The State of the Race: September 14th

For the method used in this article check out our series starter.

The Road to Two-Seventy

Once again, there was no change to the assumed electoral tallies of both President Trump and Vice-President Biden: two-hundred and three votes to three-hundred and thirty-five votes. As always, these numbers are but the tip of the iceberg. This week, Biden increased his lead over Trump by 0.5%, up to 7.5%. After his sharp drop last week, this is a good recovery – and it is clear where Biden has picked up this fresh support. Trump’s leads shrank in most of the swing states, with Ohio returning to being a toss-up. Nebraska First also entered the race as Trump’s lead there crashed down to 2%. However, this fall may be due to the emergence of better polling across the country over the last fortnight, as opposed to a sudden trail-off in support. Trump’s ‘convention bounce’ did fade away this week, but the President is still stronger in the Rust Belt, Florida and many deeply-red states than he was before the Republican National Convention took place. 

Hastings, Nebraska. The Cornhusker State is becoming increasingly purple. (Photo: Pixabay)

Follow the Leader

This week, the story of the race was not told solely by the swing states. True insights into what is happening on the ground came from the Rust Belt, the Deep South and Nebraska. The Rust Belt, once strongly blue, is now purple. The Deep South, once a deep shade of red, is heading the same way – and Nebraska is following suit. Across the Rust Belt, Biden’s leads held. He even managed to halve Trump’s lead in Ohio, down to 0.9%. But in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, there was a slight drop in Biden’s support – these drops were just not as large as Trump’s were. This suggests that, with less than two months until Election Day, voters are drifting away from both camps. The more undecided voters there are in a state, the more unpredictable that state becomes. Countering this is the Deep South. In most Deep South states, there are fewer and fewer undecided voters. Following his post-convention recoveries in states like Kansas, South Carolina, Missouri and Mississippi, Trump is still stronger than he was here before his convention. But, problematically for Team Trump, undecided voters are, as thing stand, tending to break for Biden. Even in deeply-red states that are not remotely in play, like Alabama and Tennessee, Biden is currently putting in a better-than-usual showing for a Democrat. It is also possible that this trend is starting to spill over into the Corn Belt. Nebraska is now becoming more purple. Nebraska Second is now comfortably in Biden’s column. Similarly, Nebraska First has now become a swing district and, as such, Nebraska State-Wide is very much in play. Only Nebraska Third is still strongly Trump. In the north of the Corn Belt, Trump’s lead in Montana is also starting to look a little less firm as more and more undecided voters move towards Biden. Nebraska may only have five votes, and Montana three, but if things are tight, these states could make all the difference for either candidate. 

The Pendulum States

In the run-up to every election, there is always a lot of chatter about tipping-point states. Put simply, the tipping-point state is the state that decides the outcome of the election. Whoever wins the tipping-point state, wins the White House. For many election cycles, the tipping point state was Florida. As it has twenty-nine votes, Florida has traditionally decided the president. In 2016, Florida was, as usual, seen as the tipping-point state. However, on Election Night, as votes were being counted and states were being called, it became clear that Wisconsin, with its ten votes, was actually more vital to both Trump and Hillary Clinton than Florida. In 2016, Wisconsinites captured the political mood of the nation more than Floridians did. Then, in the 2018 Midterms, Florida was slightly redder than the nation as a whole. Wisconsin was, again, more indicative of how America voted in those elections. This time around, there might be more than one tipping-point state due to how unusual the electoral map currently looks. Wisconsin looks set to take pride of place as the national tipping-point state. Whoever wins Wisconsin will likely dominate the Rust Belt and will win a clear path to the White House. However, New Hampshire and Texas have also taken on a sort of tipping-point status. If Trump wins New Hampshire, he will probably retain Maine Second, flip Maine State-Wide and potentially even win Virginia. Conversely, if Biden flips Texas, then he will probably also flip Arkansas, South Carolina, Kansas and possibly even Missouri. This is because, like Wisconsin is nationally, New Hampshire is an indicator of the political mood in the North-East, as is Texas in the Deep South. In essence, these two states are regional bellwethers.

