The State of the Race: September 7th

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

The Road to Two-Seventy

This week, once again, there was no change in the assumed electoral tallies for both President Trump and Vice-President Biden: two-hundred and three votes to three-hundred and thirty-five. But make no mistake, this week will go down as the week when the presidential race truly began. Biden’s lead plummeted by 2.5% in Florida, meaning that the Sunshine State, with its twenty-nine electoral votes, is now in play. Elsewhere, Biden’s leads notably decreased in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan. Wisconsin is now the only purple Rust Belt state in which Biden’s lead is holding up. In the Deep South, Trump shored up his leads in deeply-red states that had been leaning purple, with good recoveries in Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi and South Carolina. Trump’s ‘convention bounce’ was on full display this week. Nationally, he cut Biden’s lead by 1.6%. 7% is still an extremely healthy lead for a challenger, but Team Trump have certainly managed to revive their fortunes this week.

Follow the Leader

This week, the momentum was very much with Trump – and it has switched the race up. Trump gained ground in the Deep South and the Corn Belt after weeks of seeing deeply-red states turn increasingly purple. In the Rust Belt, Biden’s drops in Pennsylvania and Minnesota were so dramatic that they might well become swing states next week. Pennsylvania has twenty votes, Minnesota ten. Losing these states would be a blow to Biden. Even though Biden still leads in all of the Rust Belt except for Ohio, this will probably be unnerving Team Biden. Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota tend to vote as a group. For many election cycles, they solidly voted Democrat together. In 2016, Trump took Wisconsin and Michigan as a pair, with Hillary Clinton only just holding on in Minnesota. Now, they are a group again – and are all in play together. But it is also in the Rust Belt where there is good news for Biden in what has been a difficult week for his numbers. Wisconsin has taken on an unexpectedly high profile in this election and, alongside Florida, is now seen as a tipping-point state, that is, a state that will probably decide who wins this race. In Wisconsin, Biden actually increased his lead this week, up from 5.9% to 7.4%, a strong increase in only a week. Biden’s increase in Wisconsin and his plummet in Florida ably demonstrate the nature of this election: there are not that many undecided voters left, yet they are key to this election. As American elections are numbers games, these two states show how crucial undecided voters are in the swing states. But if, for example, on 3 November, Biden flips Wisconsin while Trump holds Florida, then the 2020 election could well go down to the wire, coming down, as in 2016, to just a few thousand votes in the right places.

A panorama of Miami, the largest metropolitan area in Florida. (Photo: Ralph Nas, Pixabay)

The Pendulum States

This week, the swing states were mixed. Both Team Trump and Team Biden had a good week, in some senses. For Trump, his leads in Ohio and Iowa increased to the point where it might well that they are now moving comfortably into his column. Alongside that, Trump made major headway in Florida, whilst also increasing his small lead in Georgia. Conversely, North Carolina stayed stubbornly in Biden’s column, with his 1.8% lead in the state holding steady. Biden also managed to reduce Trump’s already thin lead in Texas by 0.4%, down to 0.5%. This week, Texas was the only race under 1%. Trump’s leads in Ohio and Georgia crossed the 1% threshold. Better, more representative polling is now starting to be carried out in Texas – and it is telling an intriguing story. Due to demographical changes, Texas has become much more purple over the last few election cycles, but now polling is giving a clearer insight into what is happening there. The south-west of Texas, where it borders both Mexico and the state of New Mexico, has long been bluer than the rest of the state. Houston, in the very south, has also long been a Democratic stronghold. But these blue areas are now expanding into surrounding counties and other major cities elsewhere, like Dallas and Galveston. It appears as though Texas is going the way of Florida, in that there is strong geographical division. The coastal areas, the south-west and Dallas are becoming Democratic, the rest of the state is, for now, still strongly Republican. No matter who wins Texas this year, the shift in the state should be of concern to the Republican Party. With thirty-eight votes, Texas is by far the largest red prize. It is to the Republicans what California and its fifty-five votes is to the Democrats: essential. Without Texas, it becomes much harder for a Republican candidate to win the White House. But the election is still almost two months away. Anything could yet happen in the Lone Star State.

