Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Electoral College Map (10/8/20)

Update for October 8.

With the vice presidential now behind it and next week's resumption among the presidential nominees up for, well, debate, the 2020 presidential race carried on to another day. And while there were fewer new surveys to look at as compared to a day ago, there were still a number of polls to examine from an array of states. In fact, there was a poll released from a state in every FHQ category but the Strong Trump states. 

But Montana, the one state on today's list that is closest to the Strong Trump category is a microcosm of sorts for the overall state of this contest currently. The president won the Treasure state by over 20 points in 2016 and is likely to win there again in November. But the margin is nothing now like it was four years ago. Trump is more than four points behind his 2016 showing in Montana while Biden is approaching an eight point improvement over Clinton's pace there. That swing is well above the average shift toward the Democrats since 2017 (currently +6.77 in the Democrats' direction), but it is indicative of the erosion in support the president has suffered to the point, just 26 days ahead of November 3.

On to the day's state-level surveys...

Polling Quick Hits:
(Biden 48, Trump 45)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +3.20]
Arizona and Florida polls have really proliferated during this work week and today is not without one from each. The latest Arizona poll from Latino Decisions is fairly consistent with the current FHQ average shares of support for both major party candidates. Actually, once those averages are rounded, the two match exactly with Biden up 48-45. But it should be noted that this is a contraction of the margin since Latino Decisions was last in the field in the Grand Canyon state. Then, in a March poll of registered voters, Biden led 50-42. Time and the transition to a likely voter screen have benefited the president, but only enough to get him back to an average position, one still trailing the former vice president.

(Biden 50, Trump 44)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +3.52]
Saint Leo University similarly had an update in Florida to a poll from back in the winter. Biden led handily in that February survey and has seen the gap close in the time since. Still, this poll fits in well with many of the recent surveys that have the former vice president up in the four to six point range in the Sunshine state in the wake of the first presidential debate and the president's positive Covid test. And those surveys are collectively only making the Trump campaign's job that much harder. The FHQ average margin in Florida is tracking back up again, back toward that Lean/Toss Up line. 

(Biden 61, Trump 30)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +31.63]
Another day brings another poll out of Maryland. Today's Goucher College survey of the Old Line state resembles -- almost mirrors -- the poll from Change Research a day ago. Together both paint a picture of a steady race for Maryland's ten electoral votes, one that has shifted a bit over seven points toward the Democrats since 2016.

(Biden 47, Trump 40)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +8.41]
Speaking of steady, the Survey USA update in Minnesota found modest narrowing since the firm's last survey there in early September. The good news for the president in a state that his campaign has often targeted as a flip opportunity is that Biden dropped a couple of points over the last month. But the bad news is that Trump remained stuck at 40 percent. That consistency casts further doubt on the prospects that Minnesota would turn red in November, but the small silver lining is that is that the 40 percent share does run a bit below Trump's average share of support in the state at FHQ (42 percent).

(Trump 56, Biden 44 via Emerson | Trump 49, Biden 43 via Data for Progress)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +8.93]
FHQ led with Montana in the introduction above, but if the pair of polls from the Treasure state do anything it is to shed some light on where Biden stands there: in the low to mid-40s. And while that is improvement of nearly eight points on Clinton in 2016, it still trails even the worst case scenario for Trump in Montana. And the Data for Progress poll is a good stand in for that worst case scenario. The president has been lower than 49 percent in Montana polling of the presidential race this year, but it is definitely toward the lower end of his range there. And even though the Emerson update has Trump expanding his advantage, just averaging his share of support in both these polls comes pretty close to where his established FHQ average level of support currently rests. 

North Carolina
(Biden 51, Trump 44)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +1.59]
At first glance the new Data for Progress survey of North Carolina looks a bit like an outlier. Biden has had seven point leads in the Tar Heel state in calendar 2020, but they tend to be few and far between and at the very extreme end of the range. Things look different in the context of the earlier DfP poll in the Old North State. In that early August poll Biden held a 49-45 edge, a lead that was on the realistic (Biden) end of the range at the time in a state that has proven to have been close throughout the year while still being ever so slightly tipped in the former vice president's direction. Time will tell whether this survey is realistically at the new top of the range of margins in North Carolina, but for now this looks like an overly rosy picture of the state of the race from a Democratic-aligned pollster. 

South Carolina
(Trump 49, Biden 44)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +6.10]
Across the southern border in the Palmetto state, another partisan pollster, GBAO, found Trump up just five points in the typically reliably red state. Now, South Carolina, like Montana, is likely to stay in the Republican's column in November unless the bottom truly drops out for the president. But unlike the Data for Progress poll of North Carolina above, this survey is at least in the heart of the mid- to upper single digit leads Trump has held in South Carolina polling all year. In fact, GBAO nails Biden's share of support here and is only marginally below Trump's average share of support here at FHQ. But Trump is only barely cracking 50 percent in the averages and that says much about the state of the race for South Carolina's nine electoral votes. 

(Biden 47, Trump 45 via Data for Progress | Trump 51, Biden 44 via Pulse Opinion Research)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +1.67]
Finally, in the Lone Star state a pair of new polls tell widely divergent stories of the battle there. The latest in the series of surveys Data for Progress has conducted in Texas continues to show a tight race for the 38 electoral votes on the line there. But in this one Biden has pulled back into the lead in a poll that looks a lot like the August poll from the firm than the September one where Trump held the narrow edge. If that is on the optimistic side of things for the Biden campaign (and it is but not nearly to the same extent as the North Carolina poll), then the Pulse survey is not. Rare have the Trump +7 polls been in Texas, but this one is not clearly an outlier. It just has Biden toward the low end of his range of support and Trump at the top of his. All of that aside, even if one were to average just these two surveys, then rounded 48-46 Trump edge is in line with the average shares of support the two candidates currently have at FHQ. Texas, like North Carolina, is close. But Texas, unlike North Carolina, is consistently tipped in president's direction. As persistently as North Carolina has been in Biden's column, Texas has been the equivalent on the Trump side. 

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
(273 | 285)
(279 | 265)
(308 | 259)
(319 | 230)
NE CD1-1
ME CD2-1
(335 | 219)
ME CD1-1
NE 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 plus the Pennsylvania), he would have 285 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 Trump's is on the right in bold italics.

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.

Ten new polls across eight states from across the Spectrum did little to shake up what has been a pretty steady race. The map tally remains stuck at 335-203 in Biden's favor and the order of states on the Electoral College Spectrum was unchanged with Pennsylvania as the tipping point (but with four states and Maine's second as insurance between it and the partisan line). Trump still has his work cut out for him with 26 days to go and no noticeable progress made in the last 24 hours to right the ship on the campaign trail or in the polls. And there is no real apparent relief on the Watch List where the two states closest to altering the electoral vote tally -- Georgia and Ohio -- are close to jumping the partisan line into Biden's coalition of states. This may or may not be the nadir for the Trump campaign in 2020, but one thing is for sure: time is running out to dig out of the hole the president is in.

Where things stood at FHQ on October 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 Trump
to Toss Up Biden
New Hampshire
from Strong Biden
to Lean Biden
New Mexico
from Strong Biden
to Lean Biden
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up 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.

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