Friday, October 9, 2020

The Electoral College Map (10/9/20)

Update for October 9.

The end of another work week is here and with it is yet another opportunity to take stock of where the race for the White House currently stands. Time is ticking down toward November 3, millions have already voted across the country and President Trump did little this week to right his ship in the wake of the combined effects of his widely panned debate performance and his positive Covid test last week. In a broad sense, the status quo was maintained with Biden continuing to hold down a projected 335-203 advantage in the electoral vote tally. Under the surface, however, there was some evidence this week that the trajectory of momentum in the contest was toward the former vice president. No, it has not meant any changes in the tally, but states important to the president successfully defending his 2016 victory -- especially Florida and Pennsylvania -- began to see their margins begin to expand after a period in which both had largely leveled off (while still giving Biden the edge). That is not to say that other state-level polls did not show movement toward Biden, but the results elsewhere were a little more mixed. 

But with 25 days until voting concludes on November 3, Trump has painted himself into a corner without any clear way out. 

On to the day's polls...

Polling Quick Hits:
(Trump 48, Biden 44)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +3.12]
Arizona is a good example of those mixed results cited above. Of course, using a typically right-leaning Trafalgar Group survey as evidence of that may be unfair in this comparison. What was a one point lead in early August has expanded to four for Trump in the Grand Canyon state. But this poll has Biden at a level of support that has not been at or lower than since a June Redfield and Wilton poll. Trump, on the other hand, is at the top of his range. This survey, then does not exactly fit neatly in with other recent polls in Arizona where Biden has continued to lead pulling in a steady stream of polls with margins putting him up two to four points with some mid-single digit margins mixed in here and there. 

(Biden 50, Trump 40)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +12.77]
This is the first time Survey USA has been in the field to gauge presidential preference in the Centennial state in calendar 2020. And the once-battleground again looked less so in yet another Colorado poll. No, there have not been as many surveys in 2020 as in past cycles, but they have told a similar story over time.  With rare exception, Biden has been at or over 50 percent while Trump has been stuck around 40 percent all along. This poll was right on target on Trump's established share of support in the FHQ graduated weighted averages, but had Biden running a couple of points behind his. Nevertheless, the former vice president looks poised to comfortably claim Colorado's nine electoral votes on or after November 3. 

(Trump 46, Biden 43)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +3.44]
Over in the Sunshine state, Insider Advantage conducted a poll that had all the markings of the sporadic past surveys that have had Biden as low as 43 percent. Those polls, like the Kaiser poll in September or the Zogby Analytics survey from July, have tended to have an astronomical number of undecideds and respondents supporting minor party candidates. And while the Insider Advantage survey fits that description, if differs from polls of that ilk because it has Trump in the mid-40s. Past polls where Biden has been in the low 40s in Florida have also found Trump there as well. Both candidates were nearly equivalently affected by undecided/other. But that is not the case with this latest survey. It accurately captures Trump's share of support (relative to the FHQ averages), but finds Biden five points below his.

(Trump 48, Biden 46)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +0.15]
The last University of Georgia survey of the Peach state was a 47-47 tie that matched the rounded averages for both candidates. Trump inching up a point at Biden's expense in the time since then is a status quo outcome. At the very most, it is weak evidence of movement toward Trump. Instead, it is more likely further fodder for the argument that Georgia is close -- very close -- but ever so slightly tipped in favor of the president. 

(Biden 54, Trump 43)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +7.17]
Meanwhile, in Michigan, Emerson was in the field for the first time in calendar 2020 and found Biden up by a hefty 11 points. Double digit Biden advantages have not been non-existent but they have been fewer and farther between since the former vice president's polling surge across the country in June and July. And those polls have often been lost (especially in the Great Lakes state, the most frequently polled state of the year) amid a sea of mid- to upper single digit Biden-favorable margins. There is not evidence yet that the tide is turning on that front. This Emerson poll could be a sign of that, but it stands alone for the time being with Biden more than four points out ahead of his FHQ average share of support and Trump right on his. The more important thing at this point is probably that Biden's average share continues to track upward toward 50 percent. 

Nebraska CD2
(Biden 53, Trump 42)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +7.72]
Recently, FHQ argued that Michigan and the Omaha area second district in Nebraska were tracking closely with one another in their swings since 2016. And coincidentally enough, the new FM3 Research survey of the 2nd shows the same 11 point advantage that the Emerson poll above had Biden ahead in the Great Lakes state. But while double digit Biden leads have occasioned the data in Michigan, this is first such poll result in the Nebraska district. It has Biden at his high water mark in polling of the Omaha area while Trump is toward the lower end of his (limited) range. Unlike in Michigan, however, the former vice president has already topped 50 percent in his average share of support in the Nebraska's second. 

