Talking Points

Is Joe Biden's polling advantage weaker than it appears?

On the surface, the poll released this morning by CNBC/Change Research (a left-leaning polling firm) is filled with good news for the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Biden leads President Donald Trump by 8 points (51-43 percent) nationally. Biden is also ahead in all of the most important battleground states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina). This means that if the polls are accurate and if the election were held today, Biden would beat Trump soundly and easily.

But dig down a little more deeply into the numbers and Biden's lead looks far more tenuous. He's ahead of Trump by a fairly comfortable 6 points in Michigan and 5 in Wisconsin. But he beats Trump by just 3 in Pennsylvania, 3 in Florida, 2 in Arizona, and 1 in North Carolina. (None of those results vary more than 1.5 percentage points from the state's polling average on RealClearPolitics.) And all the battleground states have Trump doing significantly better than his national numbers. That could portend another ominous gap between the popular vote and the all-important electoral vote tally.

Of course that will only happen if the race narrows further. Polls a week or so from now will tell us whether Trump got a crucial bounce out of this week's RNC. (It appears Biden didn't receive one from last week's DNC.) But the CNBC poll points to another possible source of good news for Trump: a decline in concern about the coronavirus pandemic and a slight uptick in approval for the president's handling of it, from 44 percent earlier this month to 47 percent today (his highest COVID-19 approval number since May).

What would be the result of an election in which Trump carried the battleground states in which he's currently within 3 percentage points (Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina) but lost Michigan and Wisconsin? He would win — with 280 electoral votes to Biden's 258. If, instead, he lost Pennsylvania but turned things around in Wisconsin, where a police shooting in the town of Kenosha has led to three nights of violence and unrest? That would yield the soul-crushing result for Democrats of Trump prevailing with an on-the-nose 270 electoral votes to Biden's 268.

It's going to be a very long, nail-biting 69 days.