Is President Trump Really That Far Behind?

Updated 11/02/2020

It is now the day before the election, and the professional progressive political prognosticators are still predicting an overwhelming victory for the Democrat candidate, just as they so wrongly did in 2016. And once again, that pesky Trafalgar Group, which correctly predicted almost the exact electoral college vote in 2016, is producing swing state polls which are not in line with the main stream polling consensus. But how do the electoral vote totals look if the main stream polling consensus is adjusted to take the Trafalgar results into account?

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Electoral College Rating, certainly a well-recognized representative of the consensus view, currently assigns 290 electoral votes as “Leaning” or better to Biden, 163 to Trump, and 85 as “Tossups.” In order to incorporate the Trafalgar polling, the idea here is to modify the Crystal Ball electoral totals in accordance with available Trafalgar results. For example, if the Crystal Ball indicates a particular state is “Leaning” toward one of the candidates, but Trafalgar polling shows the margin between the two candidates to be within the Margin of Error (MOE), then that state’s electoral votes would be moved to the “Tossup” category. Using Franklin’s guidance for calculating MOE ranges for candidate margins (rather than MOE for candidate scores), the following table compares 2020 Trafalgar battleground state polls to the Crystal Ball assessments for those same states:

StateTrumpBidenMarginCandidate Margin MOECrystal Ball Rating
48.946.42.56.05Lean Biden
10/29/20 Biden
44.848.02.85.79Lean Biden
10/29/20 Biden
North Carolina
47.845.91.95.82Lean Biden
10/27/20 Biden

These margins are all within the MOE and should therefore be in the tossup column, except for Georgia, in which Trump has a statistically significant Trafalgar lead. Adjusting the Crystal Ball totals by shifting the applicable states to the tossup column, and Georgia to the Trump column, an election scenario emerges which does not indicate a decisive lead for either candidate:

Crystal Ball Current Electoral Totals (@ 10/27/2020):29085163
Crystal Ball Electoral Totals Adjusted for Trafalgar Statistical Ties to Tossups and Georgia to Trump:217142179

This is significant. If Trump were to win about two thirds of those 142 tossup electoral votes he would get beyond 270. The electoral college tally could range from 359 for Biden were he to win all of the 142 tossup electoral votes, to 321 electoral votes for Trump if he were to win all of the tossup votes. This election could go either way, with large electoral vote differences, precisely because these tossup state margins are very close. This is highly reminiscent of the 2016 election outcome, where very small leads resulted in key swing state wins for Trump. Incidentally, this is exactly the result foreseen by Trafalgar CEO Cahaly as of October 19th 2020.

It is worth examining Trafalgar’s 2016 swing state predictions to get a sense of their precision. Trafalgar did very well predicting these outcomes, but just how well? The following table compares Trafalgar key 2016 swing state predictions for candidate margins and their associated MOEs to the actual margins in 2016 in order to evaluate the predicted margins for 2020:

State2016 Predicted Candidate Margins2016 Actual Candidate Margins2016 Difference Between Predicted and Actual Candidate Margins2016 Candidate Margin MOE2020 Predicted Candidate Margins
North Carolina4.973.81.175.572.1

This table reflects a high degree of accuracy on Trafalgar’s part for these particular states in 2016. Except for Ohio, the difference between Trafalgar’s predicted margin between the candidates and the actual margin between the candidates was less than half of the MOE. If Trafalgar’s predictions are as precise in 2020 as they were in 2016, then Trump can expect to win all 5 of these states. Take Florida, for example: Trafalgar predicted a Trump win by 3.6 points in 2016, whereas Trump actually won by 1.3 points. Trafalgar therefore overstated the Trump lead by 2.3 points. Assuming that same level of precision for 2020, Trump’s current lead of 2.7 points in Florida could be reduced by as much as 2.3 points, which would still leave a lead of 0.4 points.

Modifying the electoral totals described above to reflect Trump wins in these states causes the election to look like this:

Crystal Ball Electoral Totals Adjusted for Trafalgar Tossups and Georgia to Trump:217142179
North Carolina
Crystal Ball Electoral Totals Adjusted for Trafalgar Leads Consistent with 2016:217 44277

If you are a Trafalgar believer, then Trump now has a comfortable lead in the electoral college just before the election. The remaining tossup electoral votes for which Trafalgar polls are available reside in 4 states: Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, and Wisconsin. Trends in 3 of these states over the last few Trafalgar polls are of interest:

– Arizona has consistently demonstrated a small Trump lead.

– Minnesota has consistently demonstrated a small Biden lead.

– Wisconsin has been moving toward Trump within the last couple of weeks and that race is now extremely close.

Therefore – to answer the question in the title – no, the President is not “that far” behind.