The state of the race: October 12th

The Road to Two-Seventy

This week, for a third successive week, President Trump lost a state. Iowa, six votes, moved to Vice-President Biden’s column. Despite a strong recovery in the Hawkeye State last week, a Trump lead of 1.5% has become a Biden lead of 1.1%. The dramatic shift in Iowa is indicative of a week which saw Trump lose – and lose badly. In Texas, Trump’s lead was cut by 0.8%, down to 1.7%. Biden’s leads increased in Arizona, Georgia and, crucially for Team Trump, Ohio. In North Carolina, one of the vertebrae of any Trump path to the White House, Biden’s lead increased by 1.5%, up to 2.8%, one of his healthiest leads yet in the Old North State. In Wisconsin, the probable national tipping-point state, Biden’s lead rose by 0.5%, up to 7.3%. But the real body-blow to Trump came in Florida. The Sunshine State, twenty-nine votes, is no longer a swing state. Biden now leads there by 4.3%, a 1.8% increase from last week. Only in Maine Second, one vote, did Trump achieve. There, Biden’s lead of 3% became Trump’s lead of 8%. The district is now comfortably red. Maine Second aside, Trump lost across the board. His leads fell in every state, even in the likes of Oklahoma, Wyoming and South Dakota. This was reflected in national polling. Biden’s lead increased by a quite incredible 2.5%, up to 10.1%. Trump’s assumed electoral tally now stands at one-hundred and sixty-four votes to Biden’s three-hundred and seventy-four votes. Despite the Biden surge this week, Team Trump do still have a few aces up their sleeve, as the swing in Maine Second shows.

Follow the Leader

The momentum was with Biden this week. Unlike in other weeks which have favoured Biden, it was not just momentum in strongly blue states; Biden surged across the board. Even in some of the reddest states, like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah and Alabama, Trump’s leads fell hard. In Alabama, Trump now stands at 56.7% – a poor showing for a Republican in the Yellowhammer State. Team Trump targeted four states this week: Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Iowa. Senior members of Trump’s team and his cabinet attended rallies and campaigned across these four states. It appears to have backfired to the point where Iowa has now actually shifted columns. Team Trump have long been accused of only campaigning in a way that appeals to the Trump base. The huge shifts in Iowa and Florida this week do lend some credence to that accusation. Team Trump have roundly failed to increase the bar in Iowa, claw back Georgia or shift their two most important states, Florida and North Carolina, into their column. Both Team Trump and Team Biden are pumping tens of millions of dollars into campaigning in Florida. For Team Trump, this appears to be money down the drain. It is very possible that it is now too close to the election for Trump to recover in Florida. As more and more money was being thrown into the Florida race, Team Trump made a very curious move: they pulled all big campaigning in Ohio. Ohio, eighteen votes, is essential to any Republican candidate. Currently, Biden leads by 0.9% in the Buckeye State, an increase of 0.4% from last week. Some in the media have speculated if this means that the Trump campaign is running short on cash. More realistically, Team Trump is now tackling one or two states at once due to the sheer scale of the task ahead of them between now and 3 November. To this end, Florida and Iowa appear to have been the main points of focus this week for Team Trump. But Team Trump must also sound their ship elsewhere. The President’s leads fell dramatically in Kansas, South Carolina and Missouri this week. His fall in South Carolina is such that it is entirely possible that the Palmetto State will become a swing state next week.

The Chamber of the Iowa General Assembly. This week, the Hawkeye State became the third state to move to Biden in as many weeks. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Pendulum States

On the surface, Biden is on track to win – and win big. But there are still question marks making manoeuvres that mean that the race is still very much alive. Firstly, there is the fact that some states, including swing states like North Carolina and Ohio, have been open for early voting for almost a month now. Voting began as early as 17 September in some states, when Trump was doing well and gaining ground. Some states accept postal votes only, others allow both postal and in-person voting at select locations. It is unknown how many Americans have already voted and whether they were Democrats, Republicans or unaffiliated. As excellent a week as Biden had this week, it is very much possible that, in the tightest states, enough ballots have already been cast to swing it one way or the other. In addition to this great unknown, Maine Second should also be causing concern for Team Biden. It may only have one vote, but the swing in Maine Second was huge this week, even as Biden cemented his large lead in the popular vote in the Pine Tree State. Maine Second is in one of the bluest parts of the country: the North-East. Trump’s sudden, huge swing there might indicate that, potentially, something is being missed on the ground. Some states are not being polled as much as others, as it is assumed that they are safe. Blue states are disproportionately represented in this group. Maine, four votes, Virginia, thirteen votes, and Oregon, seven votes, are the three under-polled states that Team Biden ought to be keeping an eye on. As things stand, Maine will split its votes. As for Virginia, it has not been in serious contention at any point during this race. But it was considered a swing state in 2016 and, whilst becoming ever bluer, is not all the way there yet. As for Oregon, much of the state is Republican. It is only the cities of Portland and Corvallis that keep the Beaver State blue. A lower turnout in either of these cities could lead to an upset. In 2016, Wisconsin and Michigan were woefully under-polled, and the gains that Trump was making went almost unnoticed. The sudden Trump surge in Maine Second does beg the question of whether or not this is happening again.

