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1/24/20

Sanders currently the best bet in battleground states

It's still too early to make predictions about the general election by relying on state-level head-to-heads, but if you look at the polling right now, you'll see a stark reminder of the difference between national polls and election outcomes.

Because as it stands, Bernie Sanders is outperforming everyone in the electoral college, even though Joe Biden retains his national lead. In most of the country, Sanders either wins or loses the same states that Biden does. But in two states accounting for 33 electoral votes - Florida and New Hampshire - Sanders is the only candidate polling above the margin of error against Trump.

Here are states we have head-to-head polling on where the 2016 victor won by less than single digit margins:


This table should make it clear why Sanders outperforms Biden in the electoral college despite running behind him nationally. While Biden leads in several states, these are either states that Sanders wins too (Michigan, Nevada) or states where both nevertheless lose (Georgia, Iowa). Sanders, meanwhile, overperforms where it counts: in states with smaller margins like Florida and New Hampshire.

One shouldn't read too much into this, because there are a few states (like Virginia and Wisconsin) where a very small shift in the polls would give Biden an electoral college lead. More importantly, state polling remains very fluid, and unreliable this far out - the latest polling numbers in Pennsylvania, for example, come from a relatively unreliable source that seems to be dramatically underestimating Democrats across the board. (Compare to the numbers from Muhlenbeg College just a month before.)

Nevertheless, I think that this state-by-state survey gives us a few crucial takeaways:

1) National polling numbers may not map directly onto an advantage in the electoral college; to determine that, you have to look at candidate performance state-by-state.

2) Biden and Sanders are running fairly close in competitive states - so close that quantitative assessments of advantage probably come down to how seriously you take margins of error.

3) Buttigieg and Warren are clearly much less competitive against Trump than Sanders and Biden. Perhaps these numbers could change between now and November, but insofar as we give the polls any weight at all, the two are clearly far less electable than the Democratic frontrunners.