Cut the checks

Polls show that Joe Biden's American rescue plan is popular, and it could reshape how we think about politics and the economy.

Hi there! Welcome back to Margin of Error, a newsletter from me about polls and the way they are covered.

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A quick note about our publishing schedule: It will likely be pretty ad hoc for a while. Thanks to the few of you who have reached out and encouraged me to publish more often!

And now, the American Rescue Plan and its very big implications.


Americans really like when you give them money.

If there is one lesson that will endure from this era, even if and when things go back to a “normal” state, it is that. Perhaps that should have been obvious. After all, the Universal Basic Income platform that was foisted onto the national stage by Andrew Yang has been gaining traction for the past several years. But it took a once-in-a-century pandemic to put the concept into clear action.

Millions of qualifying Americans are soon set to get a third round of direct payments—$1,400 for individuals and $2,800 for couples at the baseline—as Congress debates President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. There’s been a decent amount of polling around the plan, but this recent one from Monmouth University had two eye-popping numbers:

  • 53% of Americans think the $1,400 amount is about right—but 28% say these payments should be even bigger.

  • 68% of Americans say Congress should pass the bill, even if it only passes on a party-line vote, rather than adjust the amount of the checks. (Translation: Democrats, pass this bill.)

“Bipartisanship sounds great on paper, but a $1,400 check sounds even better,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Polling Institute.

This is interesting in several different contexts. First, Democrats are basically bending over backwards to do that thing they always seem to do so well: get in their own way.

On Wednesday, Biden agreed to a push from centrist Democratic senators that limits the eligibility for the checks. Ryan Cooper notes that this will affect approximately 17 million people who previously got checks. It’s not unreasonable to assume that many of those people listened during the Georgia Senate runoff campaign and bought in to the promise that if Democrats won, they would be getting another check.

The second context relates to the first but is a bit broader in scope. Though we don’t yet know what the final bill will look like as it makes its way through the Senate and a reconciliation process, the American Rescue Plan is one of the most popular bills we’ve seen in quite some time.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about several different things: Why almost every single Republican is almost certainly going to vote against it; why Democrats are hemming and hawing over some of the most popular details; and how the end result could affect some of the assumptions we have about the early throes of the Biden presidency.

This is not 2009

The Monmouth poll cited above finds 62% of Americans support the American Rescue Plan overall. That’s actually one of the lower levels of support it’s had in scattered polling.

A sampling:

  • Morning Consult: 76% support

  • Quinnipiac University: 68% support

  • New York Times/SurveyMonkey: 72% support

All three of those polls also found a surprisingly strong level of support from Republicans—according to Morning Consult, 60% of GOP respondents said they at least “somewhat support” the bill.

All of which is to say that this isn’t 2009’s stimulus plan. That’s fairly remarkable, considering the popularity of then-incoming President Barack Obama and how divided we have become as a country since.

In 2009, most polls taken before or just after passage of that stimulus plan showed that narrow majorities of Americans favored it. But one New York Times poll also found two-thirds of respondents expected more money would be needed to pull the country out of that recession.

Translation: They should’ve gone bigger.

In fact, a Pew Research Center survey conducted a year after passage of the 2009 law found that two-thirds of Americans didn’t think the package helped.

Republicans were fairly effective in their opposition to that law. The nature of that package made it much easier to do so. They found a lot of “pork” because that is easier to find in a bill granting money for specific projects. Lawmakers came out with cheekily titled reports about “wasteful spending.” Solyndra, the failed solar startup that got stimulus money, became a national issue during the 2012 election.

Things are different now. The American Rescue Plan doesn’t have as much of those kinds of programs. So far, Republicans have really only keyed in on money that was to be allocated for the BART transportation system, the fifth-largest rapid-transit system in the country. (That money was removed from the bill under the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling.) And they aren’t even really keyed in on the issue overall—Republicans and right-leaning media outlets are more focused on, uh, other things these days:

A good chunk of the package’s cost is for programs that would be felt pretty directly by millions of Americans, like extended unemployment insurance, housing assistance, and school funding. An expanded child tax credit would do a lot to reduce child poverty. And about one-quarter of its cost would go directly toward those oh-so-popular stimulus checks. (A minimum wage hike to $15, which also sees consistent majority support—but less support than other provisions—also seems likely to be out of the final version after the parliamentarian’s ruling.)

