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Election Day 2020: Anatomy of a Swing State – The Electoral College

Election Day 2020: The Anatomy of a Swing State – Who will win the Electoral College?

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Bottom Line: Today is Election Day in the most remarkable year many of us have experienced. Dating back to Election Day 2000 I’ve produced a series called the Anatomy of a Swing State which is designed to produce key themes and storylines in the states that were decided by ten points or less in the previous presidential election cycle. While I never intended this series to be predictive as opposed to informational, it’s taken on a life of its own over the years because the final analysis I’ve provided has resulted in correctly identifying the Presidential winner in each cycle starting with 2000. This included accurately depicting Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win and Donald Trump’s Electoral College win four years ago. It’s worth noting my analysis has never been perfect. I’ve missed at least one state in each election, correctly identifying 49 states in both 2008 and 2012. Four years ago, I missed Michigan and Pennsylvania and had President Trump winning by a narrower margin than the actual result. As hard as getting a handle on the election was four years ago...this year is actually worse. Why? There are three factors I use when breaking down the swing states:

  • Type of election (Incumbent Republican President running for reelection)

How undecided voters typically break in this type of an election cycle

Applying the average of undecided voter polling in each state based on an average of final polls

The first two aspects of this race can be quantified. Historically 65% of incumbent Presidents run for reelection. The odds for this cycle generally favor President Trump without any other dynamics in play. Of course, there are many though. None the least of which is the pandemic. Over the past three Presidential reelection bids by Republican presidents, including the wins by Reagan and George W. Bush and the loss by George H.W. Bush – they all fared better than the final polls suggested – by an average of three points. Under sampling of Republican Presidential candidates is far from a new phenomenon. With that in mind I’m confident President Trump will fare better than an aggregate of national and state polling generally, especially in light of what happened four years ago. Speaking of which...I mentioned the polls are actually worse. What do I mean? Four years ago, the national Election polls ranged top to bottom by nine points. The range is now ten points. For perspective, the most favorable polling for Biden, which happens to be the utterly uncredible Quinnipiac polling, would have Biden winning by the widest margin since Reagan won 49 states in 1984. Let me be crystal clear. There’s no way in hell Biden’s winning this election by 11-points and secondarily Quinnipiac University should probably never conduct a political poll again. So, looking at polling averages isn’t especially useful because outliers like the Q-polls can meaningfully skew the overalls. What’s more is that next to no state polling is factoring in third party candidates who are likely to siphon around 2% of voters. Factoring in polling issues and historical factors I think President Trump will consolidate about 71% of the remaining undecided/undeclared vote.

Applying that to an average of all state polling produces these results in the sixteen swing states:

Biden: Colorado, Michigan, Maine, Minnesota (sub 1%), New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin

Trump: Arizona, Florida (sub 1%), Georgia, Iowa, Maine CD2, Nevada (sub 1%), North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania (sub 1%), Texas

Here’s my Electoral College estimate:

  • Trump 286 to 252

It gets down to this. For two weeks I’ve been saying that if President Trump wins just one of, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin - he’ll be reelected. Here on Election Day that remains the case. Trump won three of the four in 2016. He needs one of them this year. If Biden sweeps them, he’ll be President-elect.

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