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Michigan and Wisconsin have been the focus of a lot of attention from nervous Democrats for the past four years, in part because Hillary Clinton spent relatively little time there and lost both states in 2016. So if you told Democrats that Joe Biden would be up by 7 points in Wisconsin and 8 points in Michigan in polls with a week to go, they’d feel …
Actually, who are we kidding. They’d still feel pretty nervous since the polls underestimated Donald Trump in these states four years ago! With that said, one key observation is that Biden could withstand 2016-style polling errors in those states and still win. (Clinton led by 4 points in Michigan and 5 points in Wisconsin in our final polling averages in those states in 2016, and then lost both states by less than one point. But Biden’s extra cushion means he could survive a 2016-magnitude miss.)
The polls have been tighter in Pennsylvania, though. Biden’s current lead is just 5.1 points, and in 2016, polls were off by 4.4 points in the Keystone State — Trump won it by 0.7 points after trailing in our final polling average by 3.7 points there. So with a 2016-style polling error in Pennsylvania, Biden would be cutting it awfully close, perhaps even so close that court rulings on factors like “naked ballots” could swing the outcome.
Whether it makes sense that Biden is polling worse in Pennsylvania than in Michigan and Wisconsin is a fair question. Biden was born in Scranton, and it’s the most urban and the most racially diverse of the three states. Still, Wisconsin and Michigan are traditionally more Democratic; Barack Obama won them by larger margins than Pennsylvania in 2012, for instance. So maybe there’s been some reversion to the mean here. In any event, the polling has been consistent enough in showing Pennsylvania tighter than Michigan and Wisconsin that we probably need to take it at face value at this stage.
So here’s a question we can ask with our nifty scenario generator. Is Pennsylvania a must-win for Biden?
No, not quite. It is close to being a must-win for Trump, who has only a 2 percent chance of winning the Electoral College if he loses Pennsylvania. Biden, however, has a bit more margin for error. He’d have a 30 percent chance if he lost Pennsylvania, which isn’t great but is also higher than, say, Trump’s overall chances on Election Day 2016.
The reason losing Pennsylvania wouldn’t necessarily doom Biden is because he could still hold those other Midwestern/Rust Belt states. Pennsylvania is fairly similar to Michigan and Wisconsin, but not that similar. As I mentioned, it’s denser and more racially diverse. It may or may not be in the Midwest. It’s traditionally a bit more purple. So if Biden is doing better than Clinton with rural whites but worse with Black voters — as a lot of polling shows — he might gain ground in Wisconsin but lose in Pennsylvania.
Say, then, that Biden loses Pennsylvania but wins Michigan and Wisconsin. For good measure, we’ll also give Biden Minnesota. What do his chances look like then? Biden’s actually a slight favorite (55 percent) in this scenario.
This map has a lot of interesting aspects that give you some hints about how our model works behind the scenes. Here, for instance, are Biden’s chances of winning other swing states if he loses Pennsylvania but wins the other three Midwestern states:
Biden’s chances of winning each swing state in FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast, as of 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 27
Biden chances of victoryStateInitial
WI, MI, MN WinVirginia99%99%New Mexico9796Colorado9695Nevada9186Maine9073New Hampshire8765Arizona6649Florida6637North Carolina6524Georgia4622Iowa5016Ohio423Texas3310
The biggest decline to Biden’s chances comes in Ohio. That makes sense. It’s not an easy state for him to win anyway, and it should be highly correlated with Pennsylvania, so if he can’t win in Pennsylvania, it’s very hard to imagine him winning there. Iowa is a bit more viable for Biden because it’s more similar to Wisconsin and Minnesota than to Pennsylvania, but it would still be a long shot.
The model also thinks New Hampshire and Maine could be problems for Biden if he loses Pennsylvania, although he’d still be favored in those states. Demographically, Maine is more similar to Wisconsin than it is to Pennsylvania — it’s white and rural. But geographically, it’s closer to Pennsylvania. Our model considers both factors, as geography can often be a proxy for lots of hidden factors that cause correlated outcomes between states but are otherwise hard to detect.
