Biden’s lead might be comparable to Clinton’s at this point in the election. But Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says the outcome should be different for him and other Democrats.
Veteran political pollster Tom Jensen said he had a feeling when North Carolina’s early-voting numbers were released at 7:30pm on Nov. 8, 2016 that Donald Trump would win North Carolina’s delegates and possibly the necessary 270 votes in the Electoral College to secure the presidency.
His organization had already predicted a year earlier that Trump would compete for the Republican nomination and for the presidency.
But watching the polls across the nation and crunching the latest numbers, Jensen told a virtual crowd in NC Thursday that he expects former Vice President Joe Biden to win the White House this time, and for the Democratic Party to win control of the US Senate and build on its majority in the US House.
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“Both sides are going to turn out in record numbers,” Jensen said during an election forecast hosted by the progressive outlet NC Policy Watch. “If Biden is winning that 7:30pm vote-drop by about 10 points, we can feel pretty good that Trump’s not going to be able to make that up.”
Jensen’s Public Policy Polling doesn’t hide its progressive leanings, but also carries a strong reputation for accurate surveys of voter sentiment, whether he likes the results or not. PPP’s own polls track consistently with other polls tallied by aggregators like fivethirtyeight.com, showing Biden leading Trump by about four points and Democrat Cal Cunningham beating incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in one of a handful of US Senate races that could determine the balance of power in Washington.
What’s different this year versus 2016 is that most voters have already made up their minds. Jensen pointed out that, on average, Hillary Clinton had a 5-point lead in polls in October 2016, but that lead was about 45% to Trump’s 40%, leaving undecided voters still in double-digits. Trump won most of that gap. The latest PPP poll, in line with other polls, has Biden leading Trump in North Carolina 50-46, with far fewer undecided.
“Instead of having a lot of voters still on the fence and not really sure what they’re doing, almost everybody has decided this time around, and Biden is already above 50%,” Jensen told dozens of interested journalists, scholars, political-types and curious citizens on Thursday. “Not only are there very few undecided, there aren’t very many people who are open to rethinking who they’re going to vote for.”
In Jensen’s analysis, Biden probably won’t need North Carolina’s electoral votes in order to beat Trump. Assuming he wins all the states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, he then needs to win just three out of four battleground states where he’s currently leading polls by at least 5 points: Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But polls suggest Biden will also win NC, Florida and possibly even the more competitive states of Texas and Georgia, triggering a Democratic landslide.
Jensen said there are clues for this outcome hidden in Congressional-district polling in the suburbs of major cities like Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix. In 2016, he said, that polling showed Clinton trailing Barack Obama’s vote tallies by 10 to 15% in the same districts.
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“What the district level polling was telling us was more compelling and more accurate than what the statewide polling was telling us,” he said.
Jensen said PPP has conducted 400 different polls this month, many of them targeting particular Congressional districts. Biden is consistently outperforming Clinton, he said.
“I think we’ve had one poll in those 400 where Trump is doing better than he did in 2016,” Jensen said. “It’s hard for Trump to win Georgia if he’s losing a suburban Atlanta district by 11 points that he won by 2 points in 2016.”
Jensen also said Biden is polling better in delegate-rich Texas than not only Clinton in 2016 but also Beto O’Rourke, who nearly took Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat in 2018.
“I really do feel like Biden is going to win Texas, based on everything that we’re seeing at the district level,” Jensen said.
Texas could also become the lynchpin of a sizable Democratic majority that could make serious progress on some of Biden’s signature issues, like pandemic stimulus, healthcare access and green infrastructure.
Polls show the Democrats likely to net at least three new seats by winning in Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina while losing in Alabama. That would split the Senate 50-50, with a Vice President Mike Pence or Kamala Harris breaking ties. A clear majority in the Senate will probably come from the winners of tight races in Iowa, Montana, Texas or either of the two contested Senate seats in Georgia, where a steady march of demographic change is turning a red state blue.
“It looks like both of the Senate elections in Georgia are headed for run-offs,” Jensen said, meaning the Senate majority might not be decided until January. “If you can get that up to 53 or 54 seats, then you can actually do everything that you’re hoping to do.”