Monday, July 13, 2020

The Electoral College Map (7/13/20)

Update for July 13.

Changes (July 13)
Toss Up Biden
Toss Up Trump
Lean Biden
Strong Biden
No new polls were released until late on the Friday before the July 4th holiday and that led into a quiet period while FHQ was mainly off the grid with family during last week. But that leaves us with a smattering of polls from last week and a handful so far on this Monday at the start of the sixteenth week before the election.

What did that polling do here at FHQ? While it collectively changed a few things at the margins, none of it did much to change the narrative of this race before Independence Day: Biden remains somewhat comfortably ahead with a fairly sizable cushion of states keeping the former vice president well above the 270 electoral vote mark.

But while that bottom line remains the same, it belies the fact that the overall Electoral College tally grew closer over the last week and a half by a Georgia-sized portion of electoral votes as the Peach state drifted back over into Toss Up Trump territory. Georgia, however, remains the state most likely to cross the partisan line into the opposing candidate's column followed by Ohio, and now on the weight of new polling discussed more in depth below, Texas.

Yet, it bears repeating that if the closest states in November are Georgia, Ohio and Texas, then presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, will have an easy enough path to 270 electoral votes and the White House. It remains, however, July on the calendar.

Polling Quick Hits:
Look, Alabama is and will be a red state. That will likely not change between now and November. But if one is looking for canaries in the coal mine, then Biden gaining nearly six points on what Hillary Clinton mustered in the Yellowhammer state in 2016 and Trump losing more than seven points off his 2016 share may count as such a harbinger. And the poll out of the state from Auburn University-Montgomery fits that bill. It shows a glide path to victory for the president, but if Trump is only winning Alabama by around 15 points, then Biden is pulling in a lot of electoral votes in the process.

Public Policy Polling provided the first glimpse at the presidential race in Alaska in calendar year 2020. And the first thought that FHQ had was that it fills the void of one of those summer surveys of the Last Frontier that shows a close race; one that tends to disappear as election day nears. Alaska may be quirky, but it tends to come home to the Republican candidate in the end. 2020 may or may not be different, but when combined with the shift from other states around which Alaska finished in 2016 (see methodological note below for more on this), Alaska remains pretty firmly in the Lean Trump category. This survey drew the average margin in some, but not enough to put the Last Frontier on the Watch List below.

For the first time this cycle, YouGov was in the field in Arizona asking about the presidential race, and the result was an uncharacteristic tie between the two major party candidates. In the eight polls that were conducted in the Grand Canyon state in the month of June, Biden trailed in only one, leading by by as little as one and by as much as seven. This YouGov poll is in line with the low end of those extremes (...or it could be the start of a new trend out west in Arizona). Arizona is more consistently tipped toward Biden than, say, Ohio -- a little more than two points to Biden's advantage in the FHQ averages -- but still has not gone Democratic at the presidential level since Bill Clinton's reelection in 1996.

If June polling was good for Biden in Arizona, then the outlook for flipping Florida was even better last month for the former vice president. Biden led through the month and by significantly larger margins. That made the Trafalgar Group survey that came in under the wire before the Independence Day holiday -- showing Biden and Trump knotted at 46 percent each -- look a bit like an outlier. The new YouGov poll released Sunday did nothing to shake the race from its recent projection here at FHQ: consistently in Biden's direction and threatening to jump into Lean Biden turf.

In the Peach state, the Gravis Marketing poll was enough to push Georgia back over the partisan line into Trump's small group of toss up states. But again, it might be best to think of Georgia (and Ohio, for that matter) as tied or at least close to tied but tipped toward one candidate or the other. In other words, it just would not be all that surprising to see either state among either candidate's coalition of states if the election were held today. And to reiterate, Georgia remains on the Watch List, the closest state to jumping into the other candidate's column as of now.

Maine is one of those states where one would expect more polling of the presidential race because of a competitive/targeted senate race in the state. So far that has not been the case, but that will likely change over the next few months. But up to now, Public Policy Polling has been the only firm to be in the field with a survey of the Pine Tree state, most recently at the beginning of the month. And things do not look much different now than they did back in March when PPP was last in the field there: Biden with a low double digit lead. It would be nice to have some other pollsters wade into Maine to gauge Mainers' feelings on the senate race (and perhaps to publicly report their results by congressional district as well).

After one seemingly outlier survey lowered Trump's advantage in the FHQ average in the Show-Me state into the toss up category, YouGov, via Saint Louis University, provided a bit of a reality check more in line with where most (scant) polling has been in Missouri. Trump has a wide enough lead, but again, like with Alabama above, there has been a significant swing toward the Democrats. If this poll were how the election went in November, then Trump would have lost six points since 2016 and Biden would have gained five on Hillary Clinton's performance there four years ago. No, that is not enough to turn Missouri blue, but it is enough of a swing that if it is similarly felt elsewhere, then Biden is likely coasting to 270.