As my friend and former colleague Joe Weisenthal has written and discussed extensively over the past few years, people (the public and lawmakers) generally don’t care as much about the budget deficit anymore. As Joe wrote in the link above, people feel the benefit from stimulus checks much more quickly than stimulus projects, which take longer to make an impact.

And the mood is different—while Obama was already at this point in his presidency pivoting to austerity, Biden has signaled an appetite for more stimulus as necessary.

Go big or go home

Despite the general goodwill toward the bill so far, there still seems to be a general feeling that is summed up well by Slate’s Jordan Weissmann:

The repercussions of the final product are enormous for the future, both politically and practically. If it’s viewed as a success, especially coming out of a pandemic that has touched literally every American in some way, there will be lots of appetite for bigger, bolder packages like it in the future.

And even though I’m hesitant to project so far into the future, the bill’s success (or failure) could also reshape (or confirm) many assumptions we have about more immediate political implications. It could affect what happens in the 2022 midterms and the legislation that can pass in Biden’s first term.

The pandemic has been the only issue that matters for many Americans over the past year, with at least a few more months to go. How Americans view the leaders who get the country on the other side of the crisis could alter perceptions for years to come. Democrats have an ambitious agenda, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that much, if not all, hinges on this one.

Which is why I keep going back to one number from the Monmouth poll: 68. That’s the percentage of people who said Democrats should go ahead and pass the bill themselves rather than cut the amount of checks.

As Monmouth’s Murray said: “[O]ne lesson from 2009’s recovery bill is that you don’t get much credit if it is seen as a half measure.”

Thanks for reading Margin of Error. If you have any tips, comments, or insights about polling, email me at bplogiurato@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter @BrettLoGiurato.

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Farewell, President Polls

On his last day, remembering Donald Trump's unique love-hate relationship with the polls.

We’ve made it: Happy Inauguration Day! Welcome to Margin of Error, a newsletter from me about the polls and the way they are covered.

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Now, a farewell of sorts.


Probably the first time I (inadvertently) caught the attention of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was through my poll coverage of the 2016 Republican primary.

I was the politics editor at Business Insider, so it was a point in my life when I was especially attuned to Trump’s tweets, and it was kind of a surreal experience to see a presidential candidate tweeting out my story.

Of course, you can’t see the tweet now, because the president got banned from Twitter after the US Capitol insurrection and related events. But it was a fairly banal tweet that said something about how it was a “nice” story.

This had nothing to do with how it was written, but everything to do with how it was received—and how Trump has viewed polls. In this context, “nice” meant that it featured polls that were good for Donald Trump. Other, less nice stories or poll numbers have also caught the attention of this outgoing president the past five and a half years.

There perhaps has never been, nor will there ever again be, a president so obsessed with the polls and his standing in them. This is perhaps natural, given Trump’s egomaniacal tendencies.

In many ways, you can tell the story of the Trump presidency through the polls of the era. They foretold his rise in the Republican Party when the pundits thought his candidacy was a joke. Then then they missed his strengths in the two general elections in which he competed. They anticipated many of his most unpopular policy goals. As his tenure ends, they tell a clear story of the legacy he leaves.

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The first time Trump tweeted about a poll was on May 3, 2011 (which, somehow, is just about a decade ago). “@oreillyfactor is having a poll, cast your vote for me,” he wrote.

This is a pretty good illustration of his overall view on polls. No matter their methods, if they were good for him, they were good. During the 2016 primary, he would often tweet out unscientific polls from The Drudge Report, Newsweek, and others, claiming he “won” debates in which pundits had panned his performance.

