Election 2020

Polls Say Biden, Bernie Could Beat Trump. Should You Believe Them?

Here's six reasons why early 2020 polls are likely underestimating Trump's strengths and overestimating his opponents'


Recent polls showing Joseph Biden or even Bernie Sanders defeating Donald Trump in a general election are understating Trump's true strength.

For example, an Emerson College poll released April 15 had Biden beating Trump, 53 percent to 47 percent, and Sanders beating Trump, 51 percent to 48 percent. A Morning Consult Politico poll released April 24 had Biden at 42 percent and Trump at 34 percent. A Hill HarrisX survey released April 26 had Biden at 43 percent and Trump at 37 percent.

These polls are misleading in at least six ways.

First, the presidency is decided on the basis of the electoral vote, not a nationwide popular vote. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and won the presidency anyway, because of the way his votes were distributed in the various states. It'd be risky for Trump to count on a repeat of that feat, which is unusual but not unprecedented. But polls of battleground states, or swing states, can be more useful predictors than nationwide surveys.

Second, these head-to-head polls, unlike battleground state ballots, don't include third party or minor party candidates. Such general-election efforts by candidates such as Jill Stein, Ralph Nader, and Ross Perot all were arguably significant factors in tight presidential elections in recent years. Starbucks coffee entrepreneur Howard Schultz has the money to be a factor this time around, though his campaign so far has been less than impressive.

Third, as "little Marco" Rubio and "Lyin' Ted" Cruz can attest, Trump has considerable skill at defining an opposing candidate memorably and early. Senator Elizabeth Warren is still trying to recover from Trump's description of her as Pocahontas, or Fauxcahontas, and Trump has even publicly regretted not saving it for later, maybe after she won the Democratic nomination. This week, after the polls were taken, Trump was tweeting about "Sleepy Joe" Biden. He's also testing "Crazy Bernie Sanders." Expect to hear more such nicknames, or insults, between now and Election Day.

Fourth, Trump's own negative campaigning will be, well before the time the actual election rolls around, supplemented by independent expenditures that that emphasize the worst aspects of his opponent. Remember the way Swift Boat Veterans For Truth took John Kerry's Vietnam War experience and turned it into a negative in the minds of some voters, or at least raised doubts about his own portrayal of that experience? Look forward to what the Trump campaign's allies do with Biden's "handsy" reputation or with Biden's record as an opponent of federal intervention in integration cases involving school busing.

Fifth, as the cumulative experience of polling Brexit, the 2016 Trump campaign, and Benjamin Netanyahu's 2019 election victory demonstrate, nationalists or conservatives or populists or whatever you want to call them tend not to be terribly eager to cooperate with pollsters. The pollsters tend to work for either universities or elite media outlets that the nationalists or conservatives or populists or whatever you want to call them view, with at least some justification, as irredeemably biased against them. The pollsters can try to use technical methods such as oversampling or weighting to correct for this sort of thing, but at bottom, if a Trump voter wants to tell a pollster over the telephone that he is actually a die-hard Elizabeth Warren fan, there's not much the pollster can do to avoid being misled.

Sixth, these races are susceptible to last-minute, event-based swings—the financial crisis in 2008, the James Comey statements about Hillary Clinton in 2016—that are impossible to predict this far in advance. These swings could work in favor of Trump or against him.  It's hard, though, to imagine Trump getting worse press coverage than he already has, so late surprises could well hurt his Democratic challenger.

Given all of that, why pay any attention at all at this stage? It's a reasonable question. The colleges and news organizations are investing money in these polls in part on the basis that we readers are curious enough to click through. For better or worse, we all get the journalism, and the politicians, that we deserve.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.

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  1. The polls said a *generic* Democrat could beat Trump, Joe and Bernie thought they said a *geriatric* Democrat. Unfortunately, just as in 2016, the Democrats will have to run an actual candidate rather than a hypothetical candidate and the American people will once again choose leprosy over terminal cancer. As they say, all the Democrats have to do is not be crazy and they can’t even manage to do that.

