2020 Election Series: The Anatomy of a Swing State

2020 Election Series: The Anatomy of a Swing State

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Bottom Line: We’re now under nine weeks away from Election Day on November 3rd. Each cycle I analyze states that were decided by ten points or less in the previous presidential election cycle. These represent potential swing states that are in play for both parties heading into each cycle. It’s a fluid number from cycle to cycle which reflects changes in the electorate overtime. In 2016 there were 16 states decided by fewer than ten points. President Trump won 30 states in 2016 including nine of the sixteen swing states which proved key to his victory. Notably, President Trump doesn’t have to retain all of those states to win reelection. His margin of victory, with 306 electoral votes, was 36 more than what’s needed to win.

I’m comparing current averaged polling in the swing states compared to where President Trump was polling on the same date in 2016. This provides an apples to apples temperature check of how President Trump is trending compared to exactly four years ago.

Polling averages September 1st, 2016 compared to September 1st, 2020:

  • Arizona: Trump -5
  • Florida: Flat
  • Georgia: Trump +1
  • Iowa: Trump +2
  • Michigan: Trump +6
  • North Carolina: Flat
  • Ohio: Trump +1
  • Pennsylvania: Trump +2
  • Wisconsin: Flat

President Trump is performing better in five of the nine swing states than he was on the same date in 2016. Trump performs worse in only one – Arizona comparatively. Even if Trump were to lose Arizona, he’d still win the election if he held the other swing states. That he’s performing better, including significantly better in Michigan, than he was in most swings states he carried over four years ago is a strong sign he may be well positioned for reelection as of today.

Now for the states carried by Hillary Clinton which Joe Biden will need to retain in addition to adding at least two of the Trump states if he’s to win this year.

Here's Biden’s current polling performance compared Hillary Clinton in 2016:

  • Colorado - Flat
  • Maine – Biden +2
  • Minnesota – N\A
  • Nevada – Biden +2
  • New Hampshire - Biden +2
  • New Mexico - N\A
  • Virginia - Biden +1

This is a good news/bad news type of story for Biden. The good news is that he’s performing inline or better than Hillary Clinton with the swing states she carried. That’s especially notable in New Hampshire which Hillary carried by less than 1%. The problem of course reverts back to the Trump states of 2016. With Biden only performing better than Clinton in Arizona – he's not pacing a win – if the election were to play out in a similar way from here. Notably, President Trump’s biggest gains over four years ago are coming in the two states we won by less than 1% - critical swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania. Also, of note, we still don’t know how Trump and Biden are pacing in Minnesota and New Mexico as pollsters weren’t even polling in those states four years ago at this time as it wasn’t believed those states were even in play. They represent potential upside for President Trump in this conversation. To be continued...

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