If they’re not good for him, as they weren’t in the 2020 campaign, he bizarrely claimed they were part of an “election interference” campaign. (He actually did tweet this!)

But at least at first, the polls generally were good for him. To Trump and his supporters, they were evidence he would emerge victorious from the primary season. It was a moment, at least early in the primary campaign, when the political world and political press largely chose to ignore the data. They have spent the last four-plus years trying mostly ill-conceived methods to rectify it.

The data foretold what was to come over the next five years and probably well beyond. There are two competing forces of Trump’s legacy as the 45th president. He is the most unpopular president ever measured in American history. Yet there is a segment of voters that will follow wherever he leads. And, so too, will the polls, unfortunately. If the postelection coverage—like this New York Times story on how Trump supporters are feeling about the US Capitol attack and Joe Biden’s inauguration—is any indication, that segment of voters will continue receiving outsized attention in a divided country.

Trump’s final “scorecard” is clear:

  • By a few different measures, he is the most unpopular president in US history. Gallup found his average approval rating over his four years as president to be 41%, the lowest in the company’s polling era dating back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

  • An ABC/Washington Post poll also pegged his average approval rating at 40%, the lowest on record, while his average disapproval rating stood at 56%, 10 points higher than any other president.

  • Trump is also, by far, the most polarizing president in history, helping usher in an era that will continue to be remembered for its polarization. On average, per Gallup, 88% of Republicans approved of his job performance, compared to 7% of Democrats (and, if you’re wondering, 37% of independents).

Trump is leaving office on a much darker note than when he used unscientific polls to claim he “won” GOP primary debates. For the past two months, he has used his megaphone, and polls of Republican voters that have cycled from it, to lie about fraud in an election he lost by a lot of votes.

Because of the events resulting from that campaign, there’s one more immediate issue of the Trump era for the polls to weigh in on: His second impeachment and potential conviction.

Trump leaves a legacy that is conveyed in the latest polls. Most Americans think he should be convicted and never again allowed to hold office. Yet three-quarters or more of the Republican base support him and think the election was stolen from him.

As he leaves office, the danger reflected in that discrepancy remains. Even as we reach the seeming end of one chapter, we might yet bring some baggage with us into the next one.

Will the polls foreshadow more division, or will the new Biden administration turn those numbers around? We can all hope it’s the latter.

Thanks for reading Margin of Error. If you have any tips, comments, or insights about polling, email me at bplogiurato@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter @BrettLoGiurato.

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The devil didn't poll down in Georgia

There's a familiar storyline missing from the next big election.

Hello! Welcome to Margin of Error, a newsletter from me about the polls and the way they are covered.

If you’re new here, thanks for signing up! If you find it interesting, I’d be grateful if you would encourage others to sign up.

If someone sent this your way or you found this post through Twitter or other channels, make sure to subscribe below.

For both new and longtime subscribers, an apology for the lapse in editions. I’ve written partial and full posts over the past six weeks, but when I was writing and/or finished with them, they didn’t feel quite right. My friend and former colleague Myles Udland addressed this on his good newsletter about a similar writer’s block: “I simply wasn’t all that interested in what I’d written. So why would anyone else be?”

To be quite honest, it feels somewhat difficult, even in this edition, to write about polls. A sizable faction of the United States Congress has for the last month been engaging in an overt attempt to subvert the will of a majority of voters in the presidential election. Every other storyline, at least on the political front, feels like it doesn’t really matter.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I hope you enjoy this edition. Because we’re focusing on the Georgia runoff elections, and they do matter.


By now, we mostly know the story of the 2020 general elections and the polls. The polls missed results in the key states of 2016, which led to a lot of focus on how pollsters were going to fix it. That, combined with the compelling story they were telling and the insatiable appetite of an increasingly interested public, made polls an even more ripe area for coverage in 2020.

This time, though the polls correctly predicted the winner, they also exhibited a lot of the same mistakes as 2016—sometimes even worse.