    1. Maybe they should just run a hypothetical candidate this time.

      1. Pretty sure that’s what Buttgag is doing at the moment. Go check out his policy page. He has nothing on it.

    2. Trump will destroy anyone if he’s the underdog. That’s his game. If the media wanted to win all they’d have to do is root for trump. Bernie should win on his own merits after that.

  2. “Polls Say Biden, Bernie Could Beat Trump. Should You Believe Them?”

    I’m sure they won’t pull the football away this time.

  3. Biden cannot beat Trump. Bernie might.

    1. That’s scary. I mean, I’m no fan of Biden, but he’s at least not determined to immediately destroy the economy. Biden would be a normal swing of the pendulum. Sanders might just fail terribly, but if he gets to do any of what he really wants it would not be good.

      1. Bernie won’t get to do anything radical like free college. There are too many bureaucracies that can stall and bind progress if so compelled.

        But, on the other hand, trump has proven you can still get quite a lot done despite being hamstrung as bad he has.

    2. “Biden cannot beat Trump.”


      He’s not close to my top choice but he’d get 300 Electoral Votes minimum and win the popular vote by at least 4 percentage points.

      1. With all the help from the Chinese (3 decades running for democrats!) he’d be in for sure.

    3. Bernie cannot beat Trump either.

      Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, all have political records that speak for themselves and its not good.

      Barring some Great Depression by Nov 2020, the economy is too strong to not give Trump all the swing states again. Trump will likely get PA, MI, WI, OH again and VA might swing back to Trump.

      1. OTOH, I don’t think even Nixon faced this unremittingly hostile of media. Sure, they’ve all got bad records, but half the population is never going to hear of those records.

        I think it could go either way. The Democrats could run basically anybody at this point, and it would at least be a close race, because they’ve so poisoned Trump’s reputation with half the country.

        1. I’m pretty sure 80% of the country sees right through the media games. Which leaves only Hillary’s core progs who will stop at nothing to make sure they bring the country down to hell.

          Rabid animals should be put down.

  4. >>>These polls are misleading in at least six ways.

    yeah. polls aren’t science.

    1. also at this rate T will win all 57 states

  5. Biden’s strength is simple: He’s not Trump.
    Bernie is Santa Claus! To those who believe in such fantasies.
    So long as the economy doesn’t tank, I’m guessing Trump owns either of them.

    1. I see Biden as getting the last few Hillary Clinton holdouts who still believe Putin got Trump elected. Bernie gets all the passionate progressives but is too polarizing, leaving the center-left realists who find Biden too distasteful in a bind.

      1. Biden puts PA back in play. He’s from Scranton and still has ties to the state.

        1. No. His only ties to PA, much like his “blue-collar” persona, are those he and the press have made up. He has not lived in PA in over 4 decades and he has NEVER had a blue-collar job.

    2. “So long as the economy doesn’t tank”

      Uhhhhh, have you read nothing Palin’s Buttplug and I have written here? We’re deep in the #DrumpfRecession.

      1. Lame, even for you.

      2. Ooh is the other one new?

  6. Polls said Clinton would beat Trump.

    When was the last time these things were accurate?

    1. I don’t know. Isn’t there a picture somewhere about Dewey and Truman? They even get it wrong when it is the actual election and not just a poll.

    2. When was the last time these things were accurate?
      The previous election, I think.
      When an election is close, I think you would expect polls to get it wrong a lot of the time, wouldn’t you?

      1. The polls had Hillary +3 and she won the popular vote by close to that. The polls don’t weight a vote in California as a lesser vote than one in Wyoming as the electoral college does.

        The Con Man lost by 2.8 million popular votes in his self proclaimed “landslide”.

        1. “…The Con Man lost by 2.8 million popular votes in his self proclaimed “landslide”.”

          And the tears of fucking losers like you have been amusing ever since.

          1. I survived the Bushpigs and I will survive the Con Man as well.

            1. It’s funny how you only come out of the woodwork to post kiddie porn links and defend Democrats

              1. Not true. He also shows up to demonstrate his ignorance of financial matters and lie about paying his bets.

            2. “Sarah Palin’s Buttplug
              April.29.2019 at 9:28 pm
              “I survived the Bushpigs and I will survive the Con Man as well.”