The Outliers

Broadly speaking, in the United States, rural areas are more Republican and cities more Democrat. Teton County, Wyoming is a notable exception to this rule. Wyoming, three votes, is the reddest state in the country. But, on the border with Idaho and Montana, sits Teton. Teton last voted for a Republican in 2000, even resisting the red tide as Trump swept the rest of the Equality State in 2016. Teton is a largely rural county. Its seat, Jackson, is home to about a third of the population. The county is also home to Grand Teton National Park and part of Yellowstone National Park. As such, the county is incredibly rural. Wyomingites who live in more rural parts of Teton can largely live in isolation if they choose so. Yet the county votes Democrat time and time again. Given how strongly Republican Wyoming is, there is no clear reason as to why Teton’s voting habits are as they are. Teton is 88% white, has an average income above that of most of the rest of Wyoming, but still lower than the national average, and has a seasonal economy heavily reliant on tourism. It is an anomaly for which there is no obvious explanation. But if Teton is unusual, then Alaska, three votes, sits in diametric opposition to the national trend. The Last Frontier is the largest state of all. Well over half of the state’s 710,000 inhabitants live in Anchorage, the largest city, or Juneau, the state capital. The Anchorage and Juneau Metropolitan Areas are among the reddest parts of the state. Upstate Alaska, however, where people are few and far between, is softly Democratic. But unlike Teton County, there is an answer as to why this anomaly exists: demographics. The populations of Anchorage and Juneau are largely white. The rural areas further north are more evenly split between white and indigenous people. As is seen with indigenous people and tribes across the United States, they overwhelmingly vote Democrat. However, Alaska’s indigenous population is not large enough to actually shift the state as a whole blue. It is often lazily assumed that a voting habit or intention is generalisable within a whole demographic. However, in the case of indigenous Alaskans, this is actually true.

The Northern Lights in the extreme north of Alaska. The Last Frontier is the only state in which rural areas are more Democratic than urban areas. (Photo: Noel Bauza/Pixabay)

The Tightest Races

This week, there were two toss-ups: Georgia and Ohio, each standing at 0.9%. In both states, Biden increased his lead, by 0.5% and 0.4% respectively. As Team Trump appears to have suspended all major activities in Ohio for the time being, then it is very possible that Biden will continue to build his lead there next week. Elsewhere, Iowa and Texas sat over the 1% threshold, at 1.1% and 1.7% respectively. The swing towards Biden in Iowa was so large it is no longer a toss-up. Equally, Texas, which only last week looked as though it was moving further into the red column, shifted more purple. Only in Nebraska First did Trump hold ground. He still leads by 2% in the district. The electoral map is, as things stand, so dire for Trump that it is hard to know where to begin. The most logical first step would be for Team Trump to try to bring the naturally-red swing states back into their column: Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina. This is already a huge ask without the fact that Team Trump are now having to do battle in other normally-red states, like South Carolina and Kansas. If the President does not begin to rapidly gain a lot of ground next week, then a herculean task might just become a Sisyphean one.

The National Picture

Although not as mad-dash as last week, this week was still chaotic. The outbreak of Covid-19 at the White House has been at the forefront of the national conversation this week. There are now thirty-six confirmed cases of Covid-19 linked to the outbreak. Three people are critically ill in hospital. Last week, the President himself was admitted to hospital. Upon his discharge earlier this week, he returned to the White House. In full media bravado, Trump removed his mask outside of the building as he waved to supporters and the media. The move sparked outrage across the world. Soon afterwards, it emerged that the White House was not mandating masks nor any other kind of PPE for its staff. Throughout all of this, the White House has been accused of evasion, as it has not clearly answered questions surrounding the timeline of the outbreak nor whether those who have potentially been exposed to the virus are self-isolating. Amidst all this, Trump refused to take part in the next presidential debate, due to be held in Miami, Florida on 15 October, as the organisers want to hold the debate virtually. Against this backdrop, the vice-presidential debate took place between incumbent Vice-President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris in Salt Lake City, Utah. Social media was abuzz when a fly landed on the Vice-President’s hair and stayed there for several minutes. The Vice-President seemed blissfully unaware. But it was Senator Harris who stole the show. The Vice-President repeatedly interrupted and tried to talk over Senator Harris, leading her to reply with, “Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking” on multiple occasions. This has now become a rallying cry for Team Biden and it is a line that does appear to be cutting through across the political spectrum, particularly among female voters. Senator Harris’s words and the perceived inability of the White House to answer basic questions about the Covid-19 outbreak might well impact the polls. If this is to be so, then it will be reflected next week.

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader

Margin

2016 Winner

Arizona Biden

3.7%

Trump

Georgia Biden

0.9%

Trump

Iowa Biden

1.1%

Trump

Nebraska First Trump

2%

Trump

North Carolina Biden

2.8%

Trump

Ohio Biden

0.9%

Trump

Texas Trump

1.7%

Trump

The Electoral College Map: 12 October 2020 (Courtesy of 270ToWin)

Note: A state is considered to be a swing state if the leading margin is 4.0% or less. A state is considered to be a safe state if the leading margin is 10.0% or greater.

Luke Sandford