The first big election of 2021 (and, really, the last election of the 2020 cycle) comes Tuesday in Georgia. It is hard to overstate the consequences of the two runoff elections, which feature Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock facing off against incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively. A lot of observers would probably disagree, but even though liberals seem increasingly frustrated with him, a Chuck Schumer-led Senate makes a huge difference for a Joe Biden presidency.

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Outside of the aforementioned plot to subvert democracy, the political world has been focused on the Georgia elections over much of the past month. Yet there has been a glaring void from the conversation: No one talks about the polls anymore.

They just aren’t really a feature of the coverage of these runoffs. To be sure, the most closely watched presidential election in quite some time, with juicy subplots in the Senate and other down-ballot races, is different from two Senate runoff elections.

Yet it hardly feels like polls are part of the conversation. There are few pollsters (if any) previewing their results hours or days ahead of time, or building excitement for poll releases that dominate the Twitter conversation for the day. FiveThirtyEight has poll averages for both races on its homepage, but they’re both kind of sad and tiny, a fitting testament to the shriveled impact of polling on the conversation. There haven’t even been a slew of frantic campaign emails trying to raise money off a bad poll.

The Georgia runoffs present an interesting case study for the future of polling. Does it mean that polls have peaked in their impact? Is it a signal that pollsters are moving more cautiously and trying to figure out where they went wrong in November? Or is it evidence of recognition that no matter what pollsters do, polling in the era of Donald Trump will always be missing a certain level of support?

The limits of the old methods

As of Sunday, there have been 22 public polls conducted of either or both Georgia runoff races. Not too many of them have been by well-known or otherwise respected pollsters. The most frequent pollster of the race is Trafalgar, the firm that found a much closer race than others and then prematurely beat its chest before all votes were counted.

Tom Jensen, who runs the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, said PPP has conducted private polls for clients that haven’t released the results, a fairly standard practice. He told me a few factors are all converging to create the current dearth of polling:

  • The runoffs do not have a particularly unique storyline. It’s baked in that they will be close, something that, so far, the limited Georgia polls are confirming. (As of Sunday, both Democrats led by about 2 points on average.)

  • The campaigns have been taking place during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and broader holiday seasons, a particularly challenging time for pollsters to reach people (thus also making it more expensive).

  • Jensen said it’s likely some more well-known firms, especially those aligned with universities, used up budgets for the year. (A few university pollsters either declined or didn’t respond to requests for comment for this newsletter.)

Jensen said there could be some “skittishness” about polling—even though, as he pointed out, Georgia was one of the few states in which public polling ended up being pretty accurate. (The final FiveThirtyEight average found Biden leading by 1.2 points in Georgia, where he ended up winning by about 0.3 points.)

The relative lack of quality polling is feeding into a media environment that has also been more cautious in drawing conclusions from the data. Multiple journalists have told me that their outlets have deemphasized or even outright discouraged including mentions of polls (and polling averages) in stories.

You see where this cycle is going.

Emerson College in Boston, which has an A-minus rating from FiveThirtyEight, has been one of the few quality pollsters engaging in the Georgia runoffs. (It found both Republican candidates slightly ahead but well within the margin of error.)

Spencer Kimball, the director of Emerson College Polling and assistant professor at the college, echoed Jensen’s sentiments. He told me it was especially difficult to pick the right time to poll the races, given the holidays and the continued importance of early voting.

“I am sure budgetary concerns are an issue for pollsters, but also the news media might feel a bit burned by the pollsters and will focus on other aspects of their campaign coverage,” he said via email.

But Kimball told me that while Emerson’s review of its 2020 performance is still in process, he is looking at the runoffs as he does every election: a chance to “test new methods and refine old ones.”

My first thought after the polls’ relative miss in 2020 was that it could be good for the industry. I thought that it could follow a similar pattern as the aftermath of 2016, as general interest would only build as pollsters continued to try to figure out the puzzle. It’s too early to say definitively, but the Georgia runoffs have shown the limits of the old methods.

Thanks for reading Margin of Error. If you have any tips, comments, or insights about polling, email me at bplogiurato@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter @BrettLoGiurato.

