Fifty days from Election Day (November 3), Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling averages nationally by 7.4 percent (50.5 to 43.1). He’s led every day of the last year, by margins ranging from 11.8 percent on September 17, 2019, to 4 percent on January 24, 2020.
Biden’s current lead is the largest a candidate has held at the 50-day mark in any of the last four presidential election cycles. In 2004 George W. Bush led John Kerry by 5.7 percent; he would ultimately win by 2.4 percent. In 2008 John McCain actually led Barack Obama by 1.3 percent; he would eventually lose by 7.3 percent. In 2012 Obama led Mitt Romney by 2.8 percent 50 days out; his actual margin was 3.9 percent. And in 2016 Clinton was up 1.3 percent 50 days out; her final popular-vote margin was 2.1 percent.
Those hoping for a late Trump surge to victory might take heart from Obama’s 8.6 percent turnaround in the last 50 days of the 2008 race. But there were some very different circumstances that year. Obama had led for most of the general election campaign before McCain got a sizable post-convention bounce. And some big bad events helped Obama turn it back around against the candidate of the party in power: Exactly 50 days from Election Day, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, triggering a global financial crisis. Nine days later, the first Katie Couric interview with McCain running mate Sarah Palin was aired, which had a big negative effect on Palin’s once-formidable popularity. And the day after that, Obama ran circles around his opponent during the White House summit on the financial crisis hosted by George W. Bush.
It is possible Trump will get those kind of late breaks, but unlike Obama in 2008, he’s now the incumbent president with a consistent “very unfavorable” rating in the polls hovering at or just under 50 percent. Heavy early voting this year means that with each passing day the slice of the electorate (with an already-low undecided vote) that could be “turned around” by a Trump surge is shrinking. And Biden’s polling lead is enhanced by the fact that most national pollsters have already completed the “switchover” to a likely voter screen that often benefits Republican candidates.
While Trump partisans trash the national polls as inaccurate “like they were in 2016” (they actually weren’t), and mindlessly claim his manifest greatness will generate a landslide win, his best hope remains an Electoral College advantage that could again give him a narrow win despite a popular-vote deficit. From state polls and what we can infer from regional trends, Trump might well pull off an upset if he gets Biden’s national lead down to around three points. Here’s Nate Silver’s calculus:
But again: Trump hasn’t been within three points of Biden in the RCP national polling averages even once in the past year. So it might take something exceptional to make that happen now.