The State of the Race: August 17th

The US election is well under way. UPF Lund will be tracking the race for the White House weekly- not just in numbers, but in terms of what is actually going on across the United States. Join us every Monday for a fresh update on the state of the race.

Method Behind This Article

The statistics used in this article and the approximations given are the result of averaging. Numbers are taken from three different, more longitudinal polling averages for each state, as well as the District of Columbia. The three polls used are those of The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and the polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight. In 2016, The Washington Post overestimated Democrat support in the Midwest, but did call Florida for Trump prior to the election. The Los Angeles Times, which traditionally leans conservative, predicted Trump’s win in 2016 almost perfectly. FiveThirtyEight miscalled several states in 2016 due to state-level polling errors, but did show that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was running into trouble in its final weeks. In short, these three sources should, between them, reflect the state of the race well.

The Road to Two-Seventy

This week, Vice-President Biden retained his massive overall lead. Were the election to be held today, he would win three-hundred and fifty-three electoral votes to President Trump’s one-hundred and eighty-five. This week, both men are ahead by wafer-thin margins in three major states: Georgia, Ohio and Texas, representing a total of seventy-two electoral votes. Maine Second is also very much in play, with its single vote. So tight are these numbers, that even only the smallest of polling errors could hugely shift things in either direction. Elsewhere, traditionally-red Arizona nudged even further over into the blue column this week, while Biden’s minute lead in Delaware failed to increase. Biden represented Delaware in the Senate for decades. This tiny lead should be of concern to him. Similarly, Trump is still down by some way in the four states which handed him the presidency in 2016: Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Official portrait of President Donald J. Trump, Friday, October 6, 2017. (Photo: Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

Follow the Leader

Both men saw their leads in some safe states shrink this week. Biden saw his leads in Minnesota, New York, New Mexico and Massachusetts lessen. In fact, the situation in Minnesota is such that it is possible that it will become a swing state in the weeks to come. The news was equally glum for the President in the Deep South and the Corn Belt. Although still strongly in his column, Trump saw his leads in Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina decrease. Only in Kentucky did Trump increase an already-existing lead. The anomaly amidst this is Montana. Biden’s numbers have greatly increased there, but Trump’s lead in the state remains at about the same level, suggesting that more and more Montanans of both persuasions are making their minds up.

The Pendulum States

Traditionally, states like New Hampshire, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado and Ohio have been swing states, with Florida being the largest electoral swing prize of all. This election is different. Parts of the South are competitive, with Arizona, Arkansas and all of Nebraska moving further away from the Republicans. Equally, the Rust Belt is in play. Last time, four of these seven states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio – voted for Trump. Biden’s narrowing lead in Minnesota and the status of Ohio as a toss-up suggest that five of these seven states – New York and Illinois being the exceptions – are currently swing states. Nationally, polling has Biden 8.5% ahead of Trump. The Rust Belt state Michigan was the state that best represented that lead this week. Biden leads Trump by 7.7% there. Michigan is seen as a tipping-point state, so this is an interesting development.

Joe Biden (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

The Outliers

As always, Hawaii is a safely blue state, with Biden enjoying huge leads over Trump in the Aloha State. Alaska is a different picture. Since statehood in 1959, the Last Frontier has never given its three votes to a Democrat. For a brief while, Biden narrowly led in Alaska, but now Trump is comfortably ahead, albeit by a far lesser margin than would normally be expected for a Republican. Alaska is perhaps indicative of a race in which states that would normally be thought of as safe are becoming competitive.

The Tightest Races

Three states, Georgia, Ohio and Texas, currently have margins of under 1%, while Main Second sits at exactly 1%. Trump won all four in 2016. Texas is the most buoyant of these states. Both Biden and Trump have led there, with the state’s razor-thin margins switching almost from one week to the next. Currently, Trump is ahead by 0.5%, a lead almost halved from last week. Trump is also ahead in Georgia by 0.4%, again, this minute lead has been greatly reduced. Biden, however, leads in Ohio and Maine Second. His 0.6% lead in Ohio will be at the top of Team Trump’s target list, as no Republican has ever lost Ohio and then gone on to win the White House.

The National Picture

Overall, Biden’s lead in national polling increased by 0.7% this week to 8.5%. It is too early to put this down to the announcement that California Senator Kamala Harris is the first black woman to become a Vice-Presidential candidate. This will likely be reflected next week, if it will be at all. Biden is shoring up his support in some deep-blue states, but overall, his leads in softly-blue states and some swing states have shrunk. For Trump, his leads have shrunk across the board. Again, it is too early to put this down to his direct interference in postal balloting. This will, as with Harris becoming the Democrat VP candidate, be reflected next week, if at all.

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader Margin 2016 Winner
Arizona Biden 3.6% Trump
Arkansas Trump 2% Trump
Delaware Biden 1% Clinton
Georgia Trump 0.4% Trump
Iowa Trump 1.2% Trump
Maine Second Biden 1% Trump
Nebraska State-Wide Trump 2% Trump
Nebraska Second Biden 2% Trump
North Carolina Biden 1.7% Trump
Ohio Biden 0.6% Trump
Texas Trump 0.5% Trump
The Electoral College Map: 15 August 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

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