If you liked what you read, share it with a friend and make sure to subscribe.

Where do the polls go from here?

One pollster is having nightmares as the industry grapples with its third-straight big miss. But how do you measure something that's getting increasingly disjointed?

Hello! Welcome to Margin of Error, a newsletter from me about the polls and the way they are covered.

If you’re new here, thanks for signing up! If you find it interesting, I’d be grateful if you would encourage others to sign up.

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And now, the polls.


On a Saturday night, three days before Election Day, a lot of election and polling Twitter was abuzz over a new poll from J. Ann Selzer. 

Selzer’s polls are considered the gold standard in the (perhaps former) swing state of Iowa. Her last poll of the 2016 race, in which she found President Donald Trump leading comfortably, is largely credited with foretelling his triumph not only in Iowa but throughout the Midwest. 

This time, her poll again found Trump leading comfortably in Iowa—by seven points. This differed from an average of polls that found tight races in the Hawkeye State. Many even showed Democrat Joe Biden ahead in the final days. 

Selzer’s poll was cast aside, largely dismissed as a likely outlier. Even Ann Selzer can have an outlier, the Twitter analysis went.

Of course, Selzer did it again. Trump won Iowa by more than eight points, while Republican Senate incumbent Joni Ernst also held on by more than six points.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about what to say about the polls. We just had our third election in a row where there was a pretty significant polling error, the second involving the same candidate. In 2020, outside of Iowa, the outcome is different: Joe Biden is president-elect. But the polling industry, and the pundits who analyze it, are grappling again with how the data missed the mark. And yet, as I’ll argue later, it’s an increasingly complicated story to tell.

Biden’s victory is historic: He has won the Electoral College by a 306-232 tally. He is on track to win the popular vote by between three and four percentage points, and likely by between 6 and 7 million votes. Of course, even that topline number is different from polls that, according to FiveThirtyEight’s final average, put Biden up by 8.4 percentage points. 

The underlying stories paint an even worse picture for polls. At least today, Democrats do not have the Senate majority polls told them to expect. And in this newsletter, I’ve written a lot about the district polls that painted a clear picture for the races for president and key House seats. As we now know, Republicans are gaining seats in the House. 

So what happened, and what happens from here? I talked to a few pollsters for their thoughts, and I also have some of my own.

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Donald Trump was underestimated—again 

Tom Jensen, who runs the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, is fairly torn up about what happened this cycle. He told me he has had literal nightmares about the South Carolina Senate race. This doesn’t totally make sense: His firm never polled Republican Lindsey Graham trailing. Nevertheless, PPP had found a close race that ended up being not so close.

Like a lot of other pollsters, PPP analyzed what went wrong in 2016 and made adjustments. And in the next major election cycle, 2018, it looked like it had worked. Jensen said that 2018 and smaller cycle of 2019 represented the most accurate years of polling in the firm’s 20-year existence. 

He told me that 2020 reaffirmed for him that Trump is a “unique force of nature” when he’s on the ballot. 

“I thought we had sort of cracked the formula for polling in the Trump Era and expected very accurate polling this year,” Jensen said, “but I guess [2018 and 2019] was just for polling in the Trump Era when Trump himself is not on the ballot.”

The most obvious reason for this, and the siren for pollsters going forward, is that a lot of Trump supporters and Republican voters not only don’t trust polls anymore, but also won’t respond to them. They have become part of the broader conspiracy, akin to the media (which, as it happens, often breathlessly reports on polls).

This problem could subside when Trump is no longer on the ballot. But some of the down-ballot races are also glaring. Graham, for instance, led in only four of the final seven polls conducted in South Carolina, and he ended up winning by double digits. In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins never led in a public poll this cycle but will end up winning comfortably.

“I think polls have just gotten absorbed into the media as something for Trump supporters to hate and distrust so they decline to participate in ways that can’t simply be fixed by weighting,” Jensen said. He said PPP may look at weighting differently if Trump—or someone with a similar following—is on the ballot again.

