2020 Election Series: Swing States

We’re now under eight weeks away from Election Day. Each cycle I analyze states that were decided by ten points or less in the previous presidential election cycle. These represent potential swing states that are in play for both parties heading into each cycle. It’s a fluid number from cycle to cycle which reflects changes in the electorate over time. In 2016, there were 16 states decided by fewer than ten points. President Trump won 30 states in 2016 including nine of the sixteen swing states which proved key to his victory. Notably, President Trump doesn’t have to retain all of those states to win reelection. His margin of victory, with 306 electoral votes, was 36 more than what’s needed to win.

I’m comparing current averaged polling in the swing states compared to where President Trump was polling on the same date in 2016. This provides an apples to apples temperature check of how President Trump is trending compared to exactly four years ago.

Polling averages September 8th, 2016 compared to September 8th, 2020:

  • Arizona: Trump -7
  • Florida: Trump -1
  • Georgia: Trump +1
  • Iowa: Trump +1
  • Michigan: Trump +5
  • North Carolina: Flat
  • Ohio: Trump -2
  • Pennsylvania: Trump +2
  • Wisconsin: Trump -1

With the dust having settled coming out of the conventions and new rounds of swing state polling pouring in with under two months to go before Election Day the outlook is very much a mixed bag for President Trump. Being flat or better is a winning position in these states he won four years ago. Right now, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are in that category. However, that leaves Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin in a position that looks better today for Biden than it did for Hillary four years ago today. Now, of the four states, only Arizona and Wisconsin are pacing below the margin of victory for Trump four years ago.

Now for the states carried by Hillary Clinton which Joe Biden will need to retain in addition to adding at least two of the Trump states if he’s to win this year. Here's Biden’s current polling performance compared Hillary Clinton in 2016:

  • Colorado – Biden +1
  • Maine – Biden +2
  • Minnesota – N\A
  • Nevada – Biden +2
  • New Hampshire - Biden +2
  • New Mexico - N\A
  • Virginia - Biden +6

This was generally a good week for Biden. The only changes were improvements for Biden against where Hillary was performing four years ago in states she carried. This leaves him on an even more solid path to carry Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia. The wild cards remain Minnesota and New Mexico. We still aren’t in a window in which polling was conducted four years ago in these states. Based on other trends New Mexico would appear to be safe for Biden but Minnesota could prove to be a huge wild card this year.

As of this week’s update, President Trump lost ground over a week ago but still would be pacing a narrow win with 283 Electoral College votes. The next major planned catalysts are the debates. The first debate is scheduled for September 29th. Two of the 16 swing states, Minnesota and Virginia, will begin voting prior to the first debate. That makes current performance in these states that much more important in real-time. Soon, it won’t just be likely voters sampled in polls but actual voters responding as well.

Photo by: EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP via Getty Images

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