How the final presidential election polls compare to 2016

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In this 2016 file photo, Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds a rally with Vice President Joe Biden at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on August 15, 2016 (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – It’s unlikely that any lead in the 2020 presidential race would feel safe. Not after 2016, when surprise victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin catapulted candidate Donald Trump into the White House.

Expectations or fears of a repeat upset (depending on which side of the political aisle you fall on) may be understandable, but are they realistic? With most of the final numbers in from major polling, firms, we can reasonably compare final 2016 numbers to today’s polling averages.

Since early summer, polls have shown Biden with a stable lead – seven to nine points nationally – and while the gap has narrowed to the low end of that range recently, the former vice president’s popular vote lead is more than double that of what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held in November of 2016. Clinton had a 3.2 percent lead and ended up winning the popular vote by 2.1 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. RCP found the Biden had a 6.8 percent lead on the eve of the election.

Biden also has 48.8 percent support among declared voters on election eve, that’s two full percentage points ahead of Clinton’s final support. Analysts say those numbers suggest a 2016 level misfire would not be enough for Trump to win.

On Saturday morning, famed FiveThirtyEight poll watcher Nate Silver tweeted an image showing what the Electoral College map would look like this year if the polls were as far off as 2016, indicating a grim map for the president even with some polling missteps.

Of course, Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and still claimed enough states to become president, so the real interest is at the swing state level. State polling is expected to be more accurate this year after most firms began accounting for education level, which more accurately captures Trump support that was missed in 2016.

Even in the swing states, Biden enjoys a larger gap than Clinton did in 2016, according to RCP. In 2016, Clinton was a 3.4 percent favorite in Michigan and a 1.9 percent favorite in Pennsylvania, both states Mr. Trump won narrowly. Biden is favored by 5.1 and 2.9 percent respectively this time. Flipping those two states, and Wisconsin back blue would be enough for Biden to win the presidency. Polling averages also have Biden potentially flipping Arizona and Florida, both states where polling was relatively accurate in 2016.

In 2016, FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 28.6 percent chance of upsetting Clinton. This year their model projects just a 10 percent chance of an error large enough to allow Trump to win. The Economist puts that likelihood at just four percent.

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