Of course, there are some more simple explanations for what happened, especially down-ballot. Like what happened in 2016, Jensen said a lot of undecided voters ended up breaking for Trump and GOP candidates. And as voters saw a Biden win becoming more likely, more people who have historically voted Republican felt comfortable voting Republican on the rest of their ballots,  meaning that even in historically GOP suburban areas where Biden did well, he didn’t end up providing significant coattails. 

Dr. Lauren Copeland, associate director of Baldwin Wallace’s Community Research Institute, is working on a version of the “shy Trump” voter theory (which she, like I, doesn’t seem to buy). She instead refers to “reluctant Trump” voters—people who don’t personally like Trump but still see their policies closer to those of the GOP.

Interestingly, Copeland told me that if you add all of the undecideds into Trump’s column in the final Great Lakes poll from Baldwin Wallace, it gets pretty close to their actual results in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. She said they’ve had a preliminary look at the data from that October poll and found that undecided voters largely approved of Trump’s job performance and his handling of the economy.

Bernie Porn, who runs the EPIC-MRA poll in Michigan, had similar thoughts but put it more bluntly: He thinks there’s a “lie factor” among some voters when it comes to Trump—particularly those who say they planned to vote third party. If Trump or someone like him is on the ballot again, he plans to ask more probing questions to those voters.

“When Trump is not on the ballot and pollsters are testing voter opinions about more normal candidates that are not as controversial as Donald Trump, polling has been much more accurate,” he told me.

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How do you measure something so disjointed?

There are big questions the polling industry will have to answer in 2022 and 2024, although the interest around polls will only intensify. (Don’t believe the “polls are obsolete” crowd.)

I may expand on this point in a future issue, but I think it’s worth mentioning even in passing. I think part of the reason polls have been missing the story is that the story itself is becoming more and more disjointed.

This was not a particularly close election. One candidate earned millions more votes than the other, while garnering the highest percentage of votes for a challenger since FDR. 

And yet, even in an election in which there’s a clear outcome, it seems evident that at no time in the near future will the United States have a not-close election under its current system. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report noted the divergence in Wisconsin, which was the “tipping point” state in both 2016 and 2020. The 2020 election is on track to have the biggest discrepancy between the tipping point and final popular vote margin since at least 1948.

Polls have become more than just data. They are a coverage point and a barometer, and they come together to help people tell a story.

A blend of flavors combine to shape how we perceive an election in its aftermath. In 2020, the narrative was shaped by a couple of distinct elements: Expectations for Biden were set high because of the polls, and The Narrative that those polls were way off was established early on election night by returns from Florida and, to a lesser extent, North Carolina.

How would we be covering this election if it had happened another way? If Republican legislatures hadn’t blocked Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania from counting mail ballots early? If we had known pretty quickly the final score, instead of waiting days for the next batch of ballots to trickle in? We’d know the polls were off, but it wouldn’t feel quite the same, would it?

So, the polling industry will grapple with its third big miss in three elections (and 2012 rivals 2016 and 2020!). But in a system where one candidate can lose by at least 6 million votes and still come within 25,000 or so vote switches of winning, well, that’s a hard story for even data to square.

Election Day edition: A final look at the under-the-radar polls that still appear brutal for Trump

“I’m not in a whole lot of suspense about the outcome of the presidential race."

Good morning, and happy Election Day! Welcome to Margin of Error, a newsletter from me about the polls and the way they are covered.

If you’re new here, thanks for signing up! If you find it interesting, I’d be grateful if you would encourage others to sign up. If you missed last night’s edition, you can find it here.

If someone sent this your way or you found this post through Twitter or other channels, make sure to subscribe below.

Here are the final poll averages:

  • National: Biden +8.4 (via 538)

  • Florida: Biden +2.5

  • Pennsylvania: Biden +4.7

  • Michigan: Biden +7.9

  • Wisconsin: Biden +8.4

  • Arizona: Biden +2.6

  • Georgia: Biden +1.2

  • North Carolina: Biden +1.8

  • Texas: Trump +1.1

  • Ohio: Trump +0.8

Now, a final look at the district polls.