New Hampshire
(Biden 53, Trump 41)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +10.64]
Honestly, FHQ was a bit leery of New Hampshire shifting into the Strong Biden category on the weight of the four waves of Survey Monkey polls being added last weekend. But the latest St. Anselm update in the Granite state backs up that move. Since the college pollsters last survey in August, Biden has gained a couple of points while Trump has trailed off by two of his own. But while Biden's gain puts him in line with his current average level of support at FHQ, it runs a little below where Trump has settled in there. Yet, a state that Clinton narrowly carried four years ago is looking more comfortably blue in 2020.

New Jersey
(Biden 53, Trump 38)
[Current FHQ margin: Biden +18.93]
New Jersey has not been surveyed all that frequently in calendar 2020, but it is one of those blue states that still favors Biden but on a level roughly equivalent to Hillary Clinton in 2016. To the extent there has been any shift there in the time since is all on Trump. And the president lags more than four points behind his 2016 pace. However, in the new Fairleigh Dickinson poll, it is the former vice president who fell behind his average share of support at FHQ as Trump is modestly above his. Interestingly though, this poll very closely mirrors the survey the university pollster conducted (but among registered instead of likely voters) in the Garden state in February. Biden is exactly where he was then and Trump added a bit of support (three points). It is not enough to bring the president in range in the state in which he once owned an Atlantic City casino, but it does have him toward the top of his range while Biden is near his nadir and still up 15.

(Biden 50, Trump 49 via Public Policy Polling | Trump 50, Biden 45 via YouGov)
[Current FHQ margin: Trump +1.68]
For the second consecutive day, Texas had two polls released that told differing stories. Public Policy Polling continues to find the race for the Lone Star state's 38 electoral votes within a point. That is now four PPP surveys in a row dating back to August that paint that picture. Consistency is also a feature of YouGov's surveys alongside the University of Texas. But rather than a one point advantage one way or the other, YouGov/UT have had Trump up four to five points. This is the first update since June, but all four polls the pairing has conducted have had Trump approaching or at 50 percent and Biden in the mid-40s. The FHQ averages would seem to indicate that PPP is closer on the margin, but that it has both candidates running out in front of their average shares. But YouGov/UT have been good at charting out Biden's support relative to the averages while finding Trump ahead of his share of support. Texas is close, but is really a lot like the North Carolina of the Trump coalition of states at this point. The average margins in the two Sun Belt states are now converging on one another. 

Redfield and Wilton Strategies (first October wave of battleground polls)

North Carolina: Biden +5 (Biden +2, Trump -1 since last September wave[Current FHQ margin: Biden +1.65]
Florida: Biden +5 (Biden +1, Trump +1)
Arizona: Biden +6 (Biden +2, Trump -1)
Pennsylvania: Biden +7 (Biden -1, Trump -2) [Current FHQ margin: Biden +5.51]
Michigan: Biden +8 (Biden -1, Trump +/-0)
Wisconsin: Biden +10 (Biden +3, Trump -2) [Current FHQ margin: Biden +6.19]

In concluding, FHQ will not linger too long on yet another wave of polls in the six core battlegrounds from Redfield and Wilton Strategies. Again, the movement is pretty subtle from the last wave to now. But Biden is now up by five or more points in all six states. And Trump needs at least North Carolina, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania -- in that order -- to get to 270 electoral votes. That the president needs to make up seven points in 25 days through the R&W lens is quite a steep climb. The order of the six generally holds up in this new set with one exception. Wisconsin is way off on the high end rather than Michigan. These are Biden favorable numbers across the board in a wave that was in the field after both the first debate and the president's Covid diagnosis. But the former vice president did not create more distance between himself and the president in all six states. Rather, that was the case in only four of the six with Wisconsin swinging the most. 

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.

It has been a busy polling week on the state level, and Friday did not break that trend. Still, another poll-heavy day did little to disrupt what has become commonplace around FHQ. The map stayed stuck on Biden 335-203 with no states changing categories. And no states emerged to add themselves to the Watch List of possibilities for such category shifts. But there were a couple of minor changes on the Electoral College Spectrum. Nebraska's second congressional district continued to share the same cell with Michigan, but moved past the Great Lakes state deeper into the order on the Biden side of the partisan line. New Jersey, on the other hand, moved in the opposite direction, swapping spots with Oregon and moving closer to the partisan line separating both candidates' coalitions of states. No, the Garden state is not in any danger of moving out of that middle Democratic column, but it did move down a slot. 

But with 25 days to go, this remains a pretty steady race with some uneven evidence of things shifting in Biden's direction in the state-level polling. 

Where things stood at FHQ on October 9 (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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