2020 Election Series: The Anatomy of a Swing State - September 16th
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Bottom Line: We’re now under seven 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 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 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 15th, 2016 compared to September 15th, 2020:
- Arizona: Trump -7
- Florida: Trump -2
- Georgia: Trump -3
- Iowa: Trump -2
- Michigan: Trump +1
- North Carolina: Trump +1
- Ohio: Trump -4
- Pennsylvania: Trump +1
- Wisconsin: Trump -2
The bottom line is that the swing state polling for President Trump generally wasn’t kind this week. He lost ground over a week ago in most swing states. He’s currently polling ahead of where he was in four years ago in Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. That’s encouraging. Especially in Pennsylvania, the state where Joe Biden was born and raised. Conversely, there are three states where Trump is now pacing far enough behind his margin of victory four years ago that would place him at risk of losing those states. Those three – Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin. He could lose Arizona and Wisconsin and still win the election, but Florida is a near must win for President Trump. His current pacing suggests it’d be a sub-1% decision either way if the election were 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 – Biden +7
- Maine – Biden +4
- Minnesota – Biden +3
- Nevada – Biden +6
- New Hampshire - Biden -1
- New Mexico - N\A
- Virginia - Biden +7
Just as the news was generally worse for President Trump in the states he won four years ago, Biden’s pacing in the states won by Hillary four years ago also improved – with one notable exception. Biden is pacing ahead of Hillary in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada and Virginia. That's all good news for him – especially in Minnesota which many are looking to as a wildcard which President Trump might be able to flip this year. Conversely – the one state Biden’s pacing worse in happens to be the closest win for Hillary over Trump four years ago – New Hampshire. And in this week’s pacing President Trump is pacing at a level which would have the potential to lead to him pulling out a narrow victory.
This week’s pacing suggests an Electoral College advantage for Biden of 278 to 260. This is the tightest this race has been at any point the cycle which may reflect more voters beginning to engage. It’s also the first time in the five weeks of this series in which Joe Biden has shown an Electoral College lead. Momentum now matters in multiple swing states as voting is officially underway in multiple states. That makes current performance more important in real time. Soon, it won’t just be likely voters sampled in polls but actual voters responding as well. Historically the first debate can impact a race by up to five points. Eleven of the sixteen swing states are in play as of today’s polling if there were to be a swing of up to five points coming out of it. To be continued...