Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Electoral College Map (6/16/20)

With 20 weeks until election day 2020, it is time to dust off the old electoral college map.

Even as the coronavirus-delayed presidential nomination races trundle on toward their respective ends, we have known since at least April who the two major party candidates will be in November. And as more state-level polling has rolled in over the first five plus months of 2020, the picture of the state of that race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has taken on a clearer shape. That is not exactly unexpected. After all, as election day grows nearer, minds get made and certainty as to the outcome tends to increase.

But what early on in 2020 may have looked like a close election between Biden and Trump looks different now that the incumbent has two crises yoked to his reelection efforts. The social, economic and public health stresses placed on the American public due to the coronavirus and the civil unrest stemming from law enforcement abuses have not done Trump any favors. As his approval numbers have declined so, too, have his prospects in state-level preference polls gauging the state of the race between Biden and Trump.

On the one hand, that does not look unlike what the picture did just four years ago. But Trump was not an incumbent with more than three years of White House experience under his belt at that point. Questions remained in 2016 about whether and to what extent Republicans would rally around Trump as their standard bearer. Those questions persisted into the nominating convention and were periodically raised again thereafter, most famously following the revelations in the Access Hollywood tapes.

Those types of questions -- about Republicans coalescing behind the president -- do not exist today. Self-identified Republicans are with Trump. Democrats and a fluctuating number of independents are not. And that is borne out in the polling data time and time again in the waning days of spring 2020.

As it stands now, just 20 states -- worth a total of 125 electoral votes -- are either strongly or leaning toward the president. Another three -- Georgia, Iowa and Texas along with Maine's second congressional district -- are Trump toss up states, states that are tipped toward the Republican but where he only enjoys a lead of less than five points in the FHQ graduated weighted averages. And those toss up states (and congressional district) total another 61 electoral votes, a little less than a third of what Trump can claim at this point in the race.

Trump's has lost nearly four and a half points on average from his November 2016 share of support to where he stands now in the state-level polls. He is running behind 2016 almost everywhere where polls have been conducted. His only increases are in states unlikely to be competitive in the fall: dark blue Maryland and typically ruby red Utah. That is it. [He is also running even with his share in New Mexico compared to 2016.]

Biden, on the other hand, has gained on what Hillary Clinton managed in 2016, having added almost two and three-quarters points on average through the polling released so far in calendar 2020. Together that is a more than seven point shift toward the Democrat. If Trump is down nearly everywhere, then Biden up if not everywhere then in consequential locales. The former vice president is running even with or ahead of Clinton in 26 states. 19 of those states were red in 2016 and of those six -- Arizona, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas -- are currently toss ups. Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio are already shaded in light blue, so they would, meaningfully, be flips from 2016.

NOTE: A description of the methodology behind the graduated weighted average of 2020 state-level polling that FHQ uses for these projections can be found here.

The Electoral College Spectrum1
NE CD1-1
ME CD1-1
NE CD2-1
ME CD2-1
NE CD3-1
1 Follow the link for a detailed explanation on how to read the Electoral College Spectrum.

2 The numbers in the parentheses refer to the number of electoral votes a candidate would have if he or she won all the states ranked prior to that state. If, for example, Trump won all the states up to and including Wisconsin (Biden's toss up states up to Wisconsin), he would have 278 electoral votes. Trump's numbers are only totaled through the states he would need in order to get to 270. In those cases, Biden's number is on the left and Trumps's is on the right in bold italics.

To keep the figure to 50 cells, Washington, DC and its three electoral votes are included in the beginning total on the Democratic side of the spectrum. The District has historically been the most Democratic state in the Electoral College.

3 Wisconsin
 is the state where Biden crosses the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election, the tipping point state.

Perhaps all of this can change as it did four years ago. Again, through the lens of the electoral college, Biden is starting out roughly where Clinton did at this time in 2016: seemingly comfortably ahead. And although that still looked the case in November 2016, the trajectory of (electoral college) change over the course of the general election campaign was if not toward Trump then toward a tightening in the polls over time (that created a tightening in the electoral college projection). That could still happen in 2020, but the incumbent is off to a less than stellar start and his fundamentals are not being helped at all by current conditions in the country.

It is early yet, but it could get late early in this race if current trends hold. But time will tell that tale over the next 140 days.

A few thoughts now that FHQ has gone through all the calendar year 2020 state-level polling over the last few days.
1) Not surprisingly, the blue wall states are the most-polled states of 2020 with Michigan at the head of the pack. Florida and North Carolina are up there too as is Texas which had not been polled once at this point in 2016. I would not exactly call those states over-polled at this juncture in the race, but the picture is clearer there than it is in some states that could really use some survey activity. Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire stand out as a cohort of states in the Electoral College Spectrum above that seem to be lagging behind some other states that have shifted more since 2016. And there is good reason for that: polling in each of the three states has been sporadic at best and nearly non-existent of late. Some more data would help clarify things among that trio of states. Add those three to the Watch List; not for potentially changing categories, but because more polling is needed in each.

2) Texas and to a lesser extent Arizona may grab all of the headlines because both may flip blue in November after being staples among the red states for more than 20 years (much longer in the case of Texas). But if you had told me in 2008 that Colorado and Virginia would be strong blue states out of the gates in 2020, I would have been surprised. As consistent at the ordering of states can be from cycle to cycle, there are noteworthy -- and consequential! -- changes to it over time.

NOTE: Distinctions are made between states based on how much they favor one candidate or another. States with a margin greater than 10 percent between Biden and Trump are "Strong" states. Those with a margin of 5 to 10 percent "Lean" toward one of the two (presumptive) nominees. Finally, states with a spread in the graduated weighted averages of both the candidates' shares of polling support less than 5 percent are "Toss Up" states. The darker a state is shaded in any of the figures here, the more strongly it is aligned with one of the candidates. Not all states along or near the boundaries between categories are close to pushing over into a neighboring group. Those most likely to switch -- those within a percentage point of the various lines of demarcation -- are included on the Watch List below.

The Watch List1
from Strong Trump
to Lean Trump
from Strong Trump
to Lean Trump
from Lean Trump
to Strong Trump
Nebraska CD1
from Strong Trump
to Lean Trump
Nebraska CD2
from Toss Up Biden
to Lean Biden
from Toss Up Biden
to Toss Up Trump
South Carolina
from Lean Trump
to Strong Trump
from Lean Trump
to Strong Trump
from Strong Biden
to Lean Biden
1 Graduated weighted average margin within a fraction of a point of changing categories.

Methodological Note: In past years, FHQ has tried some different ways of dealing with states with no polls or just one poll in the early rounds of these projections. It does help that the least polled states are often the least competitive. The only shortcoming is that those states may be a little off in the order in the Spectrum. In earlier cycles, a simple average of the state's three previous cycles has been used. But in 2016, FHQ strayed from that and constructed an average swing from 2012 to 2016 that was applied to states. That method, however, did little to prevent anomalies like the Kansas poll the thad Clinton ahead from biasing the averages. In 2016, the early average swing in the aggregate was  too small to make much difference anyway. For 2020, FHQ has utilized an average swing among states that were around a little polled state in the rank ordering on election day in 2016. If there is just one poll in Delaware in 2020, for example, then maybe it is reasonable to account for what the comparatively greater amount of polling tells us about the changes in Connecticut, New Jersey and New Mexico. Or perhaps the polling in Iowa, Mississippi and South Carolina so far tells us a bit about what may be happening in Alaska where no public polling has been released. That will hopefully work a bit better than the overall average that may end up a bit more muted.

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