Another Metric that can Predict the Presidential Election Winner?

July 26, 2020

When I was doing research on how bookies make odds on elections, I found an article that noted how some bookies use favorability ratings of presidential candidates to calculate their odds. I personally have used these ratings in local and state surveys and found them to be quite useful at that level.

So I decided to see if these ratings had any impact on presidential races in the past. From Monmouth University’s monthly blog, I found data from their surveys going back to 1984, that included favorability ratings.

Their question gives voters three choices: favorable or unfavorable for Democratic candidate, unfavorable or unfavorable for Republican candidate, or neither candidate favorable. This question is strictly a popularity measure, but likely contains some perceptions of job performance.

The table below shows how voters ranked Democratic and Republican presidential candidates from 1984 to 2016 (this question wasn’t asked in 2008).


What jumps out at is the 2016 election, where 35% chose neither! Monmouth says they have not seen this kind of reaction since using this question. But this was an unusual pair. Both Trump and Clinton had the lowest favorable ratings of all presidential candidates since 1984.

But is there a relationship between favorable ratings and winning the election? Monmouth did not address this question but my curiosity forced me find out.

To test if candidate ratings effect the election, I have added a column for the winning popular vote candidate, where 1 represents the Republican candidate and 0 the Democratic candidate. It does not measure the Electoral College vote.

In all of these eight elections, the popular vote was won by the candidate with the more favorable ratings, even if it was as little as 1%.

The average of Clinton’s favorable ratings is 38.9% and Trump at 37.4%, a difference of only 1.5%. This difference isn’t great, and a test of the mean differences suggests that the means are are equal to or greater than each other (p=<.001).

So how do Trump and Biden favorable ratings compare at this point in the campaign? Using Real Clear Politics average of recent favorable ratings (July/June), shows Trump with an average ratings of 39.5% and Joe Biden with an average rating of 45.5%, a difference of 6%.

Like most polls, Job Approval ratings, betting odds, Job Approval ratings, and now this Favorability rating, all give Biden, at this point in time, a significant chance of winning at the national level. This does not include the swing states and the Electoral College.

Remember, we still have over three months until the finish line. Polls are most accurate when nearer election day. Go ahead place your bets, but don’t bet your house on it just yet.

In a later post, I’ll explore the favorability ratings in the swing states, which if Trump is going to pull out a victory it will likely occur there by winning the Electoral College vote. Be safe…

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).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *