Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is leading in two new polls from one of the most pivotal swing states in the 2020 presidential election: Pennsylvania.
A Monmouth University poll — taken from October 28 to November 1 and released Monday morning — has Biden with a 5 to 7 percentage point lead over Trump among likely voters. The spread is the result of Monmouth pollsters modeling two turnout scenarios: the poll found Biden had 51 percent support compared to Trump’s 44 percent among likely Pennsylvania voters in a high turnout scenario; and 50 percent support for Biden compared to 45 percent for Trump in a low turnout model. The low turnout model took into account a large number of ballots being rejected, which remains a possibility due to a recent Supreme Court decision. If ballots aren’t rejected, given current turnout, the high turnout scenario is more likely.
Morning Consult’s poll, taken from October 22 to 31, did not differentiate turnout. It found Biden leading Trump by 9 percentage points among likely voters, 52 to 43 percent.
Morning Consult’s results are a bit of an outlier compared to FiveThirtyEight’s average of Biden leading by around 5 percentage points. Monmouth’s low turnout result is line with FiveThirtyEight’s polling average.
These polls are significant because of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College importance.
As national polls continue to spell out a Biden lead, and as the traditionally Republican-dominated state of Texas has become a toss-up race, the question for Trump and Republicans has become where the president’s path to reelection lies. A crucial piece to that puzzle is Pennsylvania, which swung for Trump in 2016 by fewer than 45,000 votes. Trump winning Pennsylvania was seen as part of the fall of the proverbial “Blue Wall,” a block of Democratic-leaning states that have boosted Democratic presidential nominees’ Electoral College totals in the past.
Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes (candidates need to rack up 270 to win the White House) is seen as an opportunity for Trump once again this year. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained, Trump needs to pick up electoral votes in swing states, where polling currently shows him down between 5 and 9 percentage points, in order to win. While polling suggests the race is currently closer in swing areas like Nebraska’s Second District (where Biden has a 4.5 percentage point average lead, according to FiveThirtyEight).
So Trump is working hard to make sure current polling isn't predictive of the outcome in the state. He visited Pennsylvania five times in September. In the weekend before the election, Trump visited the state an additional five times as part of his 17 rallies in four-day stretch tour. Biden and his team understand the importance as well, and will campaign with Lady Gaga and John Legend in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on November 2.
It’s also crucial to understand that four years ago Pennsylvania’s final polls had Hillary Clinton leading Trump by around the same margin as Biden leads Trump. FiveThirtyEight’s final average of Pennsylvania polling had Clinton at 48.9 percent to Trump’s 45.2 percent — a lead that vaporized when votes were tabulated. As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias explained, polling methodologies have improved since then, but that does not mean polling will reflect the final result in the state. Biden is ahead now, but Trump’s late attention on the state could mean a victory for him there once all votes are totaled.