              I ‘survived’ the financial mess that lying piece of shit Obo created as well, and didn’t spend his wasted 8 years whining that he was elected by other than shitstains like you.
              Grow up, or fuck off and die, you pathetic piece of shit.

        2. “The Con Man lost by 2.8 million popular votes in his self proclaimed “landslide”.

          DJT actually won 56.9% to 43.1% in the one that counts. Everybody knew the rules going in.

        3. There is no such thing as a popular vote for president, shrike.

          Can you not see that endlessly repeating that Hillary decided to play by rules that did not enable one to win is not a plus?

          Why would someone do that?

          It’s like playing a game of checkers with someone and deciding, mid game, that you’re now playing chess and trying to win that way. While your opponent is still playing checkers.

          And then, after the inevitable loss, insisting that if this HAD been chess, you won.

  7. Well considering their track record you gotta wonder why these clowns are still in business. Most people aren’t even paying attention at this point and they are wise not to. It’s purely name recognition at this point. Bernie isn’t even a Democrat he’s socialist, which may be fine with millenials but they won’t actually vote anyway so who gives a shit what they think? Biden’s got what looks like a pretty nasty pay for play scandal in the Ukraine beginning to get some attention along with all of his old white guy crap. He may be not Trump but I doubt he can even energize the base let alone independents

    1. Well considering their track record you gotta wonder why these clowns are still in business.

      being a clown pays money?

    2. I think the polling agencies are pretty aware of the limitations of their polls.

      I believe the real problem is the organizations that ignore the limitations and cherry pick the polls that give the answers they want to hear.

      1. Either they don’t know their polls are seriously flawed (which seems unlikely)or they are lying about the polls.

        Based on decades of previous polling, there should be something like a +/- 15 polling error.

      2. If they were honest, they’d close up shop at this point: Response rates are so low now that the theoretical basis for trusting the polls is gone.

        Instead they soldier on and just hope like heck that the people who don’t hang up on them happen to be representative of the general population in other regards.

        1. I see no reason to trust the polls, tv, radio, the news, or any other media online if the source has enough money to have an agenda.
          I find my truth in comment sections. Everything else is fake. Including even this site. If they turned the comments off, I would have no reason to be here.

          1. Regarding your last point.

            The only thing I truly appreciate about the new Reason site design is that I no longer have to scroll past the article to get to the comments…

  8. Don’t forget that Joe Biden coined the term ‘Drug Czar’ after watching Reefer Madness. According to Biden, the movie set him on a path to have the government warn the nation’s youth about the dangerous marijuana plant.

    Biden is in constant contact with past and present Drug Czars, who say that the current marijuana is much more powerful than the hippie weed. So much so, that it’s now considered to be not only highly addictive, but a gateway drug to LSD.

    Unnamed sources say Biden was maneuvered to be Obama’s Vice President so Biden could keep an eye on president pot head. There was a feeling that Obama would start smoking marijuana again, even though he swore he was off the stuff. So Biden was placed there to make sure Obama behaved and did not reclassify marijuana.

      1. That’s lame. A real punk would participate in the vandalism and laugh about it because it’s his own place.

        This guy’s a poser.

        1. My girlfriend says he may have done that when he was 20, but not now. She I have a romanticized view and punks are just kids who don’t own anything, but once they get older and own stuff, like this guy, they don’t want it messed up.

          I don’t know. Maybe. But calling the LAPD? I’m with Pennywise. I say “fuck authority!” They got that sentiment right.

        2. See, this–

          ‘This guy’s a poser’

          Can’t ever apply to Johnny Rotten.

          This though–

          “punks are just kids who don’t own anything, but once they get older and own stuff, like this guy, they don’t want it messed up”

          Is the kinda quasi lefty thing that fucked up the scene. Something posers said because they decided that punks were just spiky lefty hippies.

          We aren’t. We weren’t. And we never will be.

