In our daily polling diary at The Upshot, we’ve been maintaining a table that shows what would happen if the polls were as wrong as they were in 2016. It has shown for weeks that Joe Biden could survive a polling miss like the one four years ago and still win.
With the election now less than a week away, our trusty table is getting a small but meaningful makeover. It now reflects the error in the final polls in 2016. Previously, the table reflected the error over the final three weeks. And it puts Mr. Biden in a slightly better position than before. Here’s a snapshot of the table tonight:
Why did the table use a three-week window? One reason the polls seemed to miss by so much in 2016: Hillary Clinton had a large lead in the polls conducted two to three weeks before the election. The race tightened in the end, after the third debate and the Comey letter. There was always a chance that would happen this year, and we wanted to represent that possibility.
Why change now? Well, we’re under a week to go. We’re past the point when the polls showed the race tightening in 2016. We’re past the final debate. We’re past the Comey letter. We’re past when the ABC/Post poll showed Mr. Trump ahead nationwide or when Times/Siena and Ann Selzer/Bloomberg showed Mr. Trump ahead in Florida. Now, it’s appropriate to think about the narrower question: How bad were the final polls in 2016?
What it means. The final polls are usually more accurate than those taken further from the election, and that was true in 2016 as well. Mrs. Clinton led the final national polls by about four points, two points from the final result. The polls were off by much more in the Midwest, including in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but there were still signs of a tighter race in many of the Northern battlegrounds.
As a result, Mr. Trump now fares a little bit worse in the “if the polls are as wrong as they were four years ago” scenario, as he has largely run out of time for the polls to appear to be “wrong” as a result of a late shift.
If the polls don’t tighten over the next few days, he will need the polls to be off by even more than they were four years ago. Our table now more accurately reflects that.