Conversely, what happens in the Rust Belt doesn’t tell us much about what will happen in Nevada, Colorado or New Mexico — those groups of states just aren’t that similar.
Biden’s chances would decline in Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, however. Part of that is because these states just aren’t that easy for a Democrat to win, period. So if Biden is having a mixed night — as evidenced by his losing Pennsylvania even if he wins Wisconsin and Michigan — they could be fairly heavy lifts.
In addition, these states do have some things in common with Pennsylvania. Florida, like Pennsylvania, has a fairly old electorate. North Carolina has a similar racial mix to Pennsylvania. And all of these states are middle-income with many transplants from Pennsylvania and the Midwest.
Still, Biden would be slightly favored to eke out a win in this scenario by winning one more more of those Sunbelt states. The most likely would be Arizona, which has less in common with Pennsylvania than the others.
Biden’s work wouldn’t quite be done if he won Arizona, though. Rather, his chances would be 85 percent, with a 5 percent chance of a 269-269 tie. But he’d be in pretty good shape. He could hold the other states Clinton won in 2016 and then flip either Iowa or a congressional district in either Maine or Nebraska, which award one electoral vote each. Alternatively, he could even lose another state Clinton won, like Maine or New Hampshire, if he carried a second Sunbelt state such as Georgia.
We’re getting into the weeds. But here’s the thing: Yes, Biden and Democrats should be nervous that he has only about a 5-point lead in Pennsylvania, the most likely tipping point state. Five points is more than a normal-sized polling error, but not that much more. And Biden does have some backup plans. A regional polling error in the Midwest or the Northeast wouldn’t necessarily doom his chances in states like Arizona, for instance. It wouldn’t be the blowout that Democrats hope for, but Biden would still retain an edge in the Electoral College even without winning his birth state.
Most of the attention on the 2020 election is focused on who will sit in the White House for the next four years. But the 2020 election could also help decide who controls the House of Representatives for the next decade.
This is the last election before data from the census is released, so whoever emerges from this year holding power on the state level will have the power to redraw their state’s congressional maps — and maybe even give their side an unfair advantage in future elections. (Although this is not true everywhere, as some states have independent or bipartisan commissions draw their maps.)
Gerrymandering, or the act of purposefully drawing a map to advantage one political party or group, has a long history in this country — and politicians of all persuasions have been guilty of it. But the red wave election of 2010 upped the ante by giving Republicans lopsided control of the 2011 redistricting process. Thanks in large part to the 21 state legislatures and six governorships they picked up, Republicans were able to draw 55 percent of congressional districts, while Democrats drew just 10 percent.
As a result, in both 2012 and 2016, the House map was more biased toward Republicans than it had been at any point since the 1970s. Republicans even won 33 more House seats than Democrats in the 2012 election despite Democrats winning the House popular vote by 1.3 percentage points. And even as courts ruled some states’ maps unconstitutional and Democrats were able to flip the House in 2018, the median seat remained 4.4 points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole.
Going into the 2020 elections, Republicans still have the inside track over Democrats in the 2021 redistricting process. We determined this by using Election Data Services estimates of how many congressional districts each state will have after the 2020 census, looking at which party currently controls the levers of redistricting in those states and assessing (based on partisanship data, expert opinions and local media reports) whether the 2020 elections could change that.
Our analysis found that 117 congressional districts (27 percent of the entire House) are likely to be drawn by Republicans, while 47 (11 percent) are likely to be drawn by Democrats. Another 132 (30 percent) will be drawn by independent commissions or by both Republicans and Democrats working together. And seven districts (2 percent) are at-large districts that cover their entire state (thus, there are no lines to draw).
That leaves 10 states worth 132 congressional districts (30 percent of the House) where control of redistricting is up for grabs in the current election. However, not all of the redistricting-relevant elections in these states are winnable by both parties; in some, the best one party can hope for is simply to block the other from gaining full control.
For example, Republicans could win the ability to draw 71 new districts without Democratic input — but the best they can do with the remaining 61 is to ensure they have a seat at the table so they can force Democrats to compromise. Still, under this best-case scenario for Republicans, they would have redistricting control over 188 seats in total (43 percent) — almost as many as after 2010.