  9. It’s very simple. Incumbent Presidents do not win reelection when they’re directly responsible for economic ruin.

    Furthermore, voters are moving toward the Koch / Reason position on immigration (I know this because more people than ever agree with the statement “immigration is a good thing”). Therefore Drumpf’s self-evident white nationalism will hurt him with everyone but the extreme alt-right.

    Finally, the Mueller Report definitively proves the most vocal #TrumpRussia media personalities like Rachel Maddow have been right all along. Even with another Russian cyberattack, there’s no way voters will elect a Kremlin asset for another term.

    In conclusion, any Democrat will beat Orange Hitler in 2020. (Let’s just hope it’s not the equally-compromised-by-Putin Tulsi Gabbard.)

    1. You are truly deluded.
      The economy is in amazing shape.
      Unemployment is at the loses level it has ever been in American history and that is across every single demographic. Americans are receiving real pay rises as companies struggle to keep their employees or recruit new staff. It is an employee market.
      The stock market is hitting new highs on virtually a weekly basis.
      Where the hell are you getting your information from. You are seriously uninformed if you really believe the economy is tanking. You need to wake up.

      1. OBLT is a parody; sometimes his posts are so outrageous they are quite funny.

  10. Should you believe polls?


    Next question.

  11. There won’t be enough slack-jawed bigots left in America to enable Trump to pull off another Electoral College longshot. Four years of improvement in the American electorate — less rural, bigoted, white, religious, and backward — will make the odds even tougher than those Trump overcome with that three-cushion bank shot a couple of years ago.

    Also, educated and accomplished Americans who were unaware of the level of dysfunction in our backwaters — in particular, how many superstitious, ignorant malcontents constitute the depleted human residue left in the hollowed-out rural and southern stretches — have had that point illuminated vividly. They won’t count on ‘no way that vulgar, vainglorious, lying cheater could win’ again.

    To compete in national elections, Republicans must change or die. I vote “die.”

    1. “accomplished Americans”

      Exactly right.

      Accomplished people — meaning those who aren’t in the lower income brackets — overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and have been doing so for decades. The only reason the Republicans even come close in the popular vote is because they dominate among the poorest voters.


      1. If that’s true Trump will get the black vote and win in a landslide.

      2. You’ve done great work but this is up there with the best. For Reverse Splitter Arthur Kirkland to make any sense, he has to assume that inner-city minorities overwhelmingly vote Republican. It makes no sense to normal people, but, hey Reverse Splitters aren’t normal people.

    2. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
      April.29.2019 at 6:54 pm
      “There won’t be enough slack-jawed bigots left in America to enable Trump to pull off another Electoral College longshot.”

      So you voted for Trump? Your description seems to fit bigoted assholes like you.

    3. You’re one angry, hateful prog.

      1. He’s forced to live with the absolute undeniable truth that the economy is so good that there is no way Trump could ever lose this next election

    4. You are boring, and an asshole.

    5. Troll alert. Starve the mother fucker and he’ll cry himself to death.

  12. Seventh, EVERY pollster and bookie predicted Trump would lose the election–especially idiots who believe Millerite prophesies of Global Warming Doom. Republican hidden persuaders can easily protect their investment in another Trump campaign by hedging bets with Paddypower and other innumerate bookies. As in war, the party with the most actuaries and millionaires wins the political title, while the party with the brightest mathematicians gains vote share and changes the laws so as to increase freedom by cutting back coercion. Quod Erat Done.

    1. The bookies had Hillary at 70% chance to win the day of the election.

      1. Which is a 30% chance to lose. Never be shocked when a 30% chance happens, it occurs almost a third of the time.

  13. Doesn’t matter what the polls say, we can count on Reason’s tone becoming increasingly shrill contra Trump, pretending to steer folks in the direction of the Libertarian candidate but all the while wink, wink, highlighting the neato-peachy-keen open-border, weed-smoking strengths of the Democrat challenger while wink, wink, admitting that challenger ain’t perfect but wink, wink, reinforcing how another four years of being ass-raped by Trump will leave us not just bleeding into our undies but morally bankrupt as a nation.

