'Trump can still win,' Nate Silver reminds a country that doesn't seem to need reminding

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Peter Weber
·2 min read
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"Joe Biden heads into Election Day with a unique coalition and multiple paths to victory against President Donald Trump — but some Democrats can hardly believe the polls, haunted by the ghosts of 2016," NBC News reports. Jesse Ferguson, Hillary Clinton's 2016 deputy national press secretary, describes the mood among many Democrats as "a blend of confidence that this election is very different than the last one, and dread." Many Trump supporters remain convinced he can pull off another big upset.

"And indeed — although nobody needs any reminders of this after 2016 — Trump can win," Nate Silver says at FiveThirtyEight. "All the election models are bullish on Biden, but they are united in that a Trump win is still plausible despite his seemingly steep deficit in polls." Almost all forecasts expect Biden to win the popular vote, and FiveThirtyEight gives Biden an 89 percent shot at winning the Electoral College, but "Trump's chances in our forecast are about 10 percent and not zero," Silver noted.

If Trump significantly over-performs his polls and wins Pennsylvania, for example, "Biden does have some paths to victory" but he goes "from favorite to underdog," Silver said. And "if Biden wins the popular vote by 2 to 3 percentage points, the Electoral College is roughly a toss-up. But if Biden wins the popular vote by less than 2 points, Trump is a fairly heavy favorite to win the election. Even popular vote margins of up to 6 points are not entirely safe for Biden if his votes are distributed in exactly the wrong way." Biden's current national polling lead, according to FiveThirtyEight, is 8.5 percentage points.

Polling and electoral forecast sites aren't "giving" Biden an 89 percent chance of winning — "we aren't giving anybody anything," Silver said. Instead, his site is "mapping uncertainty," and you don't know everything you don't know. "Systematic polling errors do occur, and it’s hard to predict them ahead of time or to anticipate the reasons in advance," he added. Read more, including numerous charts, at FiveThirtyEight.

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