But with the possibility of another blue wave election on the horizon, Democrats can probably prevent that from happening. In the best-case Democratic scenario, the party would gain control over drawing 77 more seats and would share redistricting control over the other 55 with Republicans. That would give them redistricting control over 124 seats in total (29 percent) — slightly more than Republicans.
Of course, the final redistricting landscape will probably be somewhere in between these two extremes. To see which party will have the eventual advantage — and how big that advantage will be — here are the states and elections to watch.
Without question, Texas is the biggest redistricting prize up for grabs this year; accounting for population growth, it is expected to have 39 congressional districts next decade. While Republicans currently control all three stakeholders in the congressional redistricting process — the state Senate, state House and governorship — the state House is competitive this year. Democrats need a net gain of just nine seats to take control of the chamber — and there are 22 districts that the party thinks it can flip, including nine that Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke carried in 2018. If Democrats flip the House, they would gain the ability to block GOP-proposed maps, forcing either Republicans to compromise or a court to draw the lines.New York is projected to have 26 House seats next decade, but it has relatively new and complex redistricting rules under which a bipartisan commission proposes maps, but the state legislature and governor decide whether to approve them. However, if they reject the commission’s maps twice, the legislature can effectively draw its own. Only one wrinkle: If the same party controls both chambers of the legislature (as Democrats currently do), a two-thirds majority is required to pass a new congressional map. That means Democrats need to win a supermajority in the state Senate (they already have one in the state Assembly) in 2020 if they want to be able to impose a map without any Republican votes. And with 10 Republican senators retiring, including many from competitive seats, Democrats have a good chance of picking up the two additional seats they need.In Pennsylvania (likely home to 17 congressional districts), Democrats are guaranteed a seat at the table in redistricting thanks to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who was reelected in 2018. If they flip both the state Senate and state House this year, they could draw congressional lines however they want. However, Democrats would need a net gain of nine seats to take the state House (despite having plenty of vulnerable members of their own) and sweep every competitive district in the Senate. So the most likely outcome may be that Wolf will share redistricting power with Republican legislators.North Carolina’s House and Senate will draw the state’s projected 14 congressional districts; the governor doesn’t get a say. Both chambers are competitive in this year’s elections, meaning either party could have full control of redistricting (divided control is very possible as well). Right now Republicans have majorities in both chambers, but Democrats could change that by flipping five seats in the Senate and/or six seats in the House.By contrast, the fate of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts will be decided by Amendment #1, a ballot measure to reform redistricting. (Control of state government in Virginia is decided in odd years and so isn’t in play this year.) Amendment #1 would set up a bipartisan commission of state legislators and ordinary citizens to draw Virginia’s new congressional map. The state legislature would still have to approve it, but if they don’t, the state Supreme Court would create its own map. Polling so far shows that Amendment #1 will probably pass, but if not, Virginia’s Democratic-controlled state government would draw the lines.Republicans currently control all three redistricting entities — the state Senate, state House and governorship — in Missouri, worth eight congressional seats. But Democrats have an outside shot at breaking up that monopoly if two things go right for them. First, Democrat Nicole Galloway would need to overcome her polling deficit to defeat Republican Gov. Mike Parson. Then, Democrats would also have to break up the Republican supermajority in the state Senate, which they could do by flipping two seats — perhaps vulnerable Senate districts 15 and 19. Otherwise, Republicans could simply override Galloway’s veto of their maps.The power to draw Minnesota’s projected seven congressional districts is currently divided: Democrats control the governorship and state House, while Republicans control the state Senate. The question of redistricting control will boil down to whether Democrats can flip the state Senate (the governor isn’t up for reelection this year). Democrats have six viable pickup opportunities but only need to net two seats to attain a majority, giving them a good shot of drawing the maps alone next year.Iowa will use a unique process to redraw its four House districts. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency draws a map, and the legislature gives it an up-or-down vote. If the legislature rejects two of the LSA’s maps, though, they can amend the third or draw their own, putting the ultimate power in politicians’ hands. Right now, that means in Republican hands — the GOP controls the state Senate, state House and governorship. However, Democrats need to net only four seats to take control of the state House, which would probably make it more likely that one of the LSA’s maps is accepted.At first glance, control of redrawing Kansas’s four congressional districts appears to be split between Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and the Republican legislature. However, the GOP currently has veto-proof majorities in both the state Senate and state House, meaning they could enact a new map without Kelly’s input. Those supermajorities are very much at risk in the 2020 elections, though. If Democrats net three Senate seats or even just one House seat this year, they’ll ensure a new map can only pass if Democrats approve.Finally, only two congressional districts are at stake in New Hampshire, but almost every possible scenario is on the table. All three redistricting stakeholders (the state Senate, state House and governorship) are on the ballot, and all three are competitive. If polling showing Republicans close to flipping both chambers of the legislature is correct, Republicans could gain total control of redistricting. If Democrats pull an upset and defeat Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, they would. However, the status quo (shared control between Sununu and a Democratic legislature) may be the most likely outcome.
Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
There is no shortage of issues that divide Democrats and Republicans — the presidential election, the Supreme Court confirmation vote, etc. But let’s spend a little time today looking at issues that split voters within the two parties.
These issues are likely to come to the foreground after the election is over. If Republicans lose races for the presidency, U.S. Senate and some state legislatures1 — as seems likely right now — there will be a debate within the GOP about how to get back in power. Meanwhile, newly empowered Democrats would have to figure out which policies they want to advance first. On the other hand, if Democrats lose the presidential election (and it’s clear that the election was conducted fairly), we are likely to see a Super Bowl of recriminations, told-ya-so essays and infighting over how the party lost an election against such an unpopular president. President Trump and a victorious Republican Party would have to set a second-term agenda — a task complicated enough that the party opted against releasing an updated platform ahead of this year’s conventions.
So which issues divide Democrats, and which ones divide Republicans? Two polls released this week, one conducted by the New York Times and Siena College and the other by PRRI, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on the intersection of religion, culture and public policy, provide some fresh answers.
A national mandate for a coronavirus vaccine: 47 percent of Democrats supported a national mandate to take a COVID-19 vaccine if one is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and 48 percent opposed it, per the New York Times/Siena poll of likely voters, which was conducted Oct. 15 to 18. This is an unpopular idea with the broader American public — only 18 percent of Republicans voters and 32 percent of likely voters overall supported such a mandate, according to the poll.A more liberal presidential nominee: About 45 percent of adults who identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents said that they had initially favored Sen. Bernie Sanders (31 percent) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (14 percent) during the Democratic primary, per the PRRI survey, which was conducted Sept. 9-22.2 Twenty-eight percent said they had preferred Joe Biden, 10 percent said former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 6 percent said former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 4 percent said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 2 percent said Tom Steyer, and 4 percent said someone else. (The poll did not ask respondents about candidates who dropped out earlier in the primary process, such as Sen. Kamala Harris.)
Democratic voters are firmly behind Biden in his race against Trump. But there is a sizeable bloc in the party who favored more liberal candidates, and divisions between this more liberal bloc and the party’s more centrist bloc are likely to emerge if Democrats have total control of Washington next year — or even if Democrats control the presidency and the House.Reparations: Exactly half of Democrats (50 percent) said they supported economically compensating African Americans who are the descendants of enslaved people, and almost exactly half (49 percent) opposed this idea, according to PRRI. This is an unpopular idea, more broadly — only 27 percent of Americans, including 5 percent of Republicans, supported reparations.Religion: 46 percent of Democrats said they felt that religion causes more problems in society than it solves, while 53 percent of Democrats disagreed with that sentiment. Only 38 percent of Americans overall said that religion creates more problems than it solves, compared to 61 percent who disagreed with that sentiment, including 79 percent of Republicans.