    Or something like that.

  14. All three suck.

    I would suggest voting LP but we all know only a handful of actual libertarians post here among the many Trump Retard conservatives and Tony.

    1. But Biden helped oversee the strongest 8-year run in US economic history. So even if Democrats do the non-intersectional thing and nominate a straight white cis-male, left-libertarians like us should vote Dem like we did in 2016 and 2018.

      1. Lame, even for you.
        Fuck off; tired BS.

    2. “I would suggest ”

      No one cares, you gross pedo.

  15. Where is Last of the Shitlords? We need the redneck perspective on this matter.

    1. Well, you’re here to give us the shit-stain perspective.
      Fuck off and die.

      1. You’re qualified to fill in for that stupid bastard.

        1. Sarah Palin’s Buttplug
          April.29.2019 at 9:25 pm
          “You’re qualified to fill in for that stupid bastard.”

          Poor loser turd. Poor, poor loser turd.
          Fuck off and die

      2. Open wider, Sevo. Your betters are not done shoving progress down your whimpering right-wing throat.

        You can bitch all you want. Just be sure to toe that line, clinger.

        1. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
          April.29.2019 at 9:51 pm
          “Open wider, Sevo. Your betters are not done shoving progress down your whimpering right-wing throat.”

          Bigoted assholes like you got exactly what they deserved right about here:
          And jamming it down the throats of (loser) bigoted assholes has been enjoyable ever since.
          Open wide again, you fucking piece of lefty shit; here it comes!

          1. Oh, and bigoted asshole, which one were you here?

            1. Or here, bigoted asshole? I love to jam it down your throat.

              1. And I’m going to love to do it again in 2020, since bigoted assholes like you so richly deserve it.
                Fuck off and doe, you pathetic piece of lefty shit.

    2. We have you to give us the gross lying pedo perspective though.

  16. “…It’s hard, though, to imagine Trump getting worse press coverage than he already has, so late surprises could well hurt his Democratic challenger.”

    Yeah, the press has set the bar so low, they’ve got no more wiggle-room. What can you print as a negative after you’ve ‘insulted’ someone by pointing out they eat fried chicken with a knife and fork, for pete’s sake.

    1. “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Mark Twain.

      Sevo has been fooled by the Con Man and Twain called it – Sevo can’t be convinced of the truth.

      You’re a fucking fool, Sevo.

      1. And you post kiddie porn links.

      2. “…Sevo has been fooled by the Con Man and Twain called it – Sevo can’t be convinced of the truth…”

        Turd is a loser and has yet to understand how badly he lost,, but what do you expect of a loser-day-trader with coke and kiddie porn habits?:

        1) DeVos
        2) Gorsuch
        3) Kavanuagh
        4) Ajit Pai, end net price fixing (no, turd, price fixing is not ‘freedom’)
        5) Major reduction in the growth of regulations
        6) Dow +30%
        7) Unemployment at 3.8%
        8) The US Manufacturing Index soared to a 33 year high
        9) Got repeal of the national medical insurance mandate.
        10) Withdrawal from Paris climate agreement.
        11) Not sure about the tax reform; any “reform” that leaves me subisdizing Musk’s customers is not what I hoped for. Let Musk run a company for once.
        12) In the waning days of 2017, the Trump administration pulled its support for the $13 billion Hudson Tunnel project.
        13) More than 16,000 jobs have been cut from the federal leviathan
        14) MIGHT have a deal to de-nuke NK.
        And finally:
        15) Still making lefties steppin and fetchin like their pants is on fire and their asses are catchin’
        To repeat, I did not vote for the guy; he’s a blow-hard and a loose cannon, but by accident or design, he’s doing better than any POTUS I can remember
        Fuck off and die turd. Do humanity a favor.

        1. +100

        2. You forgot nafta and tpp
          Other than that – dead on appraisal

    2. Oh, come on, they can always sink lower. And probably will.

      Once you don’t care if the stories you carry have any factual basis, there’s no limit to how low you can go.

