The Incredible Shrinking Biden Lead?

You probably noticed that we don’t see that much of Joe Biden since the U.S. virus epidemic. And you have almost certainly seen Donald Trump every afternoon for his so-called Covid-19 virus task force briefing.

I have already shown that the recent Covid virus epidemic in the Nation has had no effect on Trump’s Job Approval numbers, so it didn’t dawn on me that it could effect the Biden/Trump two party vote distribution. In other words, the head to head polling between the two candidates.

But a cursory look at the last couple of months of polling, it looked to me that Biden’s early and consistent lead in the trial ballot question was narrowing as time went on.

So I decided to take a closer look at all polls that included the Biden/Trump, “if the election were held today” question. I found 102 surveys from March 17, 2019 through March 18, 2020 that met that criteria.

The average of all 120 polls showed Joe Biden with 50.5% and Donald Trump at 42.3% (balance undecided). Of all polls, that is an average lead of 8.2% for Biden.

But as you will see in Chart 1 below, this average has slowly eroded in the past year and a half.

Chart 1

The red line on the chart is the percentage of Trump’s percent support from each survey during the past year and a half. The green line represents the percentage for Biden.

The lines zig-zag up and down reflecting the variability of each poll result. But if you look closely, you will see the direction of each line, the red staggers upward and the green in the opposite direction. Over time, the green line (Biden) shifts downward, while the red line shifts upward.

A clearer picture of how Biden’s significant lead has evaporated over the last year and half, is the net percent lead that Biden has had over Donald Trump, as graphically shown in the Chart 2 below.

Chart 2

The blue line represents the polling difference between Trump and Biden’s percent of the polling vote (Trump – Biden %).

What is obvious from the chart is how the blue line gradually zig-zags up to the zero horizontal line. In other words, Biden’s percent lead over Trump has shrunk significantly over the past year and half. (ANOVA sig. <.06 level).

In the last six months of last year, Biden’s average lead over Trump was net 13.5%. Since recent Covid-19 epidemic it was 6.1% and continuing to shrink. In the last six polls, Biden’s average lead was only 2.4%.

Now there are probably several reasons for this percentage decline. I think we can rule out campaign effects, since both campaigns have gone pretty much underground, with even Google refusing to take political ads now.

Since most of the decline has occurred since the first cases of the Covid-19 infections, I would suspect some of this decline is due to the recent epidemic. And I don’t mean that voters don’t like Biden’s handling of the crisis.

Instead, I posit that its not the virus, but Biden’s visibility has been overwhelmed by the news coverage of the epidemic. As my mother used to say, “out of sight, out of mind.”

This is not a planned break, but the inevitable outcome of being overtaken by a crisis that has consumed every TV set in America. Trump, on the other hand, is front and center, mainly praising his handling of the crisis.

Don’t misunderstand this point: Trump’s job approval rating hasn’t varied 2% since the Covid-19 virus took over the U.S.. But he has the stage and Biden has an occasional side show.

Finally, the recent polling data underscores that this presidential race is likely going to be close. Hopefully, the virus starts to wane and politics will again occupy the American voter’s attention. Elections do matter and this election matters even more.

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

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