In a new Op-Ed for the Atlantic, political strategist and pollster Stanley Greenberg argues that people should believe the polls putting Biden far ahead of President Trump both nationally and in most swing states.
Greenberg worked for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Blair, and Nelson Mandela.
Biden currently leads Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling average by a stunning spread of 9.3%
Recent polls could hardly be more reassuring for voters who want to be done with Donald Trump. “Biden Builds Largest Lead This Year,” a CNN headline declared. “Biden Hits 55%–41% Against Trump in Biggest National Poll Lead Yet,” reported The Daily Beast. “Republicans should be petrified by the polls,” a Washington Post opinion piece asserted. Yet the polls also frighten Democrats who, four years ago, got their hopes up amid favorable numbers for Hillary Clinton.
Noting reports that Joe Biden holds a healthy lead in Michigan—one of three Rust Belt states in which Trump narrowly upset Clinton—Representative Debbie Dingell told participants in a recent online Democratic campaign event, “I don’t believe these numbers.” And Dingell, who introduced herself at the event as “Debbie Downer,” has standing to dispute polls that look rosy for her party. In 2016, she’d warned me that the Clinton campaign was going badly in Macomb County—the suburban home of the white, working-class, Catholic voters whom my research decades earlier had labeled “Reagan Democrats.” Dingell’s fear that Clinton could lose Michigan was borne out.
But this moment is very different. To start, during the summer and fall of 2016, Clinton never had the kind of national poll lead that Biden now has. She led by an average of four points four months before the election and the same four points just before Election Day. This year, after Biden effectively clinched the nomination, he moved into an average six-point lead over Trump, which has grown to nearly 10 points after the death of George Floyd and the weeks of protests that have followed. The lingering apprehension among Democrats fails to recognize just how much the political landscape has changed since 2016. We are looking at different polls, a different America, and different campaigns with different leaders.
I am a pollster who works to get Democrats elected. Four years ago I, too, believed—based on public polling and information from the Clinton campaign itself—that our candidate was going to win. I still didn’t take victory for granted. I wanted to win down ballot so Democrats would make gains in the House and Senate. I wanted to close the campaign on economic issues that would create a mandate for change. Today, the numbers suggest that the electorate is ready to repudiate Trump and his agenda. Instead of living in fear that 2016 will repeat itself, Democrats should listen to what voters are saying and seize the opportunity to push for the most possible change.
The Clinton campaign’s worst blunder came in September 2016, when the candidate described “half of Trump’s supporters” as “deplorables” and walked right into the white working-class revolt against elites. Her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders had exposed a lack of enthusiasm for her in white working-class suburbs that Barack Obama had won. Her campaign hoped to make up for the lost votes with landslide wins among women, voters of color, and voters in big cities. White working-class voters noticed the lack of respect, and Trump ran up startling margins with them: He won these men by 48 points and women by 27, according to exit polls.
And the white working-class shift toward Trump is the biggest reason the national polls overestimated Clinton’s margin by two points and the state polls by much more. Mostly using exit polls from prior elections as their guide, pollsters—including me—had overestimated the number of four-year college graduates in the electorate. Getting that wrong mattered a lot in an election where the white working class was in revolt. Crucially, many pollsters, including me, have adjusted our assumptions about the makeup of the November 2020 electorate.
So one reason to trust my polls more now than in 2016 is this change: Four years ago, those without a four-year degree made up 48 percent of my survey respondents; today they account for 60 percent. Whites without a college degree were 33 percent of my surveys; today they are 43 percent. That is a huge change—an elixir against being deceived again. The pain of Trump’s victory and disastrous presidency has concentrated the minds of campaign staff and the polling profession in ways that give me confidence that Biden’s lead in the polls is real.
But much more important than all of that is the sustained, unwavering, and extremely well-documented opposition of the American people to every element of Donald Trump’s sexist, nativist, and racist vision. Indeed, the public’s deep aversion to Trumpism explains why Biden has such a poll lead.
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