Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Electoral College Map (9/22/20)

Update for September 22.

There are now just six weeks until election day. And this particular Tuesday, six weeks out, came with 10 new polls from nine states. It was a cache of data that updated the state of play in a number of battlegrounds while also providing new information in a pair of sporadically polled, but comfortably blue states. Across the board, however, the picture of the race for the White House at this moment remained one of stability. Joe Biden continues to hold durable leads in the important states that will determine whether he or President Donald Trump get to 270 electoral votes.

While Florida has drawn noticeably closer in recent days, those former blue wall states -- Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- are still seemingly stubbornly out of the president's reach by five to seven points. For every poll in any of those three states that emerges showing the race around, say, three points, there is another one (or more) that has the battle in those states within that five to seven point range. The president does not need all three of those states, but he will need one and to win all the toss ups to get there.

Polling Quick Hits:
(Trump 47, Biden 47)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +0.23]
The University of Georgia updated its outlook on the race for the Peach state's 16 electoral votes for the first time since a survey just before Super Tuesday back in March. The 51-43 Trump advantage then has closed to a tie, a finding that is consistent with where Georgia stands in the averages here. And as FHQ has said throughout the summer, if the discussion on election day about which states are the most competitive revolves around Georgia and those immediately around it in the order on the Spectrum below, then Biden is likely to be in pretty good shape.

(Trump 47, Biden 47)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +0.44]
Similar to the UGA series of surveys above, the Selzer polls in Iowa started out 2020 showing Trump up by a margin comparable to the results on election day in 2016. However, over time that lead has shrunk. The ten point advantage the president had over Biden in March around Super Tuesday fell to just one point three months later. Now, three months after that June survey, the battle for those six electoral votes in the Hawkeye state is a dead heat. Iowa is still slightly tipped in Trump's direction based on the full world of polling in the state in calendar 2020, but this series is indicative the trajectory of change there and where things may have leveled off.

(Biden 46, Trump 41 via Market Research Group | Biden 49, Trump 44 via Ipsos)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +7.42]
Both MRG and Ipsos have been in the field in Michigan this year, but the trajectory of change reflected in the two series is different over time. Biden gained in both sets, but Trump held pat in the low 40s in the MRG polls while his support grew at almost twice the rate of Biden's in the Ipsos set. The change in the latter can be at least partially pinned on the switch from a registered voter sample in April to likely voter screen being used now. But again, the margin in Michigan, one of those blue wall states from 2016, has been consistently in the seven to eight point range most of the summer. Polls that show a five point margin will cut into that over time, but slowly.

North Carolina
(Biden 47, Trump 47)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +1.51]
The Ipsos survey of the Tar Heel state is the third from a closely contested toss up today that shows a race knotted at 47. Biden has been camped out around 47 percent support in the FHQ averages for a while, but Trump has generally trailed that but a couple of points. North Carolina, like Florida, has narrowed some of late, but the rate of change is much less dramatic in the Tar Heel state. The tight range of results has something to do with that. Biden's leads tend to top out now at +3 and the president's peak in August and September has been +2. Gone are those mid-summer polls during Biden's polling surge where his advantages stretched occasionally into the mid- and upper single digits.

(Biden 49, Trump 46)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +5.16]
Ipsos also conducted a survey in Pennsylvania, but unlike in North Carolina, this was the firm's second in the Keystone state. As with the series discussed above in Georgia and Iowa, the Ipsos series in Pennsylvania found a tighter race now than in April. But that six point Biden lead then in a registered voter survey was cut in half under a likely voter screen. That transition may explain the bulk of that change rather than any natural narrowing. One thing that can be said about Pennsylvania polling in September is that Joe Biden is at or over 50 precent much less often than he was in earlier periods. The former vice president does not tend to be far under that majority threshold, but that is also indicative of the subtle changes that may be taking place in the commonwealth and elsewhere.

South Carolina
(Trump 50, Biden 44)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +5.98]
What can one say about the state of polling in the Palmetto state? The latest Morning Consult survey there is very much in line with where polling has been all summer there. In fact, the five point Trump edge in the last Morning Consult poll in early August has barely changed. South Carolina is closer than it was in 2016, but it is clearly polling at a Lean Trump state with a margin just inside the Lean/Toss Up line on the lower end of the Lean range.

(Biden 56, Trump 32)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +27.44]
Braun Research brings the first glimpse of the race in the Green Mountain state all year. No, Vermont was never at risk of jumping the partisan line to join the Trump coalition of state much less shift into a less dark blue category. But it is good to confirm that with some 2020 data. But as was the case with the first Oregon poll to be released recently, this first foray in Vermont does not appear all that different than how things looked there in November 2016. That has not been true in all of the Strong Biden states, but it has in a handful of underpolled states in that category.

(Biden 58, Trump 36)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +24.46]
The case in point is probably Washington. Biden has over performed Clinton in this solidly blue state while Trump has lagged behind his showing from four years ago. The latest Strategies 360 survey is indicative of that on some level. It has Biden right on his established FHQ average share of support. Trump, on the other hand, is running a little ahead of his own average but still almost 25 points behind.

(Biden 48, Trump 43)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +6.34]
Finally, Ipsos also surveyed Wisconsin and ended up with results that differ from some of the other Ipsos polls out today. The switch from registered to likely voter samples in Michigan and Pennsylvania drove much of the narrowing both states. But the story is slightly different in the Wisconsin series. The April registered voter survey from the firm had Biden up only three with more undecided voters and more support for other candidates. Both trailed off significantly in Michigan and Pennsylvania, but in Wisconsin, the undecideds remained stable and the other support dried up and ostensibly shifted to the two major candidates, but more so to Biden. That is part of the reason why the former vice president's margin grew from April to now in that sample transition, bringing the Ipsos poll in line with where the FHQ average margin in the Badger state currently rests.

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)
ME CD2-1
(320 | 230)
NE CD1-1
(335 | 218)
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.

For a day with two polls, the expectations may be high for some changes. But there just were not any or very many really. The map and Watch List remained unchanged from a day ago, and there was but one subtle shift on the Electoral College Spectrum. Iowa and Ohio switched spots with the Hawkeye state moving one cell closer to the partisan line separating the Biden and Trump states. But those two -- Iowa and Ohio -- are essentially tied at the moment within a one hundredth of a point of each other in their margins.

Pennsylvania continues to hold down the distinction of being the tipping point state in the order. Trump still has the ground between the partisan line and the Keystone state to make up in order to get back within striking distance of 270.

Where things stood at FHQ on September 22 (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 Strong Trump
to Lean Trump
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up Biden
from Toss Up Trump
to Toss Up Biden
from Lean Trump
to Strong Trump
from Strong Trump
to Lean Trump
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
from Toss Up Trump
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 (9/21/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/20/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/19/20)

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