Monday, October 12, 2020

The Electoral College Map (10/12/20)

Update for October 12.

With 22 days until November 3 concludes the voting phase of the 2020 election, the open to the work week brought yet another round of polling from each of the three blue wall states that flipped to President Trump in 2016 and another update in Montana. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin there has been no lack of polling in calendar 2020, which is an improvement over 2016 when part of the issue with survey work in those states was how infrequently each was polled. In total Michigan saw just 40 polls compared to 97 already in 2020. Pennsylvania was surveyed a more respectable 70 times, but even that falls short of the 93 surveys that have been conducted thus far in the Keystone state. Worst of all, Wisconsin voters were polled just 37 times four years ago. That is less than half of the 86 surveys that have been in the field in the Badger state in calendar 2020 to this point. 

And on top of the more frequent polling this cycle, there has been a relative consistency to them that was lacking in 2016 surveys in each of the three. Now, that increased polling means little if it is all off target again, but that aforementioned consistency across pollsters and over time is something of a counter to that argument. 

But on to the polls...

Polling Quick Hits:
(Biden 48, Trump 40)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +7.16]
In the Great Lakes state Siena/NYT Upshot was back in the field for the first time since June. That leaves an interesting potential comparison considering the earlier survey fell in a period in which polling was arguably at its best this year for Biden and a time now in which there is at least a noticeable uptick in the former vice president's support in national polls. But in this case, June to October also meant a transition from a registered to likely voters sample. None of that seemed to matter much as Biden held relatively steady and Trump cracked the 40 percent barrier. Both improved, but Biden maintained a lead consistent with the current average margin at FHQ. Both end up a shade behind their established average shares of support but that is more a function of the number of undecideds still in these Siena surveys that anything else. 

(Trump 52, Biden 46)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +8.72]
Further west along the Canadian border, Public Policy Polling was back in Montana and found a race that while it is much closer in the 2020 polls than on election day in 2016, was still mostly consistent with Trump's average advantage in the Treasure state. And as that is true for the president's share of support in this poll as well, Biden's is out in front of his established average share of support by a few points. PPP has been a bit more bullish on Biden's support, often finding him on the upper end of his range in Montana polling. Montana is still a state that the president is likely to win, but the swing from 2016 to now (in the polls) is noteworthy. Biden is more than eight points ahead of Clinton's pace in the state while Trump is just more than four points behind his showing there four years ago. 

(Biden 51, Trump 46)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +5.50]
FHQ has lately taken to talking about how often Biden has been at or above 50 percent in recent polling in the blue wave states, but a similar dynamic can be viewed through a different lens. The new Whitman Insight Strategies survey of the Keystone state has the vice president up five points. That has been a constant margin to pop up on Pennsylvania polling. But just mid-single digit leads for Biden have been frequent there in October. Of the ten surveys conducted in whole or in part in the commonwealth in October, six of them have had the former vice president ahead in the five to seven point range. And that has kept him steadily ahead in the 5 to 6 point range in the FHQ averages. Again, that consistency means something in polls of these battlegrounds. 

(Biden 51, Trump 41)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +6.26]
Finally, in Wisconsin there was another update from Siena/NYT Upshot. It was the first since last month when the firm found Biden up by five. But in the weeks since the former vice president's advantage has ballooned to ten points with Biden not only gaining (and eclipsing 50 percent), but Trump losing ground. The margin in Wisconsin continues to be on the Trump side of Michigan at FHQ, but the number of surveys of the Badger state that have shown the Biden lead as greater there than in Michigan has grown. But the two remain far in relative terms of converging on one another. The pair are separated by less than a point, but given the number of polls that have been conducted in each state in calendar 2020, it will take a lot more polls with a wider Wisconsin lead to change the order (unless those margins are much wider). For now Wisconsin shows the lowest average share of support for Biden of the three blue wall states. In all three he is closing in on 50 percent, but he would not round up to it in Wisconsin as he would in Michigan or Pennsylvania.

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.

Four new surveys from four states -- three of them national targets -- but none of them did anything to shake up the look of things around FHQ. The map remains as it has during much of October and the Spectrum does as well. Not even a new survey in Montana could uproot the state from its position in the order on the high end of the Lean Trump category. And the Watch List continues to comprise the same five states as it has since the four waves of Survey Monkey polls were added a weekend ago. And only Georgia and Ohio are meaningful (to the overall electoral vote tally) there. 

So with 22 days until November 3, the story continues to be one of a steady race. 

Where things stood at FHQ on October 12 (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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