If Joe Biden is winning over retirees in Florida's largest senior community, The Villages, then Donald Trump is going to lose Florida and the election.
Sara Branscome’s golf cart whizzed down the smooth asphalt path that winds through The Villages, the nation’s largest retirement community, an expanse of beautiful homes, shops and entertainment venues that bills itself as “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.”
Branscome’s cart was festooned with two American flags that flapped in the warm afternoon breeze. A line of oncoming carts bedecked with balloons and patriotic streamers chugged past while honking. Branscome jabbed her left foot on the horn pedal, then gave a thumbs-up.
“This gets you rejuvenated and ready for the next month or so, so we can do this and win. It gives you hope,” the 60-year-old retiree said.
Then she let out a whoop and two surprising words: “Go Biden!”
It’s not a cry that might be expected to resound in The Villages, and it’s certainly not one that is encouraging to President Donald Trump. Older voters helped propel him to the White House — the Pew Research Center estimates Trump led among voters 65 and older by 9 percentage points in 2016 — and his campaign hoped they would be a bulwark to cement a second term.
They remain a huge chunk of the electorate. Pew estimates that nationwide, nearly 1 in 4 eligible voters will be 65 and older. It’s the highest level on record, going back to 1970.
But there have been warnings that older voters are in play. To be sure, Trump has solid support among older adults, but his campaign has seen a drop-off in its internal research, according to campaign aides, and some public polls suggest Democrat Joe Biden is running ahead or just even with Trump.
Multiple polls shoe Biden is running ahead of where Clinton was with multiple groups: with seniors, with women, with men, with Latinx voters, with independents, and especially with white college-educated women and suburban voters.
The big difference around this time is that there's not any major third-party threat siphoning off the anti-Trump vote. Trump's still going to get 46% of the vote just like he did in 2016. But Biden will be at 52% rather than 48% like Clinton was, and with maybe 2% voting third-party/other rather than close to 7% as in 2016.
That's why Clinton lost, especially in the last two weeks of the election. Comey's "but her emails!" convinced millions to buy into the "both sides are just as corrupt" fallacy and it gave us Trump. That's not happening so far.
And I'm making another assumption that Trump will get to 46%. The rate things are going, he may not even hit that mark. It's entirely possible that Biden's double-digit lead holds and he ends up winning something like 54-44%. Right now, the polls are in this territory and have been since Trump's debate meltdown and COVID infection.
Still plenty of time for Trump to gain ground. Clinton was up by double-digits with two weeks to go as well. But for the first time, I'm ready to entertain the thought that Biden will win, and that we're going to really pull this off.
But the caveat remains and it's a pretty huge one as Harry Enten reminds us.
Even if you were to construct a 95% confidence interval for how the polls at this point have differed from the result, it's about +/- 12 points. Biden's advantage is just inside of that. It suggests there is only a roughly 1-in-20 chance that Trump wins the popular vote. In other words, it's something that could occur, though is improbable.
Instead, Trump still has a decent chance because of the possibility of a popular vote/Electoral College split. We don't know the true extent to which Trump has a better shot in the Electoral College than he does in the popular vote, but we know it exists.
One baseline is assuming Trump does about three points better in the state that determines the Electoral College winner than he does in the popular vote. That's what occurred in 2016. This means in reality that Trump needs things to shift seven points in his direction nationally to win the Electoral College given he's down 10 points nationally right now.
(A look at the state level polling generally confirms this rough estimate.)
It's far from impossible that Trump closes the margin with Biden by seven points. It's an event that occurs about 1-in-7 times, if historical trends hold.
Indeed, you can see that the chance Trump wins is more than negligible in statistical models such as those created by Jack Kersting, FiveThirtyEight and the Economist. They all point in a similar direction.
Trump has roughly a 1-in-7 to 1-in-11 chance of pulling off the victory in November, according to all these different models.
This may not seem like a lot, but it's not nothing.
Pick up a simple six sided die that you probably have somewhere around your house. Trump's chance of winning is nearly as good as you throwing the die and hitting a six on your first roll of the die.
To use an example closer to my heart, the Buffalo Bills had about a 1-in-6 chance of making the playoffs heading into the final weekend of the 2017 NFL season. By winning against Miami and Baltimore losing to Cincinnati, the Bills ended up in the playoffs for the first start since 1999.
In fact, we've already seen a 1-in-6 possibility become reality this presidential election season. Back in the primaries, Biden seemed like he was done for after losing the first three contests. He had about a 1-in-6 shot of winning the plurality of delegates.
Of course, we all know what happened after that. Biden won the South Carolina primary convincingly and was off and running to the nomination.
In the real world, the seemingly unlikely things happen all of the time.
If your state has early voting next week, get to it.
Trump still wins 10-15% of the time. I'd much rather be Biden's camp right now but we cannot, cannot, cannot afford to relax.
And besides, Biden winning is just step one in years of work ahead.