The Road to Two-Seventy

Normally, the US broadly moves in one direction. Last week, it moved decisively in favour of President Trump. This week, however, that cohesion fell apart. Nationally, Biden increased his lead over Trump by 0.5%, up to 7.2% – and it is clear where he picked up this fresh support. Arizona, eleven votes, became a swing state once again, with Vice-President Biden’s lead in the Grand Canyon State falling by 1.3% down to 3.5%. Biden’s leads in Florida, twenty-nine votes, and North Carolina, fifteen votes, both fell once again. Conversely, Trump’s leads in Iowa and Georgia were both cut. Trump’s lead in Georgia had been increasing week-on-week. This week dealt another blow to Team Trump. Ohio, eighteen votes, moved from Trump to Biden. Last week, Trump led in the Buckeye State by 1.5%. This week, Biden leads by 1%. No Republican has ever lost Ohio and then gone on to win the White House. Biden’s assumed electoral tally is now three-hundred and fifty-three votes to Trump’s one-hundred and eighty-five. This week, Trump may be down, but the President is far from out.

Follow the Leader

This week, the race was told through the swing states as well as some safe states. This may sound odd, but both Trump and Biden had fairly similar weeks overall. Trump cut Biden’s leads in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. He also cut Biden’s leads in the currently blue states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. Meanwhile, Biden cut Trump’s leads in Iowa and Georgia and moved Ohio into his column. Trump’s leads also sagged in South Carolina, Kansas, Montana, Missouri and Louisiana. Trump’s leads in Tennessee and Alabama fell to below 60% for the first time. Montana, Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee are all still safely red, but South Carolina and Kansas are both beginning to shift towards purple. In short: Trump and Biden both outdid each other in certain swing states whilst losing ground in other important states that are leaning their way. But it is difficult to say that this week favoured either man. Team Biden may have brought Ohio into their column, but if Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania keeps falling as it is now, then it could soon become as uncertain as Florida or North Carolina. Team Trump may have almost made North Carolina a toss-up and cut Biden’s leads in Florida and Arizona, but they lost Ohio, Iowa is now a toss-up, Trump’s lead in Georgia shrank and they lost ground in Maine Second. Only in Texas did Trump increase his lead, up 0.6% to 1.8%. It appears as though the swing states might be beginning to move in different directions. This can only make the path to the White House less clear for both Trump and Biden. As a side point, Biden’s lead in Wisconsin, seen as the national tipping-point state, fell by 0.3%, down to 6.4%, even though Biden’s national lead recovered this week.

A gorge in Arizona. This week, the Grand Canyon State became a swing state once again. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Pendulum States

This week, all eyes were on four states: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Arizona. Biden’s lead in Florida has now fallen for the fourth consecutive week. Mere weeks ago, Biden was enjoying comfortable leads in the Sunshine State. Florida has a large Hispanic population, particularly in the very south of the state, out towards the Everglades and the Florida Keys. This Hispanic population is largely Cuban or of Cuban descent. Cuban-Americans tend to lean more Republican than most other Hispanic Americans. Quite simply, Trump appears to be energising Cuban-Americans – and this is carving up Biden’s lead. In Ohio, Biden roundly shifted the dial. Team Biden has been going hard in the Buckeye State, so this shift is not a complete surprise, even if the speed of it is. Ohio is a traditional swing state that has voted with the winning candidate in every election from 1960 onwards. Since Ohio joined the union in 1803, the state has always voted with the winning Republican. Ohioans manage to capture the right-leaning mood of the nation. If they will not give their state’s votes to a Republican, then it is highly unlikely that Americans as a whole will. If Ohio is notoriously changeable, then North Carolina and Arizona are its polar opposite. North Carolina was seen as a strongly red state until Obama unexpectedly won it in 2008. The Old North State has been a swing state ever since. As for Arizona, it was once one of the most ruby red states, having only voted for a Democrat twice since the end of WW2: 1948 and 1996. But the Grand Canyon State has been gradually shifting purple. In 2016, Trump took the state on plurality only. Put simply, North Carolina and Arizona are both naturally red states, which like Georgia, Nebraska, Arkansas and Texas, are unexpectedly purple. Unlike these other four states, however, North Carolina is almost a toss-up and Biden is still doing extremely well in Arizona for a Democrat. Whoever does or does not ultimately win these two states, the fact that they are both currently purple was once unthinkable.

