The Road to Two-Seventy

This week, President Trump came back from the dead. He chipped away at Vice-President Biden’s leads in Florida, twenty-nine votes, North Carolina, fifteen votes, and Arizona, eleven votes. He also managed to tighten one of the closest races: Georgia, sixteen votes. There, Biden’s lead fell by 0.3%, down to 1%. But Trump did lose ground elsewhere. Biden broke the tie in Iowa, six votes, taking his lead there to 1.3%. Trump’s lead in Texas, thirty-eight votes, also took a sizeable hit, falling by 0.9%, down to just 0.5%. Trump is now holding on to the largest red state by his fingernails. Elsewhere, Trump does appear to have increased his advantage in Ohio, eighteen votes. But, as things stand, the Buckeye State is still far too close to call. Nationally, Trump gained ground this week, with Biden’s lead falling by 0.8%, down to 9.7%. Biden’s lead also fell in Pennsylvania, twenty votes. This week, Pennsylvania roared ahead of Wisconsin, ten votes, to become the probable national-tipping point state. Amidst all of this, Trump’s assumed electoral tally remains unchanged at one-hundred and sixty-three votes to Biden’s increased three-hundred and fifty-seven votes, with eighteen votes too close to call.

 

Twilight silhouettes the skyline of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This week, the Keystone State overtook Wisconsin as the probable national tipping-point state. (Photo: Pixabay)

Follow the Leader

This week, Trump made progress. He gained ground in many places. He increased his leads in his shakiest red states: South Carolina, Kansas and Montana. He also shored up support in states like North Dakota, Missouri and Alabama. Trump has now put together a firewall of ninety-one votes that he is now extremely likely to win. But, with only eight days until Election Day, he has still failed to actually flip any states into his column. In fact, he lost ground in Iowa and Texas. Team Trump has spent much of the past week campaigning in just four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Ohio. In Nevada, this has had no tangible impact. But in Ohio, it has increased Trump’s slight advantage in the state. The problem lies in that Ohio opened for early voting in the week that the state swung to Biden. This means that Ohioans have been voting as the ground shifted towards Biden, and then back towards Trump. As such, the state is simply too uncertain to be called. It could well be among the tightest states in this election. Interestingly, Team Trump spent very little time in North Carolina this week. Biden’s lead has dropped there, and it is essential to any realistic Trump path to the White House. So, it is not clear why Trump has spent so little time in the Old North State. This week, Team Biden put the Obamas on the campaign trail. They and VP candidate Senator Kamala Harris have visited most swing states and much of the Rust Belt in the last week. All three are experienced, passionate campaigners. It is very possible that their highly-publicised events have shifted the dial in Iowa and Texas, and ensured that Pennsylvania has taken on its sudden pivotal role.

The Pendulum States

This week, the probable national tipping-point state suddenly and dramatically shifted from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. The tipping-point state is the state that gets either candidate over the line. As with all things to do with American elections, this shift has come about due to cold, hard numbers. If Trump were to win every state and district currently in play, then he would have two-hundred and fifty-nine votes. Wisconsin’s ten votes would then take the election to a tie: two-hundred and sixty-nine votes a piece. Pennsylvania’s twenty votes, however, would hand Trump a second term. Currently, Biden leads in the Keystone State by 6.1%, a 0.7% fall from the week before. Pennsylvania has a large number of swing voters, so it is certainly a state to watch. Similarly, Texas is midway through its fortnight of early voting. Already, more ballots have been cast than Trump won when he carried the Lone Star State in 2016. If Biden goes into the lead between the end of early voting and Election Day, then Texas could become as tight and unpredictable as Ohio is now.

