Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Electoral College Map (9/15/20)

Update for September 15.

The race for the White House is now halfway through September and there are just seven weeks until election day on November 3. This Tuesday -- seven weeks out -- brought seven new polls from four states, all of which have been competitive in the 21st century. But one -- Virginia -- has slipped over the course of those twenty years from a reliably red state to something that appears to be fairly comfortably blue now.

But what is interesting about this group of polls and the first half of September is how little has really changed on the surface. The month began with Ohio pushing over the partisan line in Toss Up Trump territory, but that projected 335-203 Biden advantage in the Electoral College has held since then. But again, that is on the surface. Underneath, there has been some narrowing in a handful of states. Notably, Arizona and Florida have drawn closer, but the latter is closing at a quicker clip as the two are seemingly on a trajectory to converge in the Biden +3-4 point range if the course remains on the same path. North Carolina, too, has tracked down some in the Biden +1-2 point range. Yet, none of those states are essential to the former vice president reaching 270 electoral votes as the Electoral College Spectrum below clearly demonstrates. Even in those states, Trump has work to do. Biden sits at 48 in Arizona, 49 in Florida and 47 in North Carolina in the averages here at FHQ. Trump, then, in states the president will need to get to 270, will need to either bring Biden down some and/or out-perform the former vice president among undecideds (or persuade a lot more Trump supporters to turn out). Obviously, nothing is set in stone, but with just 49 days left -- and voters already voting -- time is running out.

Polling Quick Hits:
(Biden 50, Trump 50 via Florida Atlantic | Biden 49, Trump 46 via Monmouth)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +3.89]
There were a pair of polls out of the Sunshine state on Tuesday and both show a close race for those 29 electoral votes. The tie in the Florida Atlantic poll is pretty much par for the course in the series of four polls now in 2020. And yes, this series also fits the now familiar pattern. The early polls in January and March showed a nearly tied race both times. But in May, Biden jumped out to a six point lead. While that edge was a little early for the Biden surge in June/July, that was the last poll in a series that is now back to tied. Ride the roller coaster if one must, but recognize also that there is in battleground state after battleground state a pattern of surge and decline in these state-level polls. Things are right back to where they were in the spring: Biden ahead, and by smaller margins than over the summer, but ahead where it will count the most in November.

The Monmouth poll is the university's first survey of the Sunshine state, so there is no direct comparison. However, FHQ will note that our policy has been to take the "low turnout" version of the polls for the sake of continuity. Even if one trades out the low for high turnout version (50-45, Biden), the former vice president's lead only grows by 0.05 points. Either one one looks at, they are both within the ranges in which both candidates have been in Florida polling in September so far.

North Carolina
(Biden 47, Trump 47 via Survey USA | Trump 48, Biden 46 via Trafalgar Group | Biden 49, Trump 46 via CNN)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +1.48]
The trio of surveys recently in the field in the Tar Heel state ran the gamut of results in September polls there. Everyone had something to latch on to. Trafalgar had the president ahead, Survey USA found a tied race and CNN had Biden marginally in front. It was the first poll for each of Trafalgar and CNN, so the focus will be on the series from Survey USA. There have been three Survey USA polls conducted in North Carolina in calendar 2020, but this latest is the first since April. Both of the earlier polls had the former vice president up by four or five. And while there was no data in the intervening period in which Biden would have typically jumped out to a larger advantage, this latest poll breaks with the pattern mentioned above. Biden may have peaked in a hypothetical June Survey USA poll of the state, but even if he had, then that lead would have decayed more than to the (winter and) spring levels. This poll, then, reflects more than that which is something of a silver lining for Trump in a state the president needs.

(Biden 53, Trump 39)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +11.71]
The latest survey in the field from Virginia Commonwealth of the Old Dominion shows what most polls there this year have found: Virginia is not a swing/battleground state in 2020. And this VCU series of polls has been pretty consistent through the year. Biden has mostly been at or above 50 percent there while Trump has instead hovered around 40 percent. And that is basically where the FHQ averages are for both candidates right now, Biden 51-40 (rounded).

(Biden 52, Trump 42)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +6.37]
Finally, the CNN survey of Wisconsin -- also its first in the Badger state -- catches the eye if only because of that double digit lead Biden carries in a state Trump won by a fraction of a point in 2016. But the surprising thing perhaps about Wisconsin polling right now is not this CNN poll but rather that it is not out of the ordinary for recent polling there. Yes, it has Biden on the high side of his range and Trump on the low side of his, but the consistency of these mid- to upper single digit Biden leads in the Badger state is what continues to break with FHQ's expectations. The narrowing just has not really come to Wisconsin like it has in some other battlegrounds. Now, there is still time for that to change, but there have been enough of those sorts of polls cited above to buttress the former vice president's roughly six point lead 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
(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 Trump'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.

There were some significant additions to the polling dataset at FHQ today in a handful of states that are going to decide the election in November. But it was the state that is most comfortably in Biden's column -- Virginia -- that changed and not Florida, North Carolina or Wisconsin. The VCU pushed the average in the commonwealth up enough to nudge Virginia past both Maine and Colorado on the Spectrum above. But, to be clear, all three are tightly bunched with average margins of 11-12 points at the moment. If that passes for a change -- and it does -- then it is a small one. Meanwhile, the averages in both Florida and North Carolina ticked down but continue to advantage Biden. Wisconsin, on the other hand, saw its FHQ average margin nudge up slightly on the weight of that double digit CNN poll. None of the three battlegrounds moved in the rank order on the Spectrum.

Florida may not have budged in the order above but it finally moved off the Watch List. The Sunshine state is no longer within a fraction of a point of possibly moving into the Lean Biden category. It is just a solid Biden toss up as of now. That trims the List to just nine states and districts and still only three that would potentially alter the overall projected tally at FHQ (all of which are on the cusp of potential moves into the Biden coalition of states).

Halfway through September, however, there was a little bit of good news for both camps, but little change, something that continues to be a feather in the former vice president's cap.

Where things stood at FHQ on September 15 (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
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up Biden
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 (9/14/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/13/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/12/20)

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