State of the Race: 24 August

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 saw his electoral vote tally drop to three-hundred and thirty-five to President Trump’s two-hundred and three. Were the election to be held this Tuesday, Biden would still secure a strong victory. But the electoral vote change this week ably demonstrates the power of a single larger state: in this case, Ohio. Ohio, with its eighteen electoral votes, was the only state to change columns this week, moving from Biden to Trump. But these eighteen votes got President Trump over the two-hundred line for the first time. All Republicans who have ever won the White House have won Ohio, so this shift will be welcome news for Team Trump. Elsewhere, Arizona, once ruby red, ceased to be a swing state. As Biden now leads there by 4.3%, Arizona is, for this week at least, a blue state. Elsewhere in the South, Trump saw his leads shrink in places like Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. American pollsters rarely collect qualitative data, but this drop could well be due to the President’s recent attacks on the United States Postal Service (USPS), a federal agency. Nationally, Biden increased his lead over Trump by 0.1% to 8.6% this week. Biden’s support in swing states in the Rust Belt – with the exception of Ohio – and the North-East generally increased a little, while red-leaning swing states in the Deep South and the Corn Belt generally swung a little towards Trump.

Ohio was the only state to change hands this week. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Follow the Leader

In most of the states currently in play, Trump had a better week than Biden. The glaring exception to this is Nebraska Second. Through an enormous swing, Biden’s lead in Nebraska Second has gone from 2% to 7% in just one week. This may well be down to the emergence of better, more reliable polling in the district, alongside an overall move towards blue. Biden also increased his leads on the West Coast, in safe areas of the North-East and in Florida. Trump, however, did not have as good a week as the southern swing states would suggest. It is important to remember that states like Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska would not normally be in play; they would normally be safely red. The fact that these states are currently purple shows how difficult the map is for Trump at the moment. This week, Trump also saw two more red states nudge further towards the blue column: Kansas and Louisiana. Come November, if the situation has not changed, Biden will probably only need to win the Rust Belt, Arizona, Florida and one or two of these newly-purple states in order to clinch the presidency.

The Pendulum States

This week, Ohio remained as the only traditional swing state. With a well-educated, mixed urban population and an overwhelmingly white rural population, Ohio’s demographics explain its status as a swing state. Trump does particularly well among white voters without a college degree. This is also probably why he is currently leading in Iowa. But demographics can shift over time – and this is exactly what has happened in Texas and Georgia. Both states were once largely white with a static population, ones that mostly stayed in these states for their whole lives. But this has changed. The modernisation and regeneration of Atlanta has attracted people from across the United States to Georgia. This has shifted the demographics towards a more liberal make-up. Additionally, tax and business incentives put forward by the Georgia state government have attracted many black and Latino entrepreneurs from neighbouring states like Alabama and South Carolina, further shifting the demographics. Coupled with this is the fact that staunch Republicans are more likely to be older. Put bluntly, they are beginning to die. Similarly, many Texans have become better educated over the years. Those with a college degree are more likely to vote Democrat – and Texas has increasing numbers of voters in this broad demographic. Industry has also driven this change. More and more multinational companies are setting up shop in Texas; the state is no longer the exclusive preserve of big oil. These new businesses and commercial centres are attracting people from across the United States and beyond. The non-white, out-of-state population has mostly grown in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, but even smaller cities like San Antonio and Corpus Christi have seen an influx. Put simply, Georgia and Texas are becoming less white and more urbanised, trends which do not fit the profiles of traditional Republican voters. Georgia seems to be a little more purple than Texas, however. Georgians have elected Democrats to both local and state offices in recent years. In 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams even came within sixty-thousand votes of winning the Governor’s Mansion – a result that was once unthinkable in the Peach State.

The Outliers

One state that is conspicuous by its absence is Florida. With its twenty-nine electoral votes, Florida usually decides who will be president – and is at the centre of a political and media storm in the run up to every presidential election. Of the five elections held this century, Florida has been won by less than 3% in four of them – and was won on plurality only in 2016. Currently, Biden leads Trump in the Sunshine State by 5.9%, meaning that Florida is, as things stand, blue. Florida is such a swing state as, broadly speaking, it has a deeply Democrat population on its peninsula and a deeply Republican population in its panhandle. In Florida, elections are mostly won on turnout. In 2016, Trump energised his voters in the state more than Hillary Clinton did. But with Biden holding a lead like this, it is unclear how Trump could energise his voters strongly enough to carry the state. But 3 November is still a long way off. All could yet change in Florida. But if the absence of Florida is a surprise, then the absence of Vigo County should be even more of one. Located in the west of Indiana, Vigo County is a quiet, semi-rural place. But it holds the status of being America’s ultimate bellwether. With only two exceptions, Vigo County has voted with the president in every election since 1888. Vigo is a mostly white county. It has a below-average number of residents with college degrees. It has a higher-than-average unemployment rate. It is not clear why Vigo is such a bellwether – it simply is. On Election Night, Indiana will probably be among the first states to be called. Whoever loses Vigo County would do well to begin preparing their concession speech at that point.

Vigo County, Indiana (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Tightest Races

This week, Georgia and Ohio had margins of under 1%, while Delaware, Iowa, North Carolina and Maine Second all stood at exactly 1%. The swings in these states were mixed. Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina all moved towards Trump. Iowa moved towards Biden, while Delaware and Maine Second remained unchanged. While this may seem jumbled, it simply appears as though traditionally-red states are possibly moving back towards being red, blue states are staying blue and Ohio and Iowa are as close as you would expect a swing state to normally be. Overall, the swing states were not too representative of the national view this week.

The National Picture

Last week, the Democratic National Convention took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as well as virtually, a first for a convention. However, due to this unusual way of holding a convention, there is unlikely to be the typical ‘convention bounce’ in the polls. It will likely be the same for the Republican National Convention, which will be livestreamed from Charlotte, North Carolina this week. Similarly, Kamala Harris has not had an obvious effect on the polls. The Democrat VP candidate was announced the week before last in a media blitz. She is a fierce orator and a strong campaigner. It could well be that she is quietly shoring up support in the Rust Belt and the North-East through minority voters. This is only speculative, however. Vice-Presidential candidates rarely have any major impact on the polls – Sarah Palin being a notable exception in 2008. Over in Trump’s corner, his continued attacks on postal voting, as well as the revelation that he himself will be voting by post in Florida, could be an explanation as to why his leads are weakening in multiple red states.

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader Margin 2016 Winner
Arkansas Trump 2% Trump
Delaware Biden 1% Clinton
Georgia Trump 0.7% Trump
Iowa Trump 1% Trump
Maine Second Biden 1% Trump
Nebraska State-Wide Trump 2% Trump
North Carolina Biden 1% Trump
Ohio Trump 0.2% Trump
Texas Trump 1.6% Trump
The Electoral College Map: 24 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.