voted for Clinton. It felt like a train ran through our stomachs and kept on going.
Election Day 2016 still creeps into my mind, if only to remind me that Trump and white grievance politics are still potent forces in America today. Polls are showing that Trump has a small chance of winning, just like in 2016. We should be preparing ourselves for another Trump upset. But the lesson we should not learn from 2016 is to pull a 180 and to live in a constant state of anxiety, panic, and lack of confidence. This campaign is different from 2016 for a whole host of reasons.
Polling has corrected and improved
As we all painfully learned from 2016, polling is not an exact science, let alone able to predict with 100% certainty the winner of an election. Pollsters will tell you ad nauseam that they are filled with uncertainty. The problem in 2016 – and election coverage in general – was the way the media covered the polls. They report on them like a scoreboard and forget what they truly are: a statistical probability analysis.
One of the gravest mistakes pollsters made in 2016 was how they represented certain groups in their poll samples, specifically non-college-educated White voters. Polls use a practice called weighting, where they will ‘weight’ certain demographics more heavily than others to get an accurate representation of that state or area. Here is an example of weighting from a Wisconsin Public Radio piece:
Pollsters call thousands of people, but many don’t answer their phones. Of those who do answer and take the survey, 60 percent have a college degree. But here’s the problem: only about 30 percent of Wisconsin’s population has a college degree, according to the U.S. Census.
If the poll published those results without any adjustments, it would disproportionately represent the opinions of college-educated voters, who tend to be more liberal than their neighbors without college educations.
So, the poll takes the responses from the people without college degrees and gives them more “weight,” until the demographic ratios in the poll align with the demographics of the state.
Those non-college-educated voters, especially White non-college-educated, are more likely to be conservative Trump supporters. In 2016, they were underrepresented in many state-wide polls making it a surprise on Election Day when they came out in droves to vote for Trump. They helped put him over the edge in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. In 2020, pollsters have made sure to include them more prominently in their polling.
With those corrections, we should feel confident that polls are capturing Trump voters, leaving less room for surprises on Election Day. Not only that but in order for Trump to win reelection, there would need to be an even larger error in the polls on Tuesday than there was in 2016. A Trump win is still a possibility, but not as large as 2016.
Joe Biden is well suited for this election
Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton.
Though the attacks on Clinton were wrong factually, morally, and laced with sexism, they did enough to drag her down with Trump. Trump and the GOP yelled about Benghazi and missing emails like a broken record, which helped paint Hillary as ‘corrupt’ and ‘untrustworthy’. In the end, Trump and Clinton were two of the most disliked presidential candidates in American history. In a close election, that dynamic was devastating for Hillary. One analysis by the Washington Post’s Philip Bump showed that among voters who disliked both candidates, they preferred Trump by 17 points.
Joe Biden does not have this problem. According to Real Clear Politics, Biden has an average favorable/unfavorable rating of 51%/44%, whereas Trump is sitting at 42 favorable and 55 unfavorable. In this election, among voters who dislike both candidates, Biden is winning by a 32 point margin.
Biden’s campaign has been disciplined, well-funded, and been proven right almost every step of the way. When people (including myself) wrote him off after his losses in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, he shocked conventional wisdom and won big in South Carolina, securing the nomination shortly after. He made crucial and genuine outreach efforts to Bernie Sanders voters, significantly minimizing the chances that they would either sit this election out or vote third party. When the pandemic first hit, a chorus of pundits and strategists were screaming at Joe Biden to get out of the basement. His campaign — at least right away — didn’t listen and Biden woke up one day to a 14 point lead in the polls.
Biden also learned from Hillary and has been campaigning in those crucial midwestern states. He has not only secured the blue wall, but expanded the electoral map to Ohio, North Carolina, and even Georgia, putting Trump on the defensive.
Among important voting groups that will decide the outcome in the swing states, Biden has the advantage.
Among suburban women — decisive voters in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina — Joe Biden is winning by historic margins.
Among a core part of Trump’s base — White voters without a college degree — Trump is winning. But Biden has cut his lead significantly, from 36 points in 2016 to almost half that this year.
Of course, there are some negative warning signs to keep an eye on. Biden has a strong advantage with Latino voters, but Trump is chipping away in places like Miami-Dade, where a large Cuban and Venezuelan population has shown more favorability towards Trump. Among Latino men, Biden’s lead is only 8 points, much smaller than Latino women. These are not insignificant obstacles to overcome, especially with the Latino vote being pivotal in states like Florida.
We should be confident on Election Day
There is still time to talk with friends and family who haven’t voted and we should be prepared for the onslaught of legal challenges to ballots in Pennsylvania. These next few days will be stressful and exhausting, but we have every reason to be confident. Confidence does not mean certainty, I’m not writing this to make you feel certain. Trump can still win! But I don’t think anxiety is our friend. We should recognize our anxiousness but not feed it. We don’t have to engage our panicked brains when they remind us, “The polls all said Hillary would win in 2016, why are they right now?!”
Take your shot
This weekend, President Obama personified this idea of confidence while campaigning with Joe Biden. In a high school gym, the staff passed him a basketball. He took one dribble, set his feet, rolled the ball off his fingers, and drained a 3.
Then, with an earned swagger, he strolled off the court.
Going into Election Day, that’s the type of confidence we need. The polls have been steady and show a Biden lead. Trump has had consistently low favorable ratings for his entire term as president that have not been helped by his botched COVID response. Biden by contrast, is much more well-liked than Trump and Hillary. Polls have not only shown Biden winning in the key states, but consistently winning for weeks. He is winning among important groups like seniors and suburban women. He has expanded his map putting Trump on defense where he now has to defend places like Georgia and even Texas. Democrats have been organizing for months and will work every last minute until the polls are closed on Tuesday to bring this election home.
We can win this. We just need to grab the ball, set our feet, and take the shot.