STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Another electoral college-popular vote split? It's possible

Are you wondering how the election actually works? Watch this video explainer to find out.

Posted: Aug 13, 2020 6:11 PM
Updated: Aug 13, 2020 6:11 PM

New CBS News/YouGov polls from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin seem to tell a familiar story. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by six points among likely voters in both states (49% to 43% in Pennsylvania and 48% to 42% in Wisconsin).

Biden's advantages in those states are nothing new and matches what the average shows.

Yet, a look at the CBS News/YouGov polling over the last month suggests a potentially important split between how pollsters are seeing the presidential election break down.

Specifically, CBS News/YouGov polling is suggesting that the potential for a popular vote and electoral college split exists as strongly in 2020 as it did in 2016. Meanwhile, traditional live interview polls indicate that Biden may be able to avert that fate in a tight election by performing disproportionately stronger in the Great Lake battleground states than Hillary Clinton did.

CBS News/YouGov does its polling online and, since the beginning of July, has surveyed the nine closest states Trump won in 2016. As first pointed out by the New York Times' Nate Cohn on Twitter, CBS News/YouGov has shown that Biden is doing better than Clinton's margins by a very consistent margin.

Biden's improvement over Clinton has been within a point of seven points (i.e. between six points and eight points) in every state they've polled except Arizona.

Across the four Great Lake battleground states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), Biden's doing about 6.7 points better than Clinton.

Across the five Sunbelt battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas), Biden's doing about 6.5 points better than Clinton.

Now compare that to the traditional live interview polls, like CNN does with SSRS, in those states since June (i.e. a point since the polls have been fairly consistent).

Biden's doing about 10.4 points better than Clinton in those same Great Lake battleground states that CBS News/YouGov polled. In the same Sunbelt states, he's doing only 8.1 points better.

You'll note two things here.

First, Biden's doing better in live interview polling overall than online polling, which is true nationally as well.

Second, Biden's doing disproportionately better than Clinton in live interview polls in the Great Lakes. The same cannot be said of CBS News/YouGov.

The regional breakdown of the live interview polling makes a lot of sense given the live interview national polling. Biden's been doing much better than Clinton among White voters. And, as I pointed out last week, the Great Lakes have a lot more White voters as a proportion of the electorate than the nation as a whole.

The regional breakdown difference between CBS News/YouGov and the live interview polls may seem trivial, but it could make all the difference in the world if the race were to tighten.

Right now, CBS News/YouGov polling indicates that Biden would be wise to devote as much energy and time to the Sunbelt as the Great Lakes. The live interview polls recommend that Biden might be better off putting more energy into winning in the Great Lakes.

Perhaps more importantly, a disproportionate overperformance by Biden in the Great Lakes could help close the electoral college and popular vote split from 2016. Since June, Biden's doing a little less than nine points better in live interview polls nationally than Clinton. That's less than the 10.4 shift we're seeing in the Great Lake battlegrounds.

If the live interviews polls were exactly correct, the difference between the tipping state in the electoral college (i.e. state containing the median electoral vote plus one) and the national vote would be under two points and perhaps closer to one point. It was nearly three points in 2016. A slightly under two-point gap is much more in-line with what has happened historically.

Put another way, Biden would likely win in the electoral college if the national margin were the same as it was in 2016.

Meanwhile, CBS/YouGov polling suggests a different fate could occur. Biden's margin over Trump is no greater than six points in any of the states polled by CBS News/YouGov. This includes all the Great Lake battleground states. In other words, the tipping state in the electoral college (i.e. state containing the median electoral vote plus one) gives Biden a six-point margin.

At the same time, the one national poll CBS News/YouGov has done had Biden up 10 points. (This mostly matches other YouGov polls done over the same period.)

If the CBS News/YouGov were exactly correct, the difference in margin between the tipping point state and the electoral college would be at least as large as it was in 2016 and conceivably greater.

In the CBS News/YouGov universe, Biden would likely lose if the national margin were the same as it was in 2016.

Again, this doesn't really matter if Biden continues to lead by a fairly wide margin nationally. If Biden's national margin shrinks, this would turn into potentially a very big deal.

