New Study Shows Why Democrats Should Be Cautious of Biden’s National Polling Lead

May 7, 2020by Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)
Former US Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19, known as the Coronavirus, during a press event in Wilmington, Delaware on March 12, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton famously lost to Donald Trump in 2016 despite winning more votes overall because she underperformed in key states in the Electoral College.

But a new study released Wednesday quantifies exactly how many votes the former Democratic presidential nominee “wasted” — and warns Democrats that they might be doomed to a similar fate in the 2020 general election if they don’t focus on the most important states.

About 17% of Clinton’s total vote total from the 2016 election was “wasted” in states where she ran up huge margins of victory, according to a study conducted by Third Way, a center-left political and policy think tank. That percentage was higher than the share of wasted votes for Trump that year and some other recent presidential candidates in tight races.

In the study, “wasted” votes refer to any of those cast above the necessary total for victory in a state. In California, for instance, where Clinton won nearly 8.8 million votes to Trump’s nearly 4.5 million, she received more than 4 million votes that study considers wasteful, at least in terms of reaching 270 votes in the Electoral College.

The study aggregated these totals across all states, finding that Clinton received about 11.2 million votes not necessary for victory, most of them concentrated in large left-leaning states like California, Illinois and New York. That accounted for 17% of the nearly 66 million Americans who voted for her that year.

Those figures are far higher than past presidential nominees, according to the study. Al Gore’s and George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns in 2000, it found, wasted only 12.7% and 11.8%% of their vote totals, respectively. Four years later, Bush’s campaign wasted 14.1% of its votes while Democratic nominee John Kerry wasted just 9.8% of his.

Trump’s percentage of wasted votes, meanwhile, stood at 13.3%.

The study’s author, Third Way senior political analyst David de la Feunte, said the results should serve as a warning to Democrats who are encouraged by Biden’s lead over Trump in national polls. In the current RealClearPolitics polling averages, Biden is up by about 5 percentage points over Trump nationally, but his advantages are slightly lower in battleground states like Florida and Wisconsin.

“Looking ahead to 2020, Democrats have to be wary when they see their candidates ahead of Trump in the national polls,” he wrote. “In today’s climate, it is possible that a Democrat could win the national popular vote by 2-3% and still lose the election in the Electoral College.”

The growth of partisan polarization in politics in recent decades has fueled the share of unnecessary votes. States where the winning candidate could have expected to win 55% of the vote 30 years ago now can swing overwhelmingly toward the victor, helping add to their total number of votes but not actually helping them win the Electoral College.

De la Feunte found that in presidential elections in the 1960s, candidates like Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy wasted only between 6% and 7% of their votes.

“If Democrats want to win power in 2020, and not just more votes, they will have to make sure they are not just turning blue places bluer,” de la Fuente wrote. “With political polarization continuing to push blue states and red states further away from each other, Democrats must concentrate on improving on the 2016 margin in places where more votes will translate to winning the electors necessary to win the White House.”

———

©2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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