Everything points to Biden winning big. Believe it.
Why do we not believe the evidence in front of us? Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to accept the bad news it reveals; sometimes it’s because we daren’t believe the good news for fear of jinxing it; it may be that we had our fingers burnt by believing something similar in the past which then turned out differently; or maybe the outcome is so far from our experiences that it feels incredible.
Scepticism is justified. People don’t always do what they say, habits can be hard to break and the historic record matters. On the other hand, we shouldn’t get our thinking stuck in a rut and overly influenced by what happened ‘last time’, when last time was rather different.
I remember one commentator declaring that the 2015 Labour leadership race was very difficult to read when voting was already well under way. In fact it was very easy to read: Corbyn was clearly heading for a stonking victory. The polls, the nominations, the rule changes; everything pointed to that. The problem was not so much the murkiness of the data as the absurdity of the decision that the Labour members and supporters were so obviously taking.
An earlier (and from Labour’s point of view, happier) example can be found in Chris Mullin’s diaries, when he asked colleagues for their predictions of the 1997 election, just prior to polling day. Despite the polls pointing to a landslide, as they had for years; despite local elections and Westminster by-elections reinforcing those polls; most of the predictions Mullin got were for a hung parliament or small Labour majority. He and his friends were excessively influenced by the shock of the 1992 result and refused to see the evidence in front of them.
Similarly, last December, much of the talk during the election campaign was of Corbyn repeating his extraordinary feat of dragging Labour back from huge deficits. The Tories couldn’t really win Bolsover could they? Three elections with close results, on top of four more that the Tories either lost or scraped home were placing an artificial ceiling on people’s conception of what was possible.
And so to America. The evidence is crystal clear. Biden has led Trump all year by winning margins. The number of undecided voters is tiny (a Leger poll today found that the voting intention of fully 94% of voters “is final” – including 97% of current Biden voters). Trump’s net disapproval isn’t high but his absolute level is, and particularly the proportion that strongly disapproves. The state polling backs up the national polls. Biden’s lead is big enough that even a bad polling miss (and actually, the 2016 national polls weren’t far out, nor were those in the mid-terms), gives him enough leeway.
Put simply, Biden should be no more than 1.15 for the election.
There is, therefore, value backing him but odds-on bets aren’t much fun. More value can be had looking at the Electoral College Vote markets. Biden currently leads in the polls in 7-9 states that Trump won in 2016 (Iowa and Georgia are knife-edge). If he bags the lot, he’d win 369-169 ECVs. At the time of writing, Trump is 8.6 on Betfair to finish with between 150-179 EC votes. That has to be worth looking at – as does the equivalent market on Biden ECVs.
With so much of the talk for the US election being on ‘who wins’, that’s perhaps skewing expectations with a belief that it’s close. It’s not. Nor is there much scope for movement. Indeed, to the extent that there has been movement since the first debate, it’s been to Biden. Two national polls have given him leads of 14 and 16% respectively, and even if these are outliers, they’re surely outliers from a very healthy position. Similarly, a Monmouth poll today put Biden 11% up in Pennsylvania. Obviously, it’s not all one-way traffic (Suffolk reported a tie in Florida) but the balance in the direction of travel is very heavily one way.
Does it end there? Maybe not. I’ve been eyeing the prospect of Texas becoming a Dem gain for months. It shouldn’t be a surprise if it happens. Ted Cruz came close to losing the 2018 Senate race there and polls have given Trump only a small lead. If there has been a pro-Biden national swing since the debate (and if it’s maintained), then that puts the lone Star State right in the balance. If Biden can win it, that puts him comfortably top-side of 400 ECVs.
So why is there no talk of a Biden landslide? Well, going back to those four reasons suggested at the start, no doubt people are nervous that Trump will pull off another shock win; that he is unpredictable and has overturned expectations too many times before; that they daren’t believe the figures; that they’re too accustomed to presidential elections that turn on only a few states (only one of the last five elections has had a popular vote margin greater than 4%).
And yet 2020 is not 2016. Biden is not Hillary. In addition, too many people are viewing 2020 wrongly because they viewed (and still view) 2016 wrongly. Trump’s win was a surprise but it shouldn’t have been nearly as much of a surprise as it was. The national polls were only 1% out and the prospects of a Trump win should have been taken much more seriously than they were. Had more in the media interpreted the data in front of them then correctly, they’d be much more confident about doing the same now.
Is a landslide a certainty? No. There’s still time – four weeks yet – for an October surprise or a seriously bad debate performance from the former Vice President to pull polls back closer. But I do think that it’s far more likely than the markets, never mind the mainstream media pundits, believe.