2020 Election Series: The Anatomy of a Swing State - September 23rd
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Bottom Line: We’re now under six weeks away from Election Day on November 3rd and under a week away from the first debate. 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 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.
Here’s the 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. Polls can’t be taken at face value without adjusting for samples. As a result, I’m not interested in which candidate polls suggest are leading in a particular state but rather where Trump is tracking compared to four years ago.
Polling averages September 22nd, 2016 compared to September 22nd, 2020:
- Arizona: Trump -7
- Florida: Trump -2
- Georgia: Trump -3
- Iowa: Trump -4
- Michigan: Trump -1
- North Carolina: Trump -3
- Ohio: Trump -4
- Pennsylvania: Trump +2
- Wisconsin: Trump -2
Over the past week President Trump’s pacing in Georgia and North Carolina worsened while it improved in Pennsylvania – a state he visited once again this week. In fact, of the swing states he carried four years ago Pennsylvania is the only one in which he’s pacing better overall. The net result in each of those three states remain the same this week – Trump remains in position to carry them given his margin of victory in each of those states in 2016. 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 pacing compared Hillary Clinton four years ago today:
- Colorado – Biden +7
- Maine – Biden +8
- Minnesota – Biden +3
- Nevada – Biden +6
- New Hampshire - Biden -2
- New Mexico - N\A
- Virginia - Biden +9
This week Biden’s pacing improved in Maine and Virginia while it slipped in New Hampshire - which is the only swing state Hillary carried four years ago where Biden’s underperforming currently. 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. As it stands today Biden would be at risk of losing New Hampshire – especially with the state trending better for Trump for two consecutive weeks.
This week’s pacing suggests an Electoral College advantage for Biden of 278 to 260. This equals last week’s total for the tightest the race has been this cycle. The action will pick up considerably from here. On Saturday President Trump will nominate a Supreme Court Justice. How will that nominee impact races in swing states? Next Tuesday we have the first Presidential Debate. We’re entering the final stretch of the cycle with the race pacing near equal in the Electoral College.
Momentum now matters in swing states as voting is officially underway in multiple states. 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. Ten 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...