The Outliers

Some states can have polar opposite voting habits within their body politic. In Nevada, Palm Springs is generally more Republican while Las Vegas and Reno are generally more Democrat. Another example of this is New York. New York City and Albany are very strongly Democrat. The Upstate areas are softly Republican. As most New Yorkers live in the two main cities, the Empire State, with its twenty-nine votes, is strongly blue, with one major exception: Wyoming County. Whereas most of rural New York is only softly Republican, Wyoming is as strongly red as some counties in rural parts of the Deep South and the Corn Belt. In 2016, Trump picked up 71.9% of the vote there, among his best results anywhere in the North-East. Wyoming has not voted for a Democrat since 1964, when it backed Lyndon B. Johnson. But there is no clear reason why Wyoming is so red. Its population is largely white, but the average income there is above the national average. The cost of living is also low for New York. The rate of poverty is also extremely low. These demographics should largely gear the county blue. Perhaps it is a rebellious factor. New York is such a blue state that the people of Wyoming County vote Republican as a sort of protest. Whatever the reason, Wyoming County is an anomaly for which there is no clear explanation. But if Wyoming County is something of a mystery, then Rolette County, North Dakota is not. Located on the border with Canada in the very north of the Peace Garden State, Rolette last backed a Republican all the way back in 1952, when it voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 2016, Hillary Clinton picked up 55.9% of the vote in Rolette, a strong result in a state as deeply red as North Dakota, with its three votes, is. In Rolette County, the answer as to why it is so blue lies in its demography. More than three-quarters of the county is Native Chippewa American. As a demographic, Native Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Despite repeated attempts by the North Dakotan government to disenfranchise them, Native Americans still vote in large numbers in the Peace Garden State. These repeated attempts at being denied their right to vote could explain why Rolette County has consistently high turnouts, 89% in 2016.

Wyoming Country Courthouse, New York. New York might be among the bluest states, but Wyoming County is strongly Republican (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Tightest Races

This week, Iowa, six votes, was the only race under 1%, as Trump’s lead in the Hawkeye State fell by 1%, down to 0.8%. Iowa is now a toss-up. This shift does not appear to be so much the result of movement towards Biden, but of more Iowans shifting to likely/certain to vote in polling. These new voters seem to breaking heavily for Biden. If voters continue to commit to voting in these numbers this week, then it is conceivable that Iowa could shift into Biden’s column next week. Similarly, it appears to be a renewed commitment to voting that has caused Trump’s lead in Georgia, sixteen votes, to drop by 0.3%, down to 1.1%, after four weeks of continuous growth. However, shifts in voting intentions are not behind Biden’s drops in Florida and North Carolina and Trump’s increase in Texas. In Florida and North Carolina, the drops are because Team Trump is managing to turn the dial in their favour through good campaigning, clear, if controversial, messaging and a solid voter registration operation. This is also behind Trump’s healthy 0.6% increase in Texas this week. Texas is seen as somewhat of a regional tipping-point state in this race. If Biden wins the Lone Star State, then he has potentially turned much of the Deep South blue. Curiously, however, Texas and Georgia moved in opposite directions this week, while Trump failed to gain ground in Arkansas or the Corn Belt state of Nebraska. This suggests that perhaps Texans might not be catching the political mood in the Deep South as well as previously thought. Only the coming weeks will tell.

The National Picture

As expected, the Supreme Court dominated the national conversation this week, all but pushing the wildfires on the West Coast out of the picture. In 2016, Republicans refused to let Obama fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. However, Republicans now intend to push through Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor in potentially record-breaking time. Trump’s nominee is Amy Coney Barrett, an Appeals Court judge from Louisiana and a devout Catholic who has previously written about how her faith influences her rulings. Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said that they will vote against any appointment put forward before the election. It will take four Republicans to stop Coney Barrett’s accession. Her seat on the Supreme Court is all but assured. This has galvanised liberal America. It is quite possible that this has energised more liberally-minded voters in Iowa and Georgia to vote. Either way, accusations of hypocrisy are being thrown at the Republicans – and are sticking. In South Carolina, the controversy is even hurting Lindsey Graham’s formerly-safe re-election bid for the Senate. Elsewhere, violence erupted in Kentucky after a Grand Jury decided not to charge white police officers over the killing of Breonna Taylor in her own home in Louisville by officers back in March. Protests, which soon descended into violence, broke out in Louisville and have now spread to Frankfort, the state capital, as well as Lexington and Bowling Green. There have been violent confrontations between protesters and police officers across the state. This is the first time that major violence has erupted in a red state since social unrest began across the United States back in May. Deadly violence in Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin has previously impacted the race. If the violence in Kentucky is to have the same effect, this will likely be seen next week, if it will at all.

This Week’s Swing States

State Leader

Margin

2016 Winner

Arizona Biden

3.5%

Trump

Arkansas Trump

2%

Trump

Florida Biden

1.7%

Trump

Georgia Trump

1.1%

Trump

Iowa Trump

0.8%

Trump

Maine Second Biden

3%

Trump

Nebraska State-Wide Trump

2%

Trump

Nebraska First Trump

2%

Trump

North Carolina Biden

1.1%

Trump

Ohio Biden

1%

Trump

Texas Trump

1.8%

Trump

The Electoral College Map: 28 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