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Despite what you may hear from most news outlets, this race is not a runaway. Both candidates have legitimate pathways to the presidency. Below I'm going to go through some of the numbers as I see them. Remember, as I've said every election year since I started this site 20 years ago: I am completely non-partisan when it comes to these analyses! My goal is not to promote a candidate, but simply to stoke my ego by being right! (But I blew it bigly in 2016!)
As of today, I believe that Biden has 203 safe electoral votes and Trump has 125. That leaves 210 toss-ups. That would mean Biden's absolute ceiling is 413 votes, while Trump's would be 335, assuming a candidate swept all the toss-ups.
I'm not making any official picks in 2020, but back when I did, I never allowed myself to have toss-ups. So if I were still making a projection, looking at the polls, historical trends, and the campaign in general, I would move five of the toss-ups to Trump and three to Biden. Admittedly, there are some major assumptions here, but that was the whole point of not having toss-ups... back when I did that sort of thing... which I'm not doing anymore...
These would be the states I would move, in order from my most sure to least.
|Democrats have made impressive gains in Texas, but not nearly enough to flip the state – yet.|
|Biden's lead has been consistent in Virginia, as was Clinton's in 2016. That year, Trump over-performed in many states, but not here. History should repeat itself.|
|In North Carolina, Biden's numbers have never been much outside margins of error. He has a chance here, but I think Trump will hold.|
|Georgia is interesting. Trump's support here is definitely less than 2016. But Biden hasn't been able to definitively hold a lead. So I'm going with their historical tendency.|
|Trump got a surprising win in Michigan last time after never leading in the polls – but it was a razor thin win. This year, Trump has still not led in 2020 and Biden's lead has been larger than Clinton's. Biden will hang on, barring another shocking ending.|
|Ohio has been reliable in not being reliable for either party in recent years. The average margin between the winner and the second place candidate since 1992 has been about 3.5%. Trump won by over 8%, the most by any candidate in that time frame. This year, Biden had a lead over the summer, but has seen it dwindle away to nothing in October. Ohio saw something it liked in Trump last time, and I think they'll go his way again.|
|Biden is leading in Minnesota, but not as much as Clinton was in 2016. The Democrats held the state back then, but by a surprisingly small margin. Biden can't afford to lose as much support as the Democrats did last time out. And I don't think they will.|
|In the last six elections, Florida has voted for three Democrats and three Republicans. So it's a prize both sides really want. Biden has maintained a very slight lead here that, like Ohio, has decreased as we near election day. This one is almost a coin flip. But I think Trump will eke out a win.|
That would put the race at 242 electoral votes for Biden and 241 electoral votes for Trump, with 55 up for grabs: five toss-up states and two stray toss-up votes from Maine and Nebraska.
This is a pretty good stopping point. But if I were going to go a bit further...
|Trump won Iowa big last election, but the polls today are flipping between him and Biden. If I had to move this out of the toss-up category I'd probably say Trump wins... but I don't have to this year so I'm not!|
|Biden has held a small but consistent lead in Arizona. But like in several other states, it has decreased as we near November. Maybe a very slight lean to Trump based on history, but I would not be surprised to see this state go either way.|
|Biden should be able to wrap this state up, as Clinton won it in 2016. But his poll numbers here are smaller than I would expect. I would pick Biden if forced, but... you know!|
|The numbers in Wisconsin look almost exactly like they did in the last election – the Democrats consistently up 5% to 8%. But Trump won anyway. Probably Biden, but once bitten twice shy.|
If you take the above leanings into consideration (and I wouldn't!), the electoral vote would be tied at 258 votes each!
|Trump won Maine's second congressional district by 10 points in 2016 after polling called it a toss-up. Once again it appears to be a tight race. But it may go Biden's way this time, by a small margin.|
|Nebraska's second congressional district voted Obama by about 1% in 2008, Romney by 7% in 2012, and Trump by 2% in 2016. This election I think it may flip back to the Democrats, but it's very hard to tell.|
That'd put the race at 260 to 258 in Biden's favor with only Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes left on the board. And I'm afraid I'm going to leave you hanging! I will say this though.
|In 2016, Clinton led Pennsyvania for the entire campaign, though that lead narrowed as the election got closer. Trump won the state by less than a pecentage point. Biden has a slightly bigger lead than Clinton did four years ago. But his statements this week about the energy sector, which is something very important to a lot of the people in the state, might hurt him in the closing days. In the first poll consisting only of voters talked to after the last presidential debate, Trump led for the very first time in any poll this year in Pennsylvania. Is it an outlier, or the first in a trend? I don't know, and I'm not going to try to guess!|
I have a few final thoughts when it comes to the 2020 election:
Pollsters claim they have fixed the problems that haunted them in 2016. If so, this election could go in a very different direction! But pollsters have said they've fixed their problems several times over the years I've been running this site, so we'll see.
There is one poll that I would be most concerned about if I worled on the Biden campaign. And that is a recent Gallup poll. Just about every election year since 1984, they have asked the question "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" One would assume that with Trump as president and knowing his usual favorability ratings that this question would yield a low positive response. Throw in a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic, and surely most would answer in the negative. Counterintuitively, that is not so. In fact, the response to this question was the most positive that Gallup has ever recorded! 56% said yes, they are better off than four years ago. This was the first time Gallup has returned a number over 50%! It's hard to gauge the mood of the electorate when you see polls like that along side polls showing Biden with a nationwide lead. Yet another reason to be weary of polls going into election night.
In 2016, I noted that Trump was getting massive support at his rallies in numbers we didn't see at Clinton stops. 2020 is playing out very much the same if not moreso, with Biden campaign stops seeming like ghost towns next to Trump's huge events. How much of that is due to enthusiasm issues and how much is down to the coronavirus remains to be seen.
Despite those last two points, Biden's biggest strength is he's not Trump. And for a very large number of voters, that is all they need to hear!
2020 has been an unpredictable year. And that could carry into the election. I started off this article with a map showing 210 toss-up votes and the electoral ceilings for each candidate. Start there. Don't just blindly accept my take. Any outcome between the toss-up map and those ceilings is just as plausible as my analysis! I'm just giving you one of many potential readings. This is very much anyone's election.
Finally, whoever wins this election, please, let's all remain civil. We are all more similar than we are different, even though the most partisan on both sides won't admit it. The peaceful transfer of power we enjoy in the country is a gift we should not take for granted.
I will most likely do some sort of live blog on election day, so hopefully I'll see you all next week!