Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Electoral College Map (9/8/20)

Update for September 8.

Eight weeks from today is election day. But packed into that window will be three presidential debates, a vice presidential debate, countless campaign advertisements and a lot of voting. The voting window has already opened as North Carolina voters who requested a ballot were mailed their ballots starting last Friday. Minnesota will kick off early, in-person voting at the end of next week. And a plethora of states will follow one, the other or both in the next 56 days.

Meanwhile, the extant polling data continues to indicate a fairly static race. Of course, if one looks hard enough, then one may be able to find a poll or two in some states that matter showing a race for the White House that is narrow. But as always, that picture is rarely clear everywhere. Here is some of that nuance from Tuesday's poll releases.

Polling Quick Hits:
(Biden 48, Trump 48 via Marist | Biden 51, Trump 46 via GQR Research)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +4.10]
The two polls in the Sunshine state today offer a choose your own narrative scenario. GQR shows a battle for Florida that looks much like the FHQ weighted average margin there. Although, it does have both candidates running two to three points ahead of their average shares of support. But it will be the Marist survey that will grab the attention. It differs from the bulk of recent Florida polling and fulfills the "narrowing race" narrative that some have been hunting since convention season came to a close. And while this is the first Marist poll of Florida in calendar 2020 -- with no direct comparison -- it does nail where Biden has tended to reside in the averages at FHQ. Yet, it is Trump that rises to an uncharacteristic perch in the upper 40s. This may be a new trend and a clear example of a tightening race for the Sunshine state's 29 electoral votes or it could just be a blip on the radar. That 48 percent is not Trump's peak in polling there, but it is just under it.

Maine CD2
(Trump 49, Biden 48)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +0.20]
Left of Center PAC commissioned a survey in Maine's competitive second congressional and found that the race there is, well, competitive. Biden's advantage in ME CD2 is now razor thin at +0.20, which if not for Ohio would be the most competitive race on the board. At FHQ anyway, those two are currently the closest to the partisan line and the most likely to change the overall electoral vote tally. But in the sporadic and scant polling of the more conservative and rural Maine district, neither candidate has ever led by more than three points. It is close there and this survey only confirms that outlook.

(Trump 49, Biden 44)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +5.96]
Missouri, too, is competitive in 2020. Well, it is more competitive in the 2020 polling to date than was the case on election day in 2016. But the Show-Me state is pretty well rooted in the Lean Trump category at FHQ and although Trump's share of support here at FHQ and in this We Ask America survey now trails the pace he set there four years ago, the president is still right at 50 percent in the FHQ averages. Biden has improved on Clinton's performance there in 2016, but likely will not make up the ground necessary to overtake Trump in Missouri. Aside from one outlier survey during Biden's June/July peak, 44 percent has been where the former vice president has topped out.

New Jersey
(Biden 58, Trump 40)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +18.70]
Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, Emerson was in the field with an update in the Garden state. The results find both candidates in their best positions in New Jersey all year, but they look typical for New Jersey in recent cycles: The Democrat is ahead by double digits. However, both candidates on average are behind where their parties' candidates were in 2016. Biden is nearer Clinton's share, trailing her election day total in September with undecideds still undecided by a half a point. But Trump is off his 2016 mark by more than five points.

(Biden 49, Trump 45)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +0.19]
The only jurisdiction closer than ME CD2 in the FHQ margins now is Ohio. But that was not as true before the latest Pulse Opinion Research survey of the state found Biden up four, the first poll with Biden ahead in the Buckeye state since an early August poll. Then again, this poll closely resembles the July poll of Ohio from Pulse. It also had Biden up four, meaning little change through convention season. And while that helped the former vice president narrow the gap there, Trump retains a very slight edge.

(Biden 44, Trump 42)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +5.16]
Another survey that will have some talking narrowing -- this time in Pennsylvania -- is the update there from Susquehanna. Biden's two point margin there has gotten progressively smaller across the three polls the firm has conducted in the Keystone state in 2020. And the story is partly one of just Biden. The former vice president's share of support in the series has trailed off since April, but Trump has maintained a steady course in the low 40s. Another part of the story at least in the case of this update is that the sample size was the lowest of the trio of surveys Susquehanna has had in the field in the commonwealth this year. But it also carries a higher margin of error as a result.

(Trump 48, Biden 47)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +1.15]
Finally, Public Policy Polling was back in the field in the Lone Star state, the sixth time this cycle. Neither candidate has led by more than two points in that series and this is just the second time Trump has been ahead of Biden (also in the PPP series), the first since June. Overall, that may be a bit more Biden-friendly than other pollsters, but the tight range speaks to how close Texas actually is: Close and just off the Watch List for now.

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 day brought a host of new polls from five of the six categories here at FHQ. None of them changed how any of the seven states were shaded on the map, but that did not mean there were no changes triggered by the addition of the eight state-level polls. Ohio nudged past Iowa to become the most competitive Trump toss up on the board. The Buckeye state is now within a sliver of a point of shifting back over the partisan line into Biden territory and changing the overall electoral vote tally. In addition to that Ohio change, Missouri rejoins the Watch List but only just barely. The margin there slipped under six points which means that Missouri is within range of changing to a Trump Toss Up. But again, that fraction of a point standing in the way of that change is about as large as it can be while keeping Missouri on the List.

But the list is now up to eleven states and districts. Those are the ones to watch. All have margins where new data could change their classification at FHQ.

Where things stood at FHQ on September 8 (or close to it) 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
from Lean Trump
to Toss Up 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 (9/7/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/6/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/5/20)

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