Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s mostly virtual election bid so far seems to be more effective than his predecessors’ best efforts on the actual campaign trail, a CNBC polling analysis shows.
Numerous nationwide polls of voters show Biden taking a commanding, double-digit lead over President Donald Trump with less than five months to go until Election Day.
At this point in the cycle, no other Republican or Democratic nominee in the last four elections was as far ahead of their opponent as Biden is against Trump, according to CNBC’s averages of polls posted to RealClearPolitics. NBC News reported Thursday that Trump is farther behind his rival in the polls than any incumbent has been since George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Compare Biden’s lead over Trump with Trump’s 2016 race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama’s runs against Republicans Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008, and Republican George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection race against Democrat John Kerry.
In most stages of each of the four previous presidential races, the candidates were more narrowly matched in the polls.
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“As we learned in 2016, public polling is notoriously unreliable and consistently underestimates this President and his ability to directly connect with American voters,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement to CNBC. “Our data continues to show the President is strong against a defined Biden. He will be re-elected in November.”
The winner in the polls won’t necessarily predict the winner in an election, as history shows. Clinton led Trump in most of the final polls before the 2016 election, yet lost despite winning the popular vote. Kerry appeared to eke out a polling lead over Bush on the eve of the 2004 election, according to CNBC’s analysis, yet he still lost.
Polling trend lines can also shift significantly as Election Day draws near — there’s no guarantee Biden’s lead in the summer will continue through the fall.
Different polls can vary widely in their methodologies, as well. Some surveys may include any registered voter, for example, while others try to narrow the response to only those who say they are likely to vote in November.
Still, it’s noteworthy that the gap between the current candidates appears to have widened in recent weeks, even as Biden has mostly eschewed in-person campaign events due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus. He’s made just a handful of non-virtual appearances in the past few months and, as the Trump campaign is quick to point out, he has held no press conferences in more than 80 days.
Trump’s operation, meanwhile, recently resumed holding the raucous arena rallies that defined his successful 2016 bid and much of his first term in office. But the president’s kickoff rally in Oklahoma yielded as much controversy as it did exposure to his reelection pitch, and low turnout at the Tulsa convention center marred the enthusiastic image his campaign was hoping to convey.
It’s not just a national trend: Polls show Biden is making gains in swing states, as well. A CNBC/Change Research Poll published last week showed Biden beating Trump in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin — though some of those results were within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
A poll from The New York Times and Siena College released Thursday gives Biden an even wider lead in each of those battleground states. Trump won all six of them in 2016. Murtaugh called that survey “terribly flawed,” claiming it undersampled Republicans and only looked at registered voters, rather than likely voters.
Trump on Thursday morning lashed out on Twitter at the “phony Fake Suppression Polls” showing him trailing Biden.