A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

The four-year shadow of Nov. 8, 2016

Less than a month from the election, hedged bets, qualifiers, and "to be sure" paragraphs abound. They're all, in part, a fingerprint of the unlikely outcome in 2016.

Megan Jelinger/Reuters
People line up to cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 2020.

Dear readers:

 There’s a shadow hanging over Washington. It’s the shadow of 2016.

 Elected officials, aides, consultants, journalists – four years ago, so many political people thought Hillary Clinton was going to win. Donald Trump? President? Some election forecast models virtually wrote him off. Very few people noticed, or really believed, that underlying key polls were bouncing around and tightening as Election Day approached.

 The memory of those misperceptions is one of the main reasons you don’t hear more whispers about what Politico’s Ryan Lizza calls “Washington’s worst kept secret:” the widespread belief that President Trump is now headed for defeat.

 After all, the numbers facing the president are brutal. He’s losing in key polls by large margins. And those numbers are more stable than they were four years ago – or getting worse.

 The topline is that President Trump is now 9 points behind in the FiveThirtyEight average of major national polls. In a just-released CNN survey Mr. Trump is 16 points behind Joe Biden. That’s the largest October deficit in any presidential survey in the 21st century.

 Yes, we’re cherry-picking one poll there. But the underlying demographics are terrible for the Trump campaign. Four years ago, Mr. Trump won seniors by nine points over Hillary Clinton. The latest polls show him losing this group to Joe Biden by twenty points or more.

 Men, overall, prefer President Trump. But women are deserting him in such numbers that barring a big change the 2020 election will feature the largest gender gap since women won the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.

 All this means the path for a Joe Biden victory is becoming clearer. He now leads in Pennsylvania by an average of 8 points in major polls, according to the New York Times Upshot calculations. He leads in Wisconsin by 8, Minnesota by 11, and Michigan by 8. If he wins those states, as well as all the others won by Mrs. Clinton in 2016, it’s game over.

 And yet, and yet . . . 2016! Mr. Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis might make him a more sympathetic figure. Mr. Biden might stumble in a debate. The polls might be flat wrong.

 This uncertainty is why the FiveThirtyEight election forecast still gives Mr. Trump a 17% chance of winning, according to founding editor Nate Silver. That “isn’t bad,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

 But the polls per se? They point to “the biggest landslide since 1984,” according to Mr. Silver.

 Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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