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

The Road to Two-Seventy

This week, once again, the assumed electoral tallies for both President Trump and Vice-President Biden remained unchanged: two-hundred and three votes to three-hundred and thirty-five votes. But make no mistake, this is the week when the race turned from a sprint into a marathon. Trump edged upwards in Ohio and Texas this week, while reducing Biden’s leads in Florida and North Carolina even further. If Team Trump manages to move both Florida and North Carolina into their column, then Trump will have two-hundred and forty-seven electoral votes – and a clear path to re-election. At that stage, Trump would only need to win Pennsylvania, with twenty votes, and a smaller state like Nevada, six votes, or New Hampshire, four votes, in order to secure re-election. This week, Biden’s leads fell in all three of these states. His fall of 1.5%, down to 6.7%, in New Hampshire was particularly dramatic. But this week also saw Wisconsin cement its position as the national tipping-point state. Biden’s national lead over Trump fell by 0.8% this week, down to 6.7%. Biden’s lead in Wisconsin was exactly 6.7% this week.

A typical landscape in North Carolina. The Old North State looks set to be fiercely fought over by Team Trump and Team Biden. (Photo: Pixabay)

Follow the Leader

This week, Trump gained real momentum. Following the fading of his ‘convention bounce’ last week, he has made a comeback. There were no races under 1% this week as Trump increased his leads in Ohio by 0.6%, up to 1.5%, and Texas by 0.4%, up to 1.2%. He also increased his leads in Iowa and Georgia. This is now the fourth consecutive week that Trump has increased his lead in Georgia. In only Arkansas and Nebraska First did Trump’s leads remain static, at 2% each respectively. In Florida, Trump cut Biden’s lead by a further 0.5%, down to 2.2%. He halved Biden’s 4% lead in Maine Second and sharply reduced Nebraska Second from 11% to 6%. Trump had a fantastic week in the swing states. Even in the mostly blue North-East, Trump made inroads outside of Maine, with Biden’s leads in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Virginia all noticeably falling, although these three states are still not in play. Elsewhere, Nevada and Oregon also recorded sharp drops for Biden, down 0.4% to 5.5% and down 5% to 7% respectively. Trump does appear to be gaining real momentum now. But the President would still do well to keep an eye on the strongly-red states. All eyes may be on the swing states, but in Montana, North Dakota, Kansas and South Carolina, Trump’s leads, while still safe, all slipped a little this week. In Montana, Kansas and South Carolina the movement was fairly straight: from Trump to Biden. In North Dakota, however, Biden saw no increase. Voters switched from Trump to undecided. In 2016, it was indifference among Democrats in some typically-blue states that partly led to Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Team Trump would do well to still campaign hard, even in the most ruby red of states. 

The Pendulum States

This series often talks about blocs of states: the Rust Belt, the Deep South, the Corn Belt, the West Coast and the North-East. This is because groups of states often, but not always, have similar demographics, similar views and similar voting habits. In this sense, the most cohesive bloc is the West Coast. But talking in blocs can be misleading at times. In 2016, the Rust Belt, as a cohesive bloc, spectacularly fell apart, with Trump winning four of these seven states. But, despite this, blocs do give interesting insights into what is happening on the ground. In 2016, Trump made obvious inroads in the Rust Belt. But Clinton also made inroads in the Deep South. In states like Texas, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee, Clinton put in the best showing for a Democrat in decades. Her inroads, however, were not enough to actually flip any states, unlike Trump’s in the Rust Belt. In some ways, 2016 predicated the swing states of 2020. The Rust Belt has become a lot more purple and split between the red and blue columns. The Deep South has also become purple, with Texas and Georgia being in play. Whether or not these two blocs are gradually shifting from one column to the other is not yet clear. After all, 2020 is only the second election in which these blocs are truly in play. If the Rust Belt and the Deep South are fundamentally realigning, then the 2020 election may just be the second of several elections in which the electoral map looks unusual. But with Iowa and Nebraska in play and Biden’s lead in Oregon having been almost halved in only a week, then the Rust Belt and the Deep South might not be the only blocs that are beginning to become more purple.