Trump’s speech and behavior: 46 percent of Republicans said they wished that Trump’s speech and behavior was “consistent with previous presidents,” compared to 53 percent who disagreed, per PRRI. That was a popular sentiment with the broader public — 68 percent of American adults and 84 percent of Democrats wished Trump acted more like his predecessors.A public health insurance option: 45 percent of Republicans supported a government-operated health insurance plan that all Americans could enroll in, while 47 percent opposed this idea, according to the New York Times/Siena poll. This was also a popular idea overall — 67 percent of Americans, including 87 percent of Democrats, supported a public option.State and local government policies to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as requirements to wear masks: 56 percent of Republicans said state and local governments are taking “reasonable steps to protect people,” while 43 percent said those moves are “unreasonable attempts to control people,” per PRRI. These policies were broadly popular — 76 percent of Americans, including 94 percent of Democrats, said state and local governments were taking reasonable steps.A mini-Green New Deal: 46 percent of Republicans opposed a “$2 trillion plan to increase the use of renewable energy and build energy-efficient infrastructure,” and 45 percent of Republicans supported it, according to the New York Times/Siena survey. The question referred neither to Biden nor to the “Green New Deal.” (The former vice president has a $2 trillion proposal that focuses on both improving America’s infrastructure and reducing the nation’s use of fossil fuels. It’s basically a shrunken-down version of the Green New Deal.) It’s quite possible that support for this proposal would be much lower among Republicans if the question cast it as, say, “Joe Biden’s version of the Green New Deal.” But it’s interesting that the concept of a more modest Green New Deal is not that unpopular with Republicans. Sixty-six percent of Americans, including 89 percent of Democrats, supported this idea.Getting a COVID-19 vaccine: 54 percent of Republicans said they would “probably” or “definitely” get a vaccine for COVID-19 if it were approved by the FDA, and 40 percent said they “probably” or “definitely” would not get it, per the New York Times/Siena survey. Sixty-one percent of Americans, including 69 percent of Democrats, said they would “probably” or “definitely” get the vaccine.The levels of discrimination Black and Hispanic Americans face: About half of Republicans (52 percent) said that Black Americans face “a lot” of discrimation, and about half (47 percent) said that they don’t, per PRRI. Forty-five percent of Republicans agreed that Hispanic Americans face a lot of discrimation, compared to 53 percent who disagreed. Most Americans overall (75 percent) and Democrats (92 percent) said that Black Americans face a lot of discrimination. The numbers were similar but slightly lower for discrimination against Hispanic Americans: 69 percent of Americans and 86 percent of Democrats said that they face a lot of discrimination.Immigration policy: Republicans are about equally split on allowing the separation of families at the border (45 percent supported, 53 percent opposed), protecting people who were brought to the U.S. as children but are not citizens from deportation (45 percent supported, 54 percent opposed) and creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (48 percent supported such a pathway, 38 percent said they should be deported, and 14 percent said they should be allowed to become legal residents but not become citizens). A clear majority of Americans overall opposed separating families at the border (76 percent) and supported a pathway to citizenship (64 percent), as well as granting legal resident status to immigrants who would benefit from either the DREAM Act or DACA, commonly referred to as “Dreamers” (66 percent).A universal basic income: 52 percent of Republicans supported guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income, compared to 48 percent who opposed such an idea, per PRRI. Seventy percent of Americans overall, including 88 percent of Democrats, supported a UBI.
You may have noticed both that there are more dividing issues listed here among Republicans than Democrats, and that there are a lot of ideas that split the Republican Party but are fairly popular among Americans. Part of that may be the nature of these surveys — a different set of questions might have found more splits among Democrats. But there’s an important explanation that gets at the parties’ divergent strategies.
Pollsters usually ask about ideas that are part of the current political discourse, which usually means that major politicians or activists are talking about them, but that they aren’t yet law. Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in particular, tend to campaign on and try to pass ideas that they know are fairly popular with the public, so it’s not surprising that there are lots of potential Biden administration proposals — such as a public health insurance option — that basically all Democratic voters and even some Republican voters are on board with. This Democratic approach makes sense electorally — it helps explain why the party is likely to win the popular vote in 2020 and has done so in most recent presidential elections.
Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump are more willing than Biden and Pelosi to push controversial policies (such as separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border) and oppose popular ones (the protection from deportation for “Dreamers” that was enacted under President Obama). So that explains why a lot of fairly popular ideas aren’t already law. This approach is more electorally risky than the Democratic one but sometimes pays dividends in terms of policy: Trump has limited immigration much more than he would have if he had only advanced and executed ideas popular with the broader American public.