The Outliers

In every election, most interest and energy is, understandably, directed towards the swing states. Amidst all the hustle and speculation as to how Florida, the Rust Belt and Texas will tip, it is easy to forget that dozens of states have already largely decided how they will vote. In 2016, Hawaii replaced Massachusetts as the bluest state. In that election, Wyoming reinforced its position as the reddest state, with some of the most Republican counties in the country being there. Hawaii last gave its four votes to a Republican in 1984, but it is demography that explains why the Aloha State is the bluest in the nation. Hawaii has a plurality of Asian people, a large number of people who are indigenous or are Pacific Islanders and, as a proportion of the population, the largest LGBT community in the United States. These three groups all overwhelmingly vote Democrat, ensuring that Hillary Clinton picked up 62.9% of the popular vote, as well as every county, back in 2016. Overall, Hawaii is by far the most diverse state in the nation, with only about 27% of the population being white. Demographics also explain why Wyoming is the reddest state. The Equality State last gave its three votes to a Democrat all the way back in 1964, when it voted for Lyndon B. Johnson. The Corn Belt is mostly rural, with sparse populations reliant on highly localised economies rooted in agriculture. Wyoming is indicative of this. The state is about 92% white. Within this, Wyomingites are less likely to have a college degree than the average American. Additionally, the average income in Wyoming is lower than the national average. As such, Wyomingites are generally poorer than most Americans. As it is a largely rural state, there is also less direct access to healthcare and other amenities for many Wyomingites. Put simply, Wyoming’s traits and demographics are naturally geared towards the Republican Party and, more explicitly, the Trump base. Despite this, Hillary Clinton did manage to win one county in 2016: Teton. Even though Wyoming was his strongest state, West Virginia and Oklahoma were the two states in which Trump won every county.

The Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Photo: Sharon Kehl Califano, Pixabay)

The Tightest Races

Texas aside, Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina and Maine Second all stood at under 2%. Once above 1%, a state is no longer considered to be a toss-up, but these are all still extremely tight races. Trump increased his margins in all but North Carolina and Maine Second, which bullishly maintained Biden leads of 1.8% and 1% respectively. But it is too early to tell whether Trump is starting to pull ahead in the swing states or whether these shifts are merely a result of his ‘convention bounce’. In 2016, Trump briefly drew level with Hillary Clinton following the Republican National Convention, even fleetingly going into the lead in some states that he would go on to lose, like Nevada and Virginia. In 2012, Mitt Romney began to lead Barack Obama after that year’s Republican convention, leading his team to believe that they were on course to make Obama a one-term president. Due to the unique, online way that the conventions were held this year, it is too early to say whether Trump is gaining real momentum or whether his bounce will diminish. This should become clearer next week.

The National Picture

Trump’s closure of the gap with Biden this week was substantial: 1.6%. But, then again, Biden’s 0.5% increase the week before was also substantial. Immediately after the conventions, polling often becomes messier and less clear as both candidates enjoy bounces. This is why, as things stand, it is difficult to tell if America is shifting one way or the other. But if the conventions have affected polling, then the social unrest with which some states are currently grappling is sure to do so as well. Violent, deadly unrest in Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin has shocked the world. In Portland, the violence stems from protests against the Trump administration and what the people of Portland perceive as gross overreach by the federal government in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in the city. In Kenosha, the city exploded after police officers short and critically injured another unarmed black man: Jacob Blake. The protests that followed descended into chaos after a young white supremacist shot dead two protesters. Much of central Kenosha has now been badly damaged or destroyed. Both Trump and Biden have visited Kenosha and have made their stances crystal clear. Trump has unilaterally backed the officers who shot Jacob Blake. Biden privately met with the Blake family and called on Trump to condemn the white supremacist who killed protesters. Trump is using events in Kenosha to hammer home his central campaign message of law and order. Biden is using events in Kenosha to highlight his message of a ‘return to normal’. The 2016 election was incredibly divisive and ultimately split American society in two. The 2020 election may just take that divisiveness to the next level.

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader Margin 2016 Winner
Arkansas Trump 2% Trump
Florida Biden 2.8% Trump
Georgia Trump 1.4% Trump
Iowa Trump 1.6% Trump
Maine Second Biden 1% Trump
Nebraska State-Wide Trump 2% Trump
North Carolina Biden 1.8% Trump
Ohio Trump 1.8% Trump
Texas Trump 0.5% Trump

The Electoral College Map: 7 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