Vintern, Mill, Wisconsin, Hyde, Landskap Naturskön
A wintery river in Hyde, Wisconsin. The Badger State is likely to become this election’s national tipping-point state. (Photo: goodfreephotos.com)

The Outliers

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia award their electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis: whoever wins the most votes, even if it is only a plurality, wins all of that state’s votes. Two states, however, do it differently. Maine, four votes, and Nebraska, five votes, award their votes using their congressional districts. Each congressional district has one vote. Maine has two congressional districts, Nebraska three. These two states then award two extra votes to whichever candidate has won the popular vote in that state. Maine has been doing this since 1972, Nebraska since 1992. Until 2008, neither state had split their votes. That year, Barack Obama carried Nebraska Second as part of his landslide win. In 2016, Maine Second unexpectedly turned red as Trump carved out his path to the White House. With the electoral map becoming more unusual, it is very possible that both Maine and Nebraska will split their votes on 3 November.

The Tightest Races

This week, there were two states with margins of under 1%: Texas (0.8%) and Ohio (0.9%). But these two states went in opposite directions. Trump’s lead in Ohio was halved, while it increased by 0.3% in Texas. Despite the sizeable shift in Ohio this week, Biden did not have a good week in two of the larger swing states: Florida and North Carolina. After his plunge last week in Florida, Biden saw another reduction in his lead, down 0.1% to 2.7%. Team Trump is targeting Florida heavily with a state-wide media blitz. The mixture of attack ads, Keep America Great and high-profile speeches being delivered there appears to be shifting the dial in the Sunshine State. In 2016, Trump carried Florida as he was able to energise his base there in a way that Hillary Clinton was just unable to match. It appears as though Trump may well be motivating his Floridian base once again. In North Carolina, Biden’s lead fell by 0.4%, down to 1.4%. Team Trump has begun heavily campaigning in the Old North State as they try to return it to Trump’s column. But if Team Trump is managing to shift the dial in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, then the opposite is true of Maine and Nebraska. Biden’s lead in Maine Second leapt from 1% to 4% this week. Maine unexpectedly swung heavily Republican in 2016. As things stand, Biden is rebuilding and reinforcing support in the Pine Tree State. In Nebraska, Biden’s lead in the Second district reached 11% this week. It is now safely blue. Nebraska First also came into play as Trump’s lead nosedived there. As Nebraska Second has the largest population of the Cornhusker State’s three congressional districts, Nebraska State-Wide, worth two votes, is now very much purple.

The National Picture

As Trump’s ‘convention bounce’ hit Biden’s lead hard last week, Team Biden have doubled-down on the attack ads. Adverts accusing Trump of incompetency, apathy and negligence have been broadcast across the nation. The natural fading of Trump’s ‘convention bounce’ combined with these ads might well explain Biden’s 0.5% recovery this week. This week, two revelations have emerged about the Trump Administration. Firstly, that the marriage between President Trump and the First Lady is purely one of convenience. Secondly, that Trump knew how dangerous Covid-19 was before it reached the United States, but deliberately sought to “play down the risk” in order to avoid panic. As the United States is by far the country worst-hit by the virus, this revelation in particular may resonate strongly in the race. Far from being a gift for Team Biden, however, the fallout from these revelations has been so loud that Biden’s campaign has almost been drowned out over the last few days. This could end up causing more voters to switch to being undecided. However, both revelations only emerged at the end of last week. It is still far too early to tell if there will be any impact on polling. That should be seen next week, if it will be at all. 

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader Margin 2016 Winner
Arkansas Trump 2% Trump
Florida Biden 2.7% Trump
Georgi Trump 1.5% Trump
Iowa Trump 1.6% Trump
Maine Second Biden 4% Trump
Nebraska First Trump 2% Trump
North Carolina Biden 1.4% Trump
Ohio Trump 0.9% Trump
Texas Trump 0.8% Trump
The Electoral College Map: 14 September 2020 (Courtesy of 270ToWin)

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

Luke Sandford