A few weeks ago, I focused an edition of Margin of Error on congressional district polls. They have been painting a consistently clear and brutal picture for President Donald Trump as we head into Election Day. Even as there has been a lot of focus on national and state polls, these district polls are, in many ways, most telling about the state of the race.

One of the biggest misnomers about the 2016 election was that the polls missed Trump’s late surge. In fact, the data was clear: Hillary Clinton was collapsing and more voters were swinging to Trump. 

The state polls found this, and in some states—Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—they couldn’t catch it fast enough. But some pollsters, like Tom Jensen, the director of the firm Public Policy Polling, saw it happening on a smaller but more telling scale: polls of congressional and legislative districts. 

Jensen is a Democrat, and this was the big factor giving him heartburn ahead of Election Day in 2016. His firm was seeing the numbers shift rapidly to a point where Clinton was significantly trailing Barack Obama’s 2012 numbers in key parts of places like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

For this final 2020 election edition of Margin of Error, I wanted to do a check-in of sorts on these polls. 

With help from FiveThirtyEight over the past few weeks, I have gathered together more than 80 US House polls, all of which were released in September, October, or the early days of November. I used The Daily Kos’ comparison of presidential results for 2012 and 2016, which is organized according to congressional district lines that are in place for 2020.

Together, these polls continue to paint a clear picture. Biden is performing better than Clinton by an average of 9.5 points. (This spreadsheet has a fuller breakdown.) Only in two of the districts is Biden performing worse than Clinton did in 2016. 

A few recent entries stood out to me:

  • NY-11: This is the district that includes Staten Island, the only Republican-leaning portion of New York City. Obama won it in 2012, then it swung wildly for Trump, who won it by almost 10 points. It’s back to a swing race, with Biden trailing by just three in a recent Marist College poll. Max Rose, the incumbent Democrat, led by one point in one of the most closely watched congressional races of the cycle.

  • OH-12: Biden’s campaign made one of its final stops in Ohio, and this district could be a key signal if he’s going to swing it back to the Democratic column. Trump won this district by more than 11 points in 2016, and now he only leads by one.

  • TX-03: This is a poll conducted by the Democratic congressional campaign arm, so caveats required. But it shows this district, which includes the Dallas suburbs, swinging an astounding 25 points toward Biden (from Trump +11 to Biden +14). The early vote numbers out of Texas have been stunning. If it does end up swinging, districts like this one will be why.

On Sunday night, I emailed Jensen to get a final temperature check on the state of the race. He told me that PPP has conducted about 400 polls in October. In only one of them—a state Senate district in upstate New York—did PPP find Trump performing better than he did in 2016. And that was by a point. On average over the past week, Jensen has seen about a two-point shift toward Biden.

“I’m not in a whole lot of suspense about the outcome of the presidential race,” he told me.

More from Jensen:

“I’m not in a lot of suspense about the US House, either. We’ve found Democrats leading in 22 different Republican held districts over the last couple months. Of course they won’t win all of them—in a lot of cases the leads were 1 or 2 points. And there are a handful of seats Democrats could lose too. But I’m pretty confident in a double digit gain in House seats for Democrats.

“So we will he most closely watching the Senate and the state legislature battles in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas on Tuesday night. There were a ton of legislative districts in early October across the country where Biden was up by 6 and the incumbent Republican legislator was up by 2 points, with the vast majority of the undecideds being Biden voters. If a lot of those 2 point deficits turned into 2 point leads over the final month … a whole lot of big state legislative chambers will flip Tuesday, too.”

The key story of the race has been its relative lack of suspense and stability, at least in terms of the data. If there’s one thing to take away from my still-nascent exercise in this newsletter, it’s that 2020 is not 2016.

Enjoy Election Day.

Thanks for reading Margin of Error. If you have any tips, comments, or insights about polling, email me at bplogiurato@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter @BrettLoGiurato.

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