In 50 days the US 2020 election will be held, an important election globally. On the one hand, we have a continued descent of the USA into poor governance, bad fiscal policy, climate inaction, pandemic ignorance and authoritarianism. On the other, a steady and experienced hand in the Oval Office, a return to evidence-based policies, intelligent guidance out of the COVID-19 pandemic and related fiscal depression and the USA returning as a global leader on key issues such as the climate.
It’s not particularly hyperbolic to cast this election as one of the most important of the past 100 years. Writing from near the border in Canada, I know that we are looking south with “horror and consternation”, as our Prime Minister put it. Another four years of chaos and intentional gutting of checks and balances is deeply troubling, when we are the mouse in bed with the elephant.
But there is hope. I’ve been assessing and writing about US politics for years now, and I’ve rarely seen a more motivated set of Blue voters, a point Rachel Bitecofer of the Niskanen Center draws out as key in her analyses. And that’s on top of much better polling for Biden than for Trump across the board. But it’s not the entire board that’s my focus, but the swing states, both historical and newly minted. Let’s have a look.
This table is based on 538 data. It’s straightforward. All the traditional swing states. Who is leading now. The largest lead either had. The current aggregate polling. The shift in absolute numbers (note that Biden led in Ohio, and that state is now slightly favoring Trump, so the absolute shift is from Biden +3.3 to Trump +0.9).
The margin of error column is simple too. Aggregate polling is 3% to 5% accurate. Under 3%, it’s a statistical tossup, hence the very light colors for those rows. Between 3% and 5% it’s possible the victory could go to the underdog, hence the medium hues. Over 5% and the state is almost certainly a lock for the leader. Almost.
And note, aggregate polls don’t have inertia. Things change them, but they don’t keep going in that direction automatically. There is no inertia. Newton’s Laws of Motion don’t apply.
So what can we see from the data?
- Six of the 12 traditional swing states are rock solid Blue, outside of the margin of error.
- Two of them are medium Blue, meaning probably swinging to Biden
- Four of them are toss ups, in statistical reality favoring neither candidate, but split in terms of slightly favoring one or the other at this moment in time.
- No swing states are strongly favored or a lock for Trump. He has a fight to get any of them.
Really, only six of the traditional six swing states are actually swing states this time around, and two of them are very likely to go to Biden, leaving only four battlegrounds.
What does that mean from the Electoral College perspective?
Yeah, of the 156 swing state Electoral College votes, Biden has a lock on 40%, is pretty likely to get 56% of them and is favored to get 85% of them.
Trump is favored to get 15%, has a reasonable chance at 46% of them.
And Trump needs more than that.
538’s winding path to victory shows this graphically. Trump needs 270 electoral college votes. There’s still a lot of Blue on his side of the line.
More to the point, Texas is in play. Trump’s 3.9 point lead has shrunk to 0.8. He’s on the defensive in Texas with its 38 Electoral College Votes. Texas has become a swing state. So has Georgia. So has Arizona.
Updating the tables with those three new swing states gives us this.
At one level, this looks better for Trump. His numbers are bigger! There’s more light red on the score board. But that’s not what this means. Those used to be dark Red states, fully in the Lock column.
But on another level, those two new swing states show exactly the same pattern as most of the pro-Biden swing states, a narrowing of the gap, but this time not in Trump’s favor, but against it. The race is tightening everywhere, in other words, but Biden is still vastly ahead.
And that Ohio swing from Biden to Trump? Well, it’s somewhat matched by Arizona’s massive swing from Trump to Biden. Those nine points of swing since February are massive. Fewer Electoral College votes than Ohio, but it still leaves Biden favored to win 143 of the 221 traditional and 2020 swing state Electoral College votes.
What does this look like at the national scale? I updated the state level leanings at 2020 Presidential Election Interactive Map to create this view.
Only 88 safe Electoral College votes for Trump. 125 likely. 203 leaning. Trump needs all of the Biden-leaning states to swing Red. And to be clear, the color coding here is different. Those likely states are above 5 points advantage for Biden right now.
Trump has to spend a lot of money in Texas and Georgia if he doesn’t want to lose them, money he doesn’t apparently have.
- Trump Is Running His Campaign Like He Ran His Businesses
- Trump’s August fundraising falls short of Biden’s by more than $154M
- Trump, Republicans Raise $210 Million In August — Far Behind Democrats’ Haul
No wonder he’s shutting down advertising in a bunch of swing states, including Arizona. He’s run out of money and his billion dollar spend netted him nothing in return.
It’s September. This is the home stretch of the US election. Trump is behind, he’s not catching up and his campaign gas tank is running awfully low. And Blue voters are very motivated in 2020, just as the were in 2018 when the House flipped.
In 2019, I had thought that Trump and the Republicans would be at risk due to climate change. And then 2020’s upheavals occurred. Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 have changed the political landscape, leaving Republicans even more vulnerable.
But leave nothing to change. Register. Vote Blue up and down the ticket. Help others to register and vote.
The USA needs stable and progressive governance again. The world needs the USA back at the table. And the Republicans need to be cast into the wilderness so that they can finally address the decades of bad decisions that have led to them being the terrible party they currently are. They need the opportunity to rebuild into a credible ruling party again.