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The Electoral College won't save Trump if this keeps up

(CNN)We've learned the lesson multiple times in the last few decades: There is no national presidential election. Candidates can get fewer votes and win, if they win enough states containing a majority of electoral votes. That's something President Donald Trump may hope happens again, because the national polls have had him trailing all year.

The problem for Trump is there's basically no chance he pulls off what he did last time if where he stands now in the national polls holds through Election Day.

This week, high-quality polls from ABC News/Washington Post and Monmouth University have former Vice President Joe Biden ahead by 10 and 11 points among registered voters. That's 8 to 9 points better than Hillary Clinton ended up doing nationally. The average of all polls has Biden up by high single digits.
In 2016, the final polls had Trump trailing by 3 to 4 points nationally and he lost the popular vote by 2.1 points. He won the state containing the median electoral vote plus 1 (i.e. the "tipping point state" that puts a candidate over the top in the Electoral College), Wisconsin, by 0.8 point. That makes for a difference of 2.9 points between the final national margin and the tipping point state.

If you applied that 2.9-point difference to either the ABC News/Washington Post or Monmouth polls, Biden would be ahead by 7 or 8 points in the tipping point state. He would, in other words, be well ahead in the state that would determine the Electoral College winner.

Indeed, you're seeing that reflected in the state polling. A Fox News poll from Wisconsin out on Wednesday had Biden up by 9 points, or 10 points better than Clinton did in Wisconsin. Other high-quality polling taken this week from Arizona, Ohio and Texas has Biden doing 9 points better on average than Clinton did in those states in 2016.
Looking back historically, you can see it would be really hard for Trump to again pull off the Electoral College-popular vote split in 2020, given the current polling.
In the 41 presidential elections since the birth of the Republican Party, the difference between the national margin and the tipping-point state margin has averaged 1.8 points. What happened in 2016 was about a point away from that long-term historical average. The fact that Trump won was not a great anomaly given the closeness of the national vote.

So what does this mean for 2020? Obviously, a similar national vote from 2016 could produce a similar Electoral College outcome. Even a 5-point national win for Biden wouldn't be "safe." That's because if you were to create a 95% confidence interval in the difference between the national vote margin and tipping-point state margin, it would be 5 points. Anything less and it's a "within the margin of error" situation, even if the national polling were perfectly accurate in showing Biden ahead. You'd really need to look at the state polling closely in such a situation.

Biden's advantage this entire year in the national polling has been north of 5 points, though close enough to that mark for Biden to be at least a little scared.

For Trump to win in the fall, one of three things needs to happen.

The easiest is for Trump to close the gap between Biden and himself nationally. He can certainly do that. We're five months from the election, and races can shift around.

Otherwise, Trump will need a national polling error significantly larger than 2016 and/or the gap between the Electoral College and the popular vote to be significantly greater than the historical average.

These latter two seem like bad bets.

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