Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Electoral College Map (9/30/20)

Update for September 30.

With the first presidential debate now in the rearview mirror, and the dust still settling on the free-for-all that took place Tuesday night in Cleveland, the sun did actually rise on Wednesday. And along with it came a smattering of state-level polls from five states currently outside of the toss up range. All were clearly in the field before the debate, so there will not yet be debate effects -- should any end up popping up -- in this update. There also were not any changes from a day ago; not on the map anyway.

To the polls...

Polling Quick Hits:
(Biden 59, Trump 32)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +29.88]
SurveyUSA was last in the field in the Golden state a month ago and both candidates benefited from the transition from an "adults" sample to a likely voter sample. But the margin remained much the same as it was in August. And the update is in range of where FHQ has California in the averages (Biden 61-31, rounded). Biden is a bit behind his average share of support and Trump a tad above his, but it is negligible.

(Trump 53, Biden 41)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +8.32]
Despite a seemingly tight Senate race in the Sunflower state, there has been a general lack of polling of both that race and the presidential race there. But what little survey work has been done in Kansas has shown a presidential contest where the president has been ahead by either mid-single digits or in the low double digits. The internal poll from the Keep Kansas Great PAC by co/efficient has Republican Senate nominee, Roger Marshall, narrowly in the lead, but Trump more comfortably so. Still, the 53 percent share is Trump's peak in Kansas polling calendar 2020 and all while Biden is near his nadir there (but still about five points north of where Hillary Clinton ended up in 2016).

(Biden 49, Trump 47)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +7.01]
Trafalgar Group has now conducted four polls in the Great Lakes state and this is Biden's first lead there since the first in the series in June. All four polls have been much closer that most of the other public opinion gathered on the presidential race in Michigan this year. Yes, the change is pretty small since the firm's survey a week ago -- Biden gained a couple of points while Trump remained stable at a higher than average 47 percent -- but the movement in the vice president's direction is likely not the best of signs in a state that the president does not necessarily need but cannot exactly afford to lose. For what it is worth, this poll is not off the mark on the Biden share by much, but it has Trump at a level that is approaching five points above his FHQ average share.

New Hampshire
(Biden 53, Trump 44 via University of New Hampshire | Biden 56, Trump 42 via Pulse Opinion Research)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +7.83]
Along with the UMass-Lowell survey of the Granite state yesterday, the two New Hampshire polls out today have bolstered the former vice president's advantage there. For UMass-Lowell and Pulse Opinion Research, it was their first forays into the state in calendar 2020. Both found Biden ahead by above average margins . And so, too, did the latest update in the UNH series. But at least there are other UNH surveys for comparison. The race in the Granite state shifted in the UNH series in June when Biden topped out. Since that time, however, the former vice president has remained pretty stable above 50 percent, but his margins have decreased in each successive poll in the series. Trump hit bottom in June at 39 percent and has climbed back to 44 percent over the last three months. The problem for the president is that his share can continue to grow, but as long as Biden is static above the majority mark, it does not really matter.

South Carolina
(Trump 48, Biden 47)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +5.86]
It is one thing when the South Carolina Senate race is close. There have been a number of those types of surveys of late. But the presidential race typically has not followed suit. Well, it has not until now. The latest Quinnipiac update in the Palmetto state has Trump up by just one point with the president's support tumbling below 50 percent in the Q-poll series and Biden reaching his high water mark in South Carolina polling this year. That context is important because this poll has Biden improving on Clinton's 2016 pace almost as much as Trump has lost off of his. This one looks like an outlier in the series, but time (and additional polling) will tell that tale. In the meantime, South Carolina remains a Lean toward Trump, but is back on the Watch List after this poll was added.

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)
(290 | 259)
ME CD2-1
(320 | 248)
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.

Again, today's group of states are ones that are outside of the toss up range and are not exactly the highest priorities for either candidate to flip over the next 34 days. However, that does not mean that the new polls did not drive some changes at FHQ. The map stayed the same as it was a day ago when Ohio jumped back over the partisan line into Trump territory, but both the Electoral College Spectrum and Watch List saw some changes since debate day (although not because of said debate).

The wider margin in the Kansas poll pushed it past Montana deeper into the Lean Trump group of states. That marks the second time in a little more than a week that a Kansas survey forced a change with Montana. Over in the Lean Biden category, New Hampshire, on the weight of three above average margins over the last to days has moved further away from the partisan line, leaving Michigan at the bottom of the middle blue column.

Finally, South Carolina and Missouri swapped spots again on the lower end of the Lean Trump category. That shift was enough to push the Palmetto state back onto the Watch List after recently leaving it. But like the states above, the change was built on a poll (or polls) well above or below average in the respective states.

But as debate season has now started, the race remains much as it has: with Biden comfortably ahead in the electoral vote tally and Pennsylvania occupying the tipping point spot in the order (and four states between it and the partisan line).

Where things stood at FHQ on September 30 (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 Strong Biden
to Lean 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 (9/29/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/28/20)

The Electoral College Map (9/27/20)

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