Biden’s lead has supporters…worried

Polling and politics down the homestretch

WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL election now eight days away, we have a pretty good sense of where things stand. Or do we?

There’s been an avalanche of polling this cycle, and it all seems to point to a consistent lead for Joe Biden, but there’s been no end to the nail biting among campaigns and political partisans who wonder whether we’re getting an accurate picture. That angst extends to those doing the polling, who remain spooked by the experience of 2016, when nearly everything was pointing toward a Hillary Clinton victory that was not to be.

“It’s totally understandable that there is some nervousness and apprehension based on what happened in 2016, but things are a little bit different,” said David Paleologos, who directs polling for the Suffolk University Political Research Center. He joined The Codcast for a last look at the race — along with Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group and Boston Globe national political reporter Jess Bidgood.

“The race is a landslide right now for Joe Biden,” said Paleologos. “To me, it looks like it’s not going to even be close — but again, polls are a snapshot in time.”

“I view things perhaps just with a recollection that things can go wrong,” said Koczela.

One of the main things that went wrong four years ago was a failure to conduct state-level polls over the final days of the race in the places that ended up swinging the election to Donald Trump. Paleologos and Koczela said that mistake isn’t happening this cycle, with continued polling taking place in upper Midwest states like Michigan and Wisconsin — and no sign yet of Biden’s lead there collapsing.

Out on the hustings and among the two campaigns, there’s an odd inversion of the attitudes one might expect, said Bidgood.

“I was in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, last week for a Trump rally, and I was really struck by the degree to which President Trump’s supporters, the base, they are jubilant,” she said. “They look around, they see themselves standing in a crowd of five or 6,000 people….and they feel like there is no way that their guy can lose, even though he is trailing in Pennsylvania and all of these other battleground states.”

Democrats, on the other hand, are “deeply nervous,” said Bidgood. Whether it’s voters or campaign strategists she talks to, most are “kind of ready to just sort of curl up in the fetal position and wait for November 3rd to pass us by. The trauma of the surprise upset in 2016 is real for Democrats, and so you’re seeing the Biden campaign be very careful in its public statements, really go out of its way to tell supporters, ‘There is still a path forward for Trump, we can’t be complacent.’”

Other factors buttressing the belief that Biden’s lead may hold are the much better “favorable” numbers the former VP enjoys compared with Clinton. Biden also seems to be doing better than Clinton among voters who aren’t too keen on either candidate, said Koczela, who added that there’s been remarkably little change in how voters see Trump since his election. “Trump’s approval numbers basically haven’t moved since he’s been president,” he said.

Though anecdotal, Bidgood said conversations with the vanishingly small number of undecided voters also seem to offer qualified good news for Biden. “I hear more voters who are undecided who basically know how they feel about Trump. The question is how do they feel about Biden?” she said, suggesting they are deciding between casting a vote for the Democratic nominee or another third candidate.

She recounted a recent conversation with a woman in a hair salon in Lindsey Graham’s hometown in South Carolina. The woman had voted for Trump in 2016 but now described him “as either a petulant brat or a petulant child,” said Bidgood. “She said she wasn’t going to vote for Trump. Her question was, was she going to vote for Biden or was she going to write in Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

All of that said, this year’s race brings all sorts of new unknowns to the equation, including millions of people voting by mail and the uncertainties of how the pandemic, which is surging in many states, might affect in-person turnout next Tuesday.

“We’re, in some sense, always fighting the last war,” said Koczela. “We know we fixed what happened in 2016, but it’s just worth keeping in mind that we don’t really know exactly what 2020 is looking like just yet.”