Biden Could Win The Election While Losing The Popular Vote
Crosstabs, electoral efficiency, and irony.
For the past number of weeks, polling averages have been showing something that many thought they would never see: Donald Trump outright leading his main Democratic rival in the popular vote. There have been a great many number of interpretations as for why this is the case, or if it’s even happening at all. But in all of these disputes, there’s an unspoken agreement about one thing: if these numbers are even close to true, Biden is completely done. It doesn’t matter if he’s down by two or if he’s down by 20. If he’s trailing, or even close to trailing, he’s losing.
There’s a solid basis for this perspective. For the past two elections, the electoral college has been deeply slanted against the Democratic Party. Its rightward bias cost Democrats an election they won nationally in 2016, and it only got worse in 2020. That year, a surge of essentially useless votes for Biden in blue states, coupled with unexpected resilience by Trump in swing states, left the pivotal states of the election decisively to the right in the country. Just competing in them in the first place required Biden to have a decisive edge nationally. Fortunately for him, he did have such an edge, which is why he won, although only barely. Living through this would have been more than enough to keep Democrats stressed even if Biden was managing strong leads in the polls. But to see him outright trailing? In that case, it’s unspeakably over.
This is the bar a lot of people have set for the upcoming election. Unless Biden can get back to the leads he saw in 2020, Trump is, for all intents and purposes, president-elect.
I’m not going to contest the idea that Biden is in trouble right now. He absolutely is. However, I do disagree with the assumption that Biden is completely toast in 2024 unless he can manage to match or outdo his 2020 performance at the national level. Not every election is identical to the last one, and not every percent lost means the same thing. While it’s true that Biden has shed a substantial amount of support compared to his 2020 numbers, not all of these votes have been lost in the same places. In fact, if you were to design a way to cut down on Biden’s national support the most while still keeping him competitive in the most important swing states, it would probably look a lot like what we’re seeing in the polls right now.
A Brief History Of Electoral College Bias