(NEXSTAR) – President Donald Trump is behind in the polls no matter how you slice it, but there is still an Electoral College path to a second term if things break right in a few key battleground states, according to experts.
And while he is still trailing in most of those states, polling averages suggest the races in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin will be much closer than the seven or eight point average margin found among national polls.
Real Clear Politics, which tracks both national averages and aggregated numbers in key swing states, has found that Mr. Trump has actually been picking up support across the six states most likely to swing the election. Support for Mr. Trump in those four states, as well as Michigan and North Carolina actually hit a six month high, as of the 22nd, the most recent date the polling average was available on the RCP website.
RCP’s data shows that 45.5 percent of swing state voters say they are planning to vote for the president, the highest percentage since shortly before the United States coronavirus outbreak in March. However, that increase has not dented support for Biden, who continues to hover near 50 percent.
On average, Mr. Trump is trailing by around 3.8 percentage points across those swing states, with Florida and North Carolina showing smaller than two percent leads for the former vice president. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin showed the largest advantages for Biden, all above four percent. Trump would likely need to carry Florida and at least two other states to reclaim the White House.
That means that persuadable voters in battleground states will need to overwhelmingly swing in Trump’s favor in the final week of the campaign. He’ll have to win back crucial voting blocs. And his turnout operation will need to dramatically outperform Democrat Joe Biden’s in an extraordinarily turbulent year.
“In 2016, his chances of winning the election were those of drawing an inside straight in poker. … The question this year is whether he can draw an inside straight two hands in a row,” said Whit Ayres a veteran Republican pollster. “It is theoretically possible but practically difficult.”
While Trump has multiple roads to victory, his most likely route hinges on winning two crucial battleground states: Florida and Pennsylvania. If he can claim both and hold onto other Sun Belt states he narrowly carried in 2016 — North Carolina and Arizona — while playing defense in Georgia and Ohio, which he won handily in 2016 but where Biden is now competitive, he will win.
Trump’s campaign is also continuing to pour time and money into Wisconsin and Michigan, longtime Democratic strongholds he flipped his way by the slimmest of margins four years ago, while trying to defend Iowa and Maine’s second congressional district and grab Nevada and Minnesota, two states his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton narrowly won.
Trump’s campaign points to other factors pointing in their favor: The campaign and the Republican Party have spent years investing in a powerful voter outreach operation and have 2.5 million volunteers knocking on millions of doors each week. They have seen spikes in GOP voter registration in several keys states. And Trump voters are more enthusiastic about their candidate than Democrats are about Biden. The Democrats are driven more by their hate for Trump.
“We feel better about our pathway to victory right now than we have at any point in the campaign this year,” Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, told staff on a conference call this week. “And this optimism is based on numbers and data, not feel, not sense.”
But polling shows Trump trailing or closely matched in nearly every state he needs to win to reach 270 Electoral College votes. Barring some kind of major upset, Trump needs to hold onto at least one of the three rustbelt states he won in 2016: Pennsylvania Wisconsin or Michigan, said Paul Maslin, a longtime Democratic pollster based in Wisconsin.
“I don’t see any other way for Trump to do this,” he said.
Fox News polls released Wednesday show Biden with a clear advantage in Michigan and a slight one in Wisconsin. In Pennsylvania, recent polls show Biden ahead but vary on the size of his lead.
For all of that, though, Trump’s team can draw comfort from this historical footnote: In all three states, Hillary Clinton led in the polls in the final weeks of 2016.
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.