  17. I can’t to see what Trump calls Grandpa Gulag Bernie.

  18. Kind of OT –

    “Anyone who has ever engaged with a defender of socialism, though, will recognize Hart’s socialist two-step: If they like the country where socialism is practiced, it’s socialism; if they do not, then it wasn’t really socialism anyway.”


    1. Not OT at all.
      Here’s the Bern trying to claim it’s different this time, since it’s “democratic” socialism”.
      (with apologies) ‘Say the magic woid and win two hunnert dollars!’

  19. Polls

    Stopped reading right there.

  20. Resting Peace – — Jon Singleton
    Creator of the film Boyz in The Hood (neighborhood) and other Hollywood classics.

    1. Stroke at 51.

      A great talent.

  21. Of course not. They’re older and crazier (in Bernie’s case) than Trump is. The rest of the lot is either empty suits or bona fide socialists. Two of them are governors, but you never hear about them because they have no chance to win the crazy primary.

  22. The biggest and best argument for not believing the polls is that they are still nation wide. We really need a state by state poll and its too early for that type of polling. It good to remember an incumbent has a natural advantage. Balance that against the fact that President Trump’s administration has done little that it promised. It is really too early to tell. And that why I would not back the two Democratic front running at this point. There are a number of good candidates and anyone of them might or might not beat President Trump.

    1. There are no good candidates. Who would want to vote for Creepy Uncle Joe. He has more baggage than any of the crop of Dems and achieved absolutely nothing in the most useless presidency America has ever had. Obama was a blight on America.
      Bernie is just crazy and naïve if he believes his brand of socialism will work than every other brand of socialism which has been tried in any other socialist country in history. They ALL turn into authoritarian regimes which suppress the citizens. It is inevitable. If he gets in, I would expect a lot of very wealthy people to transfer their wealth out of the country or actually leave completely. He will never be able to tax them the way he expects to so any plans to do so will fall flat so his ‘wealth distribution’ plan was always a none starter.
      The only other candidate who deserves mentioning is Tulsi, however the Dems will never stand for a candidate who is anti-war so her candidacy is also a none starter

  23. The colleges and news organizations are investing money in these polls in part on the basis that we readers are curious enough to click throughWell, I clicked on this listicle…

    1. Endtag fail. Also, you know who else failed? Also, first!

      1. Hillary Clinton?

  24. Since the question is whether we should believe it’s possible, the obvious answer is “yes”.

    Because it certainly IS possible.

    Likely? Haven’t got a clue. But it’s possible.

  25. “…if a Trump voter wants to tell a pollster over the telephone that he is actually a die-hard Elizabeth Warren fan, there’s not much the pollster can do to avoid being misled.”

    Is that how these things work? All Trump supporters give them a “wrong” answer and the result is skewed polls that cause a false sense of confidence?

    1. I thought that example was ridiculous too. If anything, the polls were fabricated strictly to be shown as propaganda.

  26. I was polled during 2016. They said “if you were voting for President today, would you vote for Hillary Clinton or ******beeeeeep*****”

    The pollster pressed a button on their handset to bleep out Trump’s name. When I responded “Gary Johnson”, they hung up. That’s when my suspicions were confirmed that polling is just another partisan part of our election system. Pollsters, academics, bloggers, journalists – they’re all the same low-effort losers.

    1. That’s only barely parody. Back when I was still voting Libertarian, I’d get into arguments with poll takers.

      “Who are you voting for, Dole or Clinton?”

      “Harry Browne”

      “That’s not one of the choices.”

      “Yes, actually it is.”

      “I’ll put you down as undecided.”

      “You’ll be lying.”


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  28. Polls Say Biden, Bernie Could Beat Trump. Should You Believe Them?

    Absolutely. Look what a great job they did for President Clinton. They said she couldn’t lose, and here we are.

  29. Polls Say Biden, Bernie Could Beat Trump. Should You Believe Them?”
    No, I don’t believe the polls.
    I also don’t believe the Germans, the Italians, the Irish or anyone else.

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