The Outliers

In this election, Nebraska, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Maine have all unexpectedly become swing states. Wisconsin has also unexpectedly become the national tipping-point state. But other states have, over time, moved comfortably into either the red or blue column. Two such states are Colorado and Missouri. Colorado last voted for a Republican in 2004. Missouri last backed a Democrat in 1996. Demographics explain why both states have ceased to be purple. In Colorado, the state became wealthier and more liberal as people from California, New York and other strongly blue states sought somewhere with a more affordable cost of living. During the 2000s, Colorado actively sought to encourage migration as its population dwindled. In short, people who normally only visited the Centennial State to ski in Aspen each winter ended up moving there. The regeneration of Denver into a major city of commerce cemented this shift. These new arrivals brought their politics with them. This transformed Colorado from a swing state to a blue state. Similarly, demographic shifts caused by migration explain why Missouri has become red. Missouri was once seen as being as important a swing state as Florida or Ohio. This was principally because the Show Me State’s more rural population was generally Republican, while the two largest cities of St Louis and Kansas City were generally Democratic. But, over time, St Louis and Kansas City went the way of Detroit, Michigan: they failed to move with the times. An increasing crime rate, the gradual decline of industry and widespread urban decay caused many more financially-comfortable Missourians to move elsewhere. But this migration was not replicated in small cities and rural areas. In short: the Democratic voters moved elsewhere, mostly to Illinois and, interestingly, Colorado. 

Central St Louis, Missouri. The Show Me State’s capital is struggling to recover from massive socio-economic problems. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Tightest Races

There were no races under 1% this week. Trump’s increases in Texas and Ohio were enough so that they are no longer toss-ups. Biden lost ground across the board, but it is Florida and North Carolina that should be unnerving Team Biden the most. Not only would the Sunshine State and the Old North State give Trump a clear path to re-election, but it would also mean that the Democrats’ struggles in getting out their vote in 2016 will go from being an anomaly to a pattern. In 2012, Barack Obama carried Florida by less than eighty-thousand votes. He did this by being able to energise black voters, moderate women and a large number of Hispanic voters in the state. This energy was just not there for Hillary Clinton four years later. However, the Republican enthusiasm was the strongest it had been in a long time. Similarly, in North Carolina, Obama was in prime position to retain the state in 2012. However, he could not mobilise the state’s Democrats in the way that Mitt Romney was able to mobilise Republicans. In the end, Romney narrowly returned North Carolina to being red, something that Trump continued in 2016. Roughly half of Americans may not like Trump, but, equally, Biden appears unable to arouse any strong emotions in voters. It is a strong dislike of Trump that appears to be motivating those who will vote for the Biden-Harris ticket. But if the Democrats are unable to energise and mobilise voters in the right places, then this will be meaningless. But with leads shrinking for both men in states that should be safe for them, with so many unusual states in play and with so many more states moving towards being purple, then both Republicans and Democrats need to get out every last voter that they can on 3 November.

The National Picture

This week has been an absolute rollercoaster for the United States. The revelation that Trump sought to downplay the risk posed by Covid-19 appears to have had no real impact on the race. But now the national attention has turned to the climate. As some of the worst wildfires the country has ever seen tore across California and then spread into Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Idaho, Trump met with a panel of Californian politicians. During the televised meeting, Trump argued that the imminent arrival of autumnal weather would cause the fires to burn out as the air naturally cooled. Trump is openly sceptical of climate change, but this was still an embarrassing moment for the White House and for Team Trump. But Biden’s week was not gaff-free either. At an event for Hispanic voters in Kissimmee, Florida, Biden pulled out his phone in front of the audience and then, after a few awkward moments, started playing the song Despacito. In scenes reminiscent of former UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s trip to South Africa, Biden began stiffly moving to the beat of the song. The whole thing was extremely uncomfortable to watch. Finally, on Friday, the news broke that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had sadly passed away aged eighty-seven. Bipartisan condolences are being paid to her family, with the President remarking that “she was an amazing woman, whether you agreed [with her] or not”. Justice Bader Ginsburg was easily the most well-known of the nine Supreme Court Justices. She was fiercely liberal and, in her eighties, became a cultural and feminist icon. Justice Bader Ginsburg’s legacy is a great one – and her passing may yet galvanise the race. If that is to be the case, then polling should begin to reflect what has been a mercurial week for the United States next week, if it will at all. ‘

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader Margin 2016 Winner
Arkansas Trump 2% Trump
Florida Biden 2.2% Trump
Georgia Trump 1.4% Trump
Iowa Trump 1.8% Trump
Maine Second Biden 2% Trump
Nebraska State-Wide Trump 2% Trump
Nebraska First Trump 2% Trump
North Carolina Biden 1.2% Trump
Ohio Trump 1.5% Trump
Texas Trump 1.2% Trump
The Electoral College Map: 21 September 2020 (Courtesy of 270ToWin)

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

Luke Sandford