If the polls are wrong, why is Trump holding rallies in Georgia and Iowa this week?

If the polls are wrong, why is Trump holding rallies in Georgia and Iowa this week?

I haven’t seen a ton of poll denialism this month but I saw a little this morning and was left wondering how true believers square his campaign itinerary with the “FAKE POLLS!” spin.

We all understand that candidates spend big money to produce high-quality internal polls so that they know where resources are most urgently needed. What are Trump’s internal numbers telling him to make him think that Georgia and Iowa, of all places, require some attention?

In fairness to him, Georgia wasn’t a blowout four years ago. He won it by five, which is comfortable-ish, but its reputation as a solid red state is overstated and it’s grown more overstated as the state has turned purpler since 2016. Remember that Stacey Abrams got within a whisper of becoming governor two years ago. It’s understandable that Trump would want to spend a little time there, which he’ll do in Macon this coming Friday, even if he expects to win it again. Biden’s a stronger candidate than Hillary and has much more money to spend so the defense of Georgia will need to be more active this time.

Iowa is different. That was a Trump blowout four years ago, a victory of almost 9.5 points. He won there by a (slightly) larger margin than he won Texas. Iowa should be the sort of gimme that doesn’t require any effort to hold.

As it is, he held a rally in Des Moines tonight. Why?

Two possibilities. One: He still thinks he has Georgia and Iowa in hand but he’s showing up in both states as a favor to the Senate candidates there. Joni Ernst is on the ballot in Iowa and David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are both up in Georgia. The president’s lending them a hand, that’s all.

But that’s not encouraging spin. Ernst won by a little more than eight points in 2014, Perdue won by a little less than eight. Their states should be gimmes for them too. Why do they need Trump’s help now?

Two: The FAKE POLLS! showing tight races in Georgia and Iowa aren’t actually fake. Of the last six surveys of Iowa, Trump has led in just one. Biden’s led by three and two polls were tied. Biden’s up a point in the average, but it should suffice to say that this state — a 9.5-point landslide four years ago — is in play, which is why he’s there tonight. And if the landslide states are in play, the states that were tight last time probably aren’t tight now.

Georgia’s also in play. Of the last six polls there, Trump’s led two and Biden’s led four. All of the leads have been narrow except for this new one published today by Quinnipiac, which has Biden ahead by seven.

In Georgia, Biden leads 51 – 44 percent among likely voters, while 4 percent are undecided. On September 29th, the race for the White House was too close to call when Biden had 50 percent support and Trump had 47 percent support. The September survey was taken before the first presidential debate and the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

Today, likely voters give Biden a slightly positive 51 – 46 percent favorability rating, compared to a mixed 48 percent favorable and 49 percent unfavorable rating in the last survey.

Likely voters give Trump a negative 43 – 54 percent favorability rating today, compared to a mixed 47 percent favorable and 51 percent unfavorable rating in the last survey…

Likely voters say 59 – 38 percent that they do not trust Donald Trump to tell the truth to the American people when it comes to his health.

No one thinks Trump has lost 12 points in Georgia since 2016 but the upward trend in Biden’s favorability in this poll has showed up in some other polls recently. There’s every reason to think the state is competitive right now. Tonight FiveThirtyEight has Georgia a true 50/50 toss-up between Biden and Trump.

The same Quinnipiac poll, by the way, has Biden leading by a point in Ohio. Ohio was another Trump landslide four years ago, breaking for him by eight points. The last six polls there this year have the president leading in one, a tie in another, and Biden leading in four. The president held two rallies on the same day in Ohio last month, not long before he got infected by COVID. Again, if Ohio is tight now, what should we conclude about where things stand at the moment in the states that were tight in 2016? And if Ohio isn’t tight now, why did Trump waste his time there last month? There are no tough Senate races for Republicans on the ballot there this year.

A quote from WaPo:

Two senior campaign officials said the operation needs more money to run TV ads, is playing defense in many states, and must win Pennsylvania and North Carolina — both uphill fights. Campaign manager Bill Stepien has told others that they need to be careful with money because there are so many states where the campaign needs it, including many that Trump won in 2016, officials said.

He wouldn’t waste a dollar or an hour in states like Iowa or Georgia given the pressure his campaign is under unless he thought he simply had to. That’s the best evidence that the map looks grim at this moment in time, and not just in purple states. A poll out today in Montana has Democrat Steve Bullock leading Steve Daines for Senate there by two points. The smart money says Daines will hold on, but with one exception the polling lately has been ominously close. Daines led by one in a survey taken in September, was tied in the last poll taken before today, and now trails by two. (The outlier poll had him up nine points last week.)

I’ll leave you on an optimistic note, though. Read this piece by the NYT’s Thomas Edsall on indicators that cut against Biden, most notably the GOP’s advantage in various key states in registering new voters. Edsall quotes from a private Democratic analysis that’s been circulating lately: “Since last week, the share of white non-college over 30 registrations in the battleground states has increased by 10 points compared to September 2016, and the Democratic margin dropped 10 points to just 6 points. And there are serious signs of political engagement by white non-college voters who had not cast ballots in previous elections.” Non-college whites are Trump’s base, of course. Biden’s polling a bit weaker than Clinton did among black women and Hispanic Catholics too, and the heavy preference among Democrats for mail ballots may mean that some critical mass of votes gets thrown out in key states for failure to follow proper procedure.

My assumption (based on pure hunch) is that Trump’s doing three to four points better in reality than he is in public polling. He’ll win Iowa and Georgia and Ohio; that’s the good news. The bad news is that the shift in true swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania is such right now that even a four-point underestimate wouldn’t get him out of the hole he’s in. He needs to gain ground there. The threat is real.

Here he is tonight in Des Moines claiming that he’s up six in Iowa. There *was* a poll today that showed that but it was based on a very small sample of 200 voters. The polls with larger samples have the race much closer. And I’m sure he’s aware of them, or else he wouldn’t have bothered with this event.

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