The Outliers

Sometimes, elections suffer upsets. A state or a district does the opposite of what it was expected to do. In 2016, the three main upsets – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – favoured Trump – and handed him the White House. But, before 2016, there had been major upsets that had favoured the Democrats. One such upset came in 1992. That year, Bill Clinton swept to power by putting together a contradictory coalition of voters: liberal voters in the North-East, the Rust Belt and the West Coast and conservative voters in the Deep South. As an Arkansas native, Clinton was able to appeal to many Republican voters in states like Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia. Despite this blue surge, the Corn Belt remained stubbornly red – with the exception of Montana. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Treasure State backed a Democrat for, what is to date, the last time. Prior to Election Day, Montana had, as always, been seen as comfortably red. What pollsters were missing was that voters in smaller towns and rural communities, who were normally habitually Republican, were being motivated and mobilised by the Clinton campaign. In the end, Clinton took the Treasure State on a narrow plurality. It was a similar story in Indiana in 2008. Prior to that election, Indiana had been unwaveringly Republican since 1968. In 2008, even though Barack Obama was heavily favoured to win the election, the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, was, as ever, expected to carry the Crossroads of America with ease. But, just as in Montana in 1992, pollsters missed the energy that Obama was tapping into in the state. 2008 saw historic youth turnout in Indiana. As such, Obama was unexpectedly able to add the Crossroads of America to his landslide win. Both of these upsets appear to have shocked the local electorates as much as they did the pundits. Interestingly, in the election that followed, both states swung massively red and have remained that way ever since. As the Treasure State in 1992 and the Crossroads of America in 2008 demonstrate, polling assumptions can cause momentum and energy to be entirely missed.

A typical landscape in rural Montana. In 1992, the Treasure State unexpectedly turned blue. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Tightest Races

Ohio is impossible to safely call one way or the other, and Texas is now a toss-up. But Trump did gain ground in other swing states. In Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, there was movement from Biden to Trump. In both Arizona and Florida, Biden’s leads fell by 0.6%. If Trump manages to replicate shifts similar to these across the swing states next week, then Iowa and Georgia would become as tough to call as Ohio is now. Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Maine Second would also be well within the margin of error. Trump needed to sprint a marathon this week. He did not quite manage that, but he certainly has managed to electrify the race. Team Biden is now having to go hard in every swing state and Pennsylvania. With Trump’s safely red states now looking even safer, his path to victory now depends on making Team Biden spread themselves as thinly as possible. With only eight days to go, this tactic may well be Team Trump’s last hope of holding onto the White House.

The National Picture

This week, the second and final presidential debate took place in Nashville, Tennessee. On this outing, the moderator, Kristen Walker, had the ability to mute the candidates’ microphones. This prevented a repeat of the performances that characterised the first debate in Cleveland, Ohio. The Nashville debate was far more civilised, but it did give Trump the chance to utter the memorable line, “I know more about wind than you [Biden] do”, whilst discussing renewable energy. Elsewhere, a rather bizarre event took place in Tampa, Florida, headlined by one of the First Daughters, Tiffany Trump. Called Trump Pride, the event was designed to appeal to LGBT supporters of the President. Notably, Ms Trump managed to deliver an entire pro-LGBT speech without mentioning transgender people or issues even once. The event drew widespread derision. That same day, in Carson City, Nevada, Trump mocked Biden at a rally, saying that, if elected, Biden would “listen to the scientists”. The remark drew anger and ire, as it was made against the backdrop of the United States crossing the grim milestone of two-hundred and twenty-thousand Covid-19 deaths. By next week, it is very likely that more than a quarter-of-a-million Americans will have died from the virus. Crucially for Team Trump, there are currently massive surges underway in several key states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina. But Biden’s week was not easy either. The former Vice-President has come under intense scrutiny for his voting record. In 1994, whilst serving as one of Delaware’s Senators, he strongly backed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, even warning of “predators on our streets” at the time. The act is widely seen as the main reason for the current crisis surrounding the mass incarceration of black Americans. When quizzed about his support for the legislation, Biden said that “things have changed drastically”, but stopped short of making an outright apology. The act expired in 2004, but Biden still has some tough questions to answer surrounding it. Whilst all of this took place, Judge Amy Coney Barret’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings neared their end in Washington, DC. Her appointment is all but assured. As this election is now in its home stretch, there are very few undecided voters left. It is possible, however, that there are just enough undecideds left in the tightest states for these events to swing it. Only the final polls will give an insight.

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader

Margin

2016 Winner

Arizona Biden

3.2%

Trump

Florida

Biden

3.3%

Trump

Georgia

Biden

1%

Trump

Iowa Biden

1.3%

Trump

Maine Second Biden

4%

Trump

Nebraska First Trump

2%

Trump

North Carolina Biden

2.9%

Trump

Ohio Trump Advantage

Too Close to Call

Trump

Texas Trump

0.5%

Trump

The Electoral College Map: 26 October 2020 (Courtesy of 270ToWin)

Note: The darker the colour, the safer that state or district is. States marked in yellow are too close to call.