Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Electoral College Map (9/3/20)

Update for September 3.

While yesterday's release from Monmouth out of Pennsylvania may have had some yelling, "TIGHTENING!!!!" today's releases served as a counterpoint to that. No, that did not mean that former Vice President Biden was basking in the glow of an increased lead, post-convention season. Rather, they signaled the continued steady course this race for the White House has charted since the late spring (if not earlier). This group of polls today represent six of the most targeted states on the map and in eight of the nine surveys of those states, Biden was ahead. But there is a story in each of these and it is more nuanced than the binary "the race is narrower or not."

Polling Quick Hits:
(Biden 49, Trump 40)
Fox News was last in the field in the Grand Canyon state as May turned to June. It was during a time in the race in which Biden's numbers were climbing to their June/July peak across the country. But that late May survey found the former vice president up just four points. That lead has more than doubled during the interim period now that the contest is on the other side of convention season. But both candidates' support in Arizona polls have been noisy throughout August. With some exceptions, Biden's support has tended to hover in a range between 45 and 50 percent as the president's share in there has been in a 42 to 47 percent area. [This Fox poll falls outside of that range on the Trump number.] All that is why Biden's average margin at FHQ is just under four points at 48-44 (rounded) percent.

(Biden 48, Trump 45)
Gone in Florida are some of the double digit leads that Biden enjoyed in June and July. And while they have been replaced by polling margins in the low to mid-single digits, the former vice president continues to maintain his edge in the Sunshine state. That is reflected in the first Quinnipiac survey of the state with a likely voter screen included. Biden's lead is smaller but persistent even if the margins may be slipping into the margin of error in some polls. And this poll is in line with the average shares of support both candidates have in Florida at FHQ (Biden 49, Trump 44). But it is a marked change from the Q-poll last month among registered voters that found Biden up 13. Again, gone are leads of that size.

(Biden 48, Trump 45)
Like Florida, the sizable double digit advantages Biden once held earlier in the summer in Minnesota have ebbed and been supplanted by margins the single digits. But again, Biden has remained steadily ahead in the surveys as his average margin at FHQ has tracked down to Biden +7.29 which has the state in a tight cluster in the order with Michigan and New Hampshire as of now. Part of what has brought that average down from a perch in the Strong Biden category for a brief moment are polls like the one from Harper today. The more narrow margin in the survey has Biden running a couple of points behind his weighted average share of support at FHQ while Trump runs a couple of points ahead of his. But that the former vice president remains as close to the 50 percent mark and with so few undecideds means that the president has a potentially tough needle to thread in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

North Carolina
(Biden 50, Trump 46 via Fox News | Biden 48, Trump 46 via Monmouth)
The common theme among the polls in the states above is the consistent if not persistent Biden lead. That is true in a pair of surveys from the Tar Heel state released within the last 24 hours. The Trump number is consistent across both and in line with the rounded FHQ average. All are at 46 percent. It is the Biden number that is more variable. The former vice president has an average share of just more than 47 percent in FHQ's formula and both surveys have Biden running a bit out in front of that. But the overarching story in North Carolina is just how steady things have been. Both candidates have tended to be in pretty tight ranges and within shouting distance of each other in most polls. More often than not, however, Biden has been ahead and that is the reason for his narrow but consistent lead there.

(Biden 52, Trump 44 via Quinnipiac | Biden 46, Trump 46 via Pulse Opinion Research)
The polling in the Keystone state today offered a bit of a choose your own narrative scenario. Rasmussen/Pulse provide more fodder alongside Monmouth yesterday for the "gap is closing" angle. But Quinnipiac -- in another likely voter model -- found a wider gap in Biden's direction (but one that was exactly the same as the firm's last poll of the state (among registered voters) in February). Again, that Biden has the advantage is steady but the extent of that advantage varies but in a predictable range. And right now, that has the former vice president with a lead just beyond the Lean/Toss Up line out of Trump's reach. That is what the president has to make up. The ground between Trump's coalition of states and the states he needs stretches from the partisan line all the way to tipping point Pennsylvania.

(Biden 50, Trump 42)
Finally, Fox News was also in the field with a survey of Wisconsin. It was not the 13 point advantage in the Opinium poll from a day ago. Instead, the eight point margin and where the candidates were was consistent much of the recent polling in the Badger state, even if it had Biden a bit out in front of his FHQ average share of support and the president a little less than a point behind his. The simple truth is that with rare exception, the former vice president has led in Wisconsin and the gap there has not shown any significant signs of contraction in August. Yes, there may be an outlier like the poll cited above in there, but this Fox survey is in line where the majority of polling has been in Wisconsin to this point.

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
(273 | 286)
(279 | 265)
(308 | 259)
(319 | 230)
NE CD1-1
ME CD2-1
(335 | 219)
ME CD1-1
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 plus the Pennsylvania), he would have 286 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 Pennsylvania
 is the state where Biden crosses the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election, the tipping point state. The tipping point cell is shaded in yellow to denote that and the font color is adjusted to attempt to reflect the category in which the state is.

The polling releases on the day offered the potential to shake things up here at FHQ. However, despite the fact that all eight polls came from six of the most targeted states of 2020, none budged on the map, the Spectrum or the Watch List. All three depictions remain just as they were a day ago. FHQ has read several times this week that the president needed more than a small bump coming out of last week's convention, especially if this is going to represent Trump's high water mark in 2020 polling. The events of the convention do not appear to have delivered on that and that presents a problem for the president unless he can bring Biden down to his level, something the campaign has been unable to do to this point.

FHQ said this last week on Twitter and will repeat it again here: This is a steady race. Opinions on the president have mostly crystalized. The only real blip seen in this pattern was Biden's rise in June and July. Other than that period, this race has seen Biden consistently ahead where it counts most. That is not to say that things cannot change in the 61 days before election day, but they have yet to really budge up to now.

Where things stood at FHQ on September 3 in...

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
Maine CD2
from Toss Up Biden
to Toss Up Trump
from Strong Trump
to Lean Trump
Nebraska CD2
from Lean Biden
to Toss Up Biden
from Toss Up Biden
to Lean Biden
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up Biden
from Lean Biden
to Toss Up Biden
South Carolina
from Lean Trump
to Toss Up Trump
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 (9/2/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/1/20)

The Electoral College Map (8/31/20)

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