Now which group of polls is correct? The honest answer is I don't know. Live interview polls do tend to be slightly more accurate over the long term. Not to the extent, however, that we can count out the possibility of a large electoral vote and popular vote split like what happened in 2016.

Terre Haute
Few Clouds
52° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 52°
Robinson
Scattered Clouds
51° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 51°
Indianapolis
Scattered Clouds
48° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 43°
Rockville
Scattered Clouds
46° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 41°
Casey
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 51°
Brazil
Few Clouds
52° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 52°
Marshall
Few Clouds
52° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 52°
Breezy, warmer Wednesday
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 293448

Reported Deaths: 8881
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1446975221
DuPage17690562
Lake16992487
Will14133379
Kane13182326
St. Clair6729190
Winnebago6069151
Madison5802141
Champaign478920
McHenry4625118
Peoria352651
McLean330523
Rock Island303777
Kankakee276477
Unassigned2542244
Sangamon245045
Kendall203425
Tazewell179525
LaSalle174257
DeKalb160438
Macon159844
Coles148831
Williamson141647
Jackson126724
Clinton120321
Adams118310
Boone113623
Randolph94511
Effingham8792
Vermilion8174
Whiteside76521
Ogle7326
Monroe68616
Knox6803
Grundy6775
Morgan67223
Henry6695
Bureau65911
Jefferson62438
Marion5692
Christian56011
Macoupin5567
Franklin5483
Stephenson5356
Union52024
McDonough49115
Logan4661
Crawford4594
Woodford4286
Fayette4243
Livingston4066
Shelby4024
Cass39811
Jersey39515
Lee3911
Montgomery38213
Iroquois36719
Perry35415
Saline3504
Bond3346
Warren3332
Douglas3167
Wayne2935
Jo Daviess2692
Lawrence2592
Carroll2335
Greene23011
Hancock2233
Moultrie2194
Cumberland2185
Richland2176
Washington2171
Jasper21210
Fulton1880
Pulaski1811
Clark1763
White1690
Johnson1620
Wabash1603
Clay1570
Mason1541
Mercer1415
Piatt1410
Pike1391
De Witt1272
Menard1271
Massac1132
Edgar1128
Marshall1090
Ford1075
Alexander841
Scott790
Gallatin742
Hamilton732
Henderson700
Brown670
Edwards660
Calhoun610
Putnam590
Stark552
Schuyler500
Hardin390
Pope291
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 119066

Reported Deaths: 3612
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21563768
Lake10745324
Elkhart6734112
St. Joseph6679115
Allen6364205
Hamilton4965109
Vanderburgh384231
Hendricks2779124
Monroe267137
Tippecanoe259013
Johnson2362125
Clark226757
Porter222447
Delaware201162
Cass19589
Vigo187928
Madison171475
LaPorte151941
Warrick140743
Floyd140464
Howard133964
Kosciusko127117
Bartholomew119357
Marshall102124
Dubois100919
Boone99746
Grant96636
Hancock94843
Noble92932
Henry82226
Jackson77610
Wayne77314
Morgan73940
Shelby68329
Daviess68129
Dearborn67928
LaGrange64711
Clinton63414
Harrison59824
Putnam59011
Gibson5455
Knox5379
Lawrence51829
Montgomery51321
DeKalb49111
White48814
Decatur46139
Miami4394
Greene42936
Fayette42314
Jasper4032
Steuben3977
Scott39311
Posey3541
Sullivan33812
Jennings31712
Franklin31525
Clay3105
Ripley3108
Orange28724
Whitley2876
Carroll28013
Adams2773
Wabash2758
Starke2737
Washington2702
Wells2694
Spencer2683
Jefferson2523
Huntington2503
Fulton2462
Tipton22922
Randolph2238
Perry22213
Jay1920
Newton17411
Owen1711
Martin1690
Pike1691
Rush1584
Vermillion1320
Fountain1302
Blackford1223
Pulaski1141
Crawford1100
Parke1072
Brown1033
Benton860
Ohio797
Union790
Switzerland690
Warren411
Unassigned0227