WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Tuesday’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was seen by many as one of the few remaining opportunities for the incumbent president to erode the lead of his Democratic challenger.
Mr. Trump hasn’t climbed above 44 percent support since April, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of the national polls. The former vice president has hovered in the 48 to 51 percent range since late May. Currently, Biden holds a gap of over six percent of potential voters on average, according to RCP’s average.
Few likely election scenarios tested by FiveThirtyEight and others show Mr. Trump claiming both a popular vote and an Electoral College victory in November. A far more likely scenario is something similar to 2016, where the president would edge close enough that he would be able to cross the 270 vote total needed in the Electoral College while again losing the popular vote, likely by millions of ballots. But most pundits say Biden’s lead is wider than Hillary Clinton’s was at this point four years ago, and that both the national and state polls would likely need to shift toward Trump over the next month for the odds of an upset to match 2016.
Wednesday is typically a heavy reporting day for state-level polling in key battlegrounds, but relatively little new info was released this week as pollsters try to account for the verbal sparring voters witnessed at Tuesday’s debate.
What little evidence there is from Tuesday night is not favorable for Mr. Trump. In a recap Ipsos panel from before and after the debates, the president’s consistent interruptions were not viewed favorably.
“Only about one-third said Trump’s performance was “somewhat good” or “very good,” and 50 percent said it was “very poor,” reports the staff of FiveThirtyEight. “Biden’s performance was more positively received, with around 60 percent saying they thought he performed well.”
A CBS survey found that 48 percent of poll watchers felt that Biden won while only 40 percent thought Trump was victorious.
While we don’t have debate numbers fully baked into national polls yet, numbers released by Rasmussen and USC/Dornsife on Wednesday indicated an eight-point edge for Biden, slightly above the Real Clear Politics running average of 6.4 percent.
Earlier this month, FiveThirtyEight Editor-In-Chief Nate Silver tweeted out his projected likelihood of Electoral College victory based on popular vote margin. According to Silver, a win of more than six points in the popular vote would virtually guarantee that Biden wins the Electoral College.
For perspective, Real Clear Politics showed Clinton leading by 3.2 points nationally on election day in 2016, but she ended up winning the popular vote by just 2.1 percent. That margin was close enough to make a state-level upset a more realistic proposition.
Four consecutive weeks of planned debates between the candidates on the Republican and Democratic tickets could create some new movement in the polls. It’s not clear yet whether Tuesday night’s performance will help or hurt Trump in national polling. The looming confirmation battle of over a third Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice could also inject new volatility in the weeks ahead.