What is true in Missouri is true in Montana as well. Voters in the Treasure state do not appear to be abandoning Trump en masse, but enough of his support has trailed off since 2016 -- at least in polling conducted to this point in 2020 -- to indicate that the overall race is likely not one favoring the president. Can Trump count on Montana's three electoral votes in November? It looks like it. But if the president is barely cracking 50 percent there, there is likely trouble across other parts of the electoral map. One thing is for sure: as in Maine, the competitive senate race in Montana will likely keep a steady stream of presidential numbers like those from PPP coming in the months ahead.

Nebraska (CD2):
There may not be any statewide polling out of Nebraska in 2020, but now at least there is some information out of the second congressional district around Omaha. And the GQR Research survey conducted on behalf of the Eastman (D) congressional campaign shows a sizable seven point advantage for Vice President Biden. Yes, it is an internal poll, but with that information included alongside swings from other states that finished near NE CD2 in 2016, Biden's lead there in the FHQ averages is just a shade under five points. And if Biden is anywhere close to the 51 percent share this poll indicates -- yes, still with those grains of salt -- then he would surpass the total Obama took from the district in winning it in 2008.

North Carolina:
North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling has shown a steady but small gain in the Tar Heel state over the course of their 2020 polling in the state. Trump's share in their surveys has hovered around 46 percent while Biden has settled into a spot just above that at around 49 percent. Both are a tad high for each candidate compared to the FHQ average share for each. Biden still leads, but the margin is closer to two points with Biden ahead 46-44 over the president. That underperforms this PPP survey from last week (50-46). Regardless, North Carolina is one of those states that saw Biden consistently ahead during the month of June. He trailed in just one poll there last month.

Similarly, Biden held serve in Pennsylvania throughout June and that included a survey from Trafalgar Group during the tail end of the month. But unlike other recent Trafalgar polls in other blue wall states, this one out of the Keystone state did not show as close a race. It may break with some other recent Pennsylvania polling, but it is pretty closely in line with where the FHQ graduated weighted average pegs the race at the moment: favoring Biden at a margin around the line between the toss up and lean categories (five points). Right now, Pennsylvania is not that close while still holding down part of the tipping point status.

Finally, yesterday brought a couple of new polls of the Lone Star state. And the signal was as mixed as it has been there for over a month. The Biden +5 from UT-Tyler set down a new high water mark for the former vice president in Texas, but it is one that looks like an outlier among a slew of June polls that ranged from Trump +4 to Biden +2. And right in between is pretty much where the new YouGov survey found the race: Trump +1. Texas is close, much closer than it has been in a presidential race in a generation. But it is still tilted in Trump's direction by a margin only slimmer than those in Georgia and Ohio. And for the president, it is a state that continues to drift in Biden's direction. Again, if Georgia, Ohio and Texas are the closest states in November, then Biden is already in good enough shape elsewhere. However, those states being as close as they are may, in the near term anyway, force the president's campaign to expend resources there.

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 CD2-1
ME CD1-1
NE CD1-1
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 Pennsylvania (Biden's toss up states up to the Keystone state), he would have 289 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 New Hampshire
 is the state where Biden crosses the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election, the tipping point state for the former vice president. But because the line between New Hampshire and Pennsylvania creates an Electoral College tie (269-269), Pennsylvania is the tipping point state for Trump. It is where the president surpasses 270 electoral votes. Collectively, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are the tipping point states.

As was mentioned at the outset, a week away from these updates has not really changed the overall picture at FHQ. Sure, Georgia returned to the Trump side of the partisan line, but any new polling there or in Ohio or Texas could push those over the line as well. More importantly, the lean category -- those states with a margin between 5 and 10 points -- shrunk even further. Maine nudged over into Strong Biden territory, raising Biden's total among his strongest states alone at 222 electoral votes.

Meanwhile, the Watch List grew as June turned to July also. Notably, Texas is among the states that is within a point of changing categories. And it would be a big change if it came to fruition, over the partisan line and into Biden's group of states. But it will take more polling data to make that happen. And as July progresses, Nevada remains one of the most underpolled states. There is a decent picture of how all the other toss up states stand up relative to each other, but that is not the case with Nevada. None of the recent movement toward Biden has been reflected there; not in polling anyway. That makes the Silver state one to watch as well (if only to see if it matches the swing in the other states).

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
Potential Switch
from Toss Up Biden
to Lean Biden
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up Biden
from Strong Biden
to Lean Biden
from Strong Trump
to Lean Trump
from Toss Up Trump
to Lean Trump
Nebraska CD2
from Toss Up Biden
to Lean Biden
New Hampshire
from Toss Up Biden
to Lean Biden
from Toss Up Biden
to Toss Up Trump
from Toss Up Biden
to Lean Biden
South Carolina
from Lean Trump
to Strong Trump
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up Biden
from Lean Trump
to Strong Trump
from Strong Biden
to Lean Biden
from Lean Biden
to Toss Up 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 that had 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.

Related posts:
The Electoral College Map (7/2/20)

The Electoral College Map (7/1/20)

The Electoral College Map (6/30/20)

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