Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Electoral College Map (10/17/20)

Update for October 17.

The weekend began slowly. There was just one new survey released out of Missouri on Saturday to go along with a trio of battleground polls from HarrisX that came in after FHQ's update had posted a day ago. Consider it the calm before the storm that will likely be on the polling front in the 17 days between now and the culmination of the voting phase on election day. The campaigns will hit high gear (if they have not already with what is now more than 26 million early and mail-in votes cast) and pollsters will race to get in a few more rounds of polling both nationwide and on the state level.

On to the polls... 

Polling Quick Hits:
(Biden 48, Trump 48)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +3.31]
These HarrisX polls in Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania today are all the first time the firm has conducted a survey in any of the three in calendar 2020. And that leaves no real natural comparison other than the overall FHQ averages in those battlegrounds. In Florida, the poll was on target on the Biden number (relative to the former vice president's FHQ average share of support) but had Trump three points out in front of where the established averages have had him in the Sunshine state. Yet the president has seen his recent range inch upward into the upper 40s more regularly since the first week in October. Biden,  meanwhile, is at the lower end of his range in polls conducted over the same period. One can therefore pick their poison here, or merely accept that this one is well within the scope of presidential poll results in Florida. 

(Biden 54, Trump 43)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +7.14]
The same thing is not exactly true in the HarrisX survey of Michigan. In that poll of the Great Lakes state it is the president's level of support that is in line with his established average share of support at FHQ. Biden, on the other hand, is at level that he has not been in since an Emerson poll last week. That said, the former vice president has not risen that high in Michigan polling since his polling surge across the country in June and July. This one is, perhaps, a bit optimistic for the Democratic nominee, but it does continue a trend of his average support approaching the 50 percent mark at FHQ.

(Trump 51, Biden 45)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +6.52]
The Missouri poll from Remington is thankfully part of a series the firm has conducted in the Show-Me state throughout 2020. And the new one is consistent with the other polls Remington has had in the field there. Trump has generally been in the low 50s while Biden has been in the mid-40s in the post-convention period. [The former vice president was in the low 40s in the firm's two polls in the summer before the conventions.] This survey, then, is par for the course in Missouri. Trump is comfortably enough ahead but 2020 is not 2016. Yes, Trump lags more than four points behind the pace he set four years ago, but Biden is approaching a seven point improvement on how Clinton fared there in the last election. That is an above average swing (6.84 points on average toward the Democrats) from then to now. 

(Biden 51, Trump 46)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +5.48]
Finally, the last HarrisX survey from Pennsylvania tracks closely with the current FHQ average in the commonwealth. Biden's holds a 50-44 (rounded) advantage in the FHQ formula and one could quibble about the changes in this poll relative to that, but both candidates' shares in this poll are honestly well within the range of both in recent Keystone state polls. And again, since Pennsylvania is the tipping point state in the rank order of states depicted in the Electoral College Spectrum below, it represents the very least of what the president has to make up between now and election day to pull back into a position to collect 270 electoral votes and defend the White House. 

The Electoral College Spectrum1
(273 | 285)
(279 | 265)
SC -9
(308 | 259)
(319 | 230)
NE CD1-1
ME CD2-1
(335 | 219)
(351 | 203)
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.

Understandably, the fewer the number of polls to come out, the less the chances are to see any changes at FHQ (or anywhere else for that matter). And collectively this group of polls did not exactly shake the race from its current steady course. Missouri stayed in its position as the Lean Trump state next to the Lean/Toss Up line, but is still almost five points outside of the least competitive Toss Up Trump state (Texas). And Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania have dug into their positions on the Spectrum and are unlikely to, barring a string of contrary polls, to budge in the next two and a half weeks. But time will tell that tale. 

17 days to go.

Where things stood at FHQ on October 17 (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 Biden
to Toss Up Trump
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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