62 percent of likely voters believe that government-imposed limits on the number of people who can attend in-person gatherings — including at churches — amid the coronavirus outbreak are constitutional, according to a recent poll from the left-leaning Data for Progress; 29 percent said that subjecting churches to those limits impinges on religious liberties.57 percent of likely voters think the Affordable Care Act should be upheld by the Supreme Court even though the law’s mandate requiring people to purchase insurance has been effectively eliminated, according to that same survey.3 About 1 in 3 likely voters (32 percent), including 53 percent of Republicans, think the ACA should be scrapped in light of the mandate change.77 percent of registered voters said that the outcome of this year’s presidential election matters to them more than it has previous presidential elections, according to a September Gallup poll. That 77 percent is higher than for any previous presidential election going back to 1996 in Gallup’s polling. (The next-highest result was 74 percent in 2008.) In this year’s survey, 85 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of independents said that this election matters more than previous ones.69 percent of likely voters, including 54 percent of Republicans, think that it will take more than a year for the U.S. economy to recover from the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a recent poll conducted by Global Strategy Group and North Star Opinion Research on behalf of the Financial Times and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Less than a third (31 percent) of Americans think the economy will recover within a year.The same survey found that people are almost evenly split on whether Trump’s policies have helped the economy: 44 percent of people said his policies helped, compared to 46 who said they had hurt the economy.53 percent of adults ages 18-30 want Biden to win the election, 23 percent favor Trump, and a large bloc (17 percent) said they weren’t sure, according to a new Vice News/Ipsos poll. A majority (57 percent) of those surveyed said that they don’t feel represented by either party, compared to 28 percent who disagreed with that sentiment. These young voters are supportive of free COVID-19 testing for all Americans (85 percent), Medicare for All (68 percent) and the Black Lives Matter movement (64 percent). They are not as supportive of the Green New Deal (41 percent), limiting abortions after the first trimester (35 percent) and building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border (26 percent).61 percent of U.S. adults said they know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, according to an Axios/Ipsos poll conducted Oct. 16-19, while only 38 percent said they did not. This is a big jump from early March, when only 4 percent of Americans said they knew someone who had tested positive for the virus, and even mid-July, when 41 percent knew someone who’d tested positive. More than 1 in 5 Americans (22 percent) said they know someone who has died of the virus, while 78 percent said they do not.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,4 42.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.2 points). At this time last week, 42.7 percent approved and 54.3 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.6 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.3 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,5 Democrats currently lead by 7.4 percentage points (49.4 percent to 42.0 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 7 points (48.9 percent to 41.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.3 points (48.7 percent to 42.3 percent).
Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.
In the past couple of weeks, key battleground states like Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania have received a lot of attention because Republicans have seen a spike in voter registration numbers. This is often cited as a counterpoint to Joe Biden’s sizable lead over President Trump in the polls, as all these Republican registrations must be a sign of support for Trump that the polls are missing, right?
Well, it’s hard to say what’s happening exactly. Dave Wasserman, the House editor for The Cook Political Report and an NBC News contributor, found in early October that Republicans had made much larger gains in voter registration than Democrats in key states since the presidential primaries earlier this year, perhaps in part due to Republicans’ efforts to knock on doors and Democrats’ reluctance to do the same.
But the problem is party registration numbers can be a hard way to get a read on what’s happening in the election. Like early voting numbers, there are all kinds of pitfalls in how you should think about this data. Here are three of the biggest problems:
A voter’s party registration is a strong indicator of who they’ll support, but it’s not a guarantee. In fact, many voters registered with one party have actually been voting for the other party in recent elections but haven’t necessarily switched their registration to reflect the party they actually support.
Take Pennsylvania, for example. The once-Democratic southwestern part has shifted sharply toward the GOP over the past couple of decades. However, party registration figures haven’t necessarily reflected that movement as much as you might expect. For instance, Greene County along the West Virginia border voted for Trump by 40 percentage points in 2016, yet preelection registration figures2 show that party identification is split almost evenly, with registered Republicans and Democrats each making up 45 percent of the county’s voters.
Part of what’s going on is that many older voters in that region are still registered as Democrats, even if they back Republicans for most federal offices. Conversely, the suburban counties around Philadelphia in the eastern part of the state used to form the base of the state Republican Party, but even though that area has moved toward the Democrats in recent elections, some Democratic-leaning voters haven’t changed their party registration. In other words, big shifts in party registration sometimes tell us something we already know, and aren’t a signal of a new shift in attitudes.
The election calendar also influences party registration trends, as key dates and campaign events drive interest in participation. For instance, a presidential primary or the registration deadline ahead of the general election can spark a flood of registrations. But sometimes this can create a disproportionate number of registrations from one party.
Consider the 2020 presidential primary. Democrats had a competitive race, which drove interest in voting in 2019 and early in 2020 among Democrats and voters who wanted to have a say in the party’s nomination contest. Meanwhile, Trump was practically unopposed in the GOP nomination contest, so there wasn’t the same motivation among Republican-leaning voters to register ahead of the primaries in the spring until we got closer to the general election.
Florida provides a clear example of this. Much has been made of the GOP registering about 147,000 more voters than the Democrats in the roughly eight months since the February registration deadline for the state’s March 17 presidential primary. Yet in the eight months before the primary deadline (so, going back to the end of June 2019), Democrats registered about 42,000 more voters than the GOP due to the high interest in the Democratic presidential race. Now, that might still be a net win for the GOP — because if we subtract the two, Republicans registered 105,000 more voters — but it’s not as simple as that. Not only is party registration sometimes a lagging indicator as we mentioned above, but there are also a lot more people registering as independent now, and more of those voters may lean Democratic.
In recent years, a growing number of voters don’t want to be associated with either of the two major parties, and instead register as independent. After hovering in the low- to high-30s from the late 1980s to the late 2000s, the share of Americans who identify as politically independent has now reached or even topped 40 percent in recent years, according to Gallup. And in the states where there is party registration data available, the share of registered independents has grown to more than a quarter of the electorate while the percentage of registered Democrats and Republicans has decreased.
That, in turn, makes it harder to know which party has an advantage in a given state because there’s this big block of voters who won’t tell us which party they prefer. The reality, of course, is that most independents lean toward one party, but their preferences are still masked at the voter registration level. This is especially tricky in battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania that have seen major upticks in the share of voters who have registered with no party affiliation.
But we’re not completely in the dark when it comes to who registers as an independent voter. For instance, younger voters are more likely to identify as independent than older voters. And importantly, younger voters of color are also more likely to register as independents, as Florida’s registration figures have shown. Both of these groups tend to lean Democratic which means that even if many of these voters don’t openly identify as Democrats, they’re more likely to vote for Democrats than not. More broadly, polls show Biden ahead of Trump among voters who identify as independent. That means even if Republicans are winning the registration battle in some key states, it might not be enough to offset the number of registered Democrats and independents who may back Biden in the end.
In other words, despite the surge in GOP registrations in a few swing states, it’s hard to read that as a clear sign of success for the GOP in November. It could be a good sign, but it could also be a lot of noise, and you’re better off looking at the polls instead.
Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s Election Update for Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020! As President Trump and Joe Biden prepare to take the stage tonight for the final presidential debate, Trump has just a 12 in 100 chance of winning the presidency, while Biden has an 88 in 100 chance, according to our presidential forecast.1 And according to national polls, Biden leads Trump by an average of 9.9 percentage points.
This is lower than Biden’s peak 10.7-point lead as of Monday, but still higher than his 7.1-point lead over Trump before their first debate on Sept. 29. In the last few days, national polls have tightened a bit, something our forecast was anticipating in the home stretch. But, to be clear, Biden is still well ahead overall in our forecast.
But of course, the national popular vote doesn’t pick the president — states do, via the Electoral College. And we got a flurry of state polls yesterday that were still good for Biden. Take Pennsylvania, the state with the highest chance of deciding the election, according to our forecast’s tipping-point odds. Yesterday, no fewer than four high-quality polls of Pennsylvania were released. Biden garnered 50 percent support and Trump garnered 45 percent in a Fox News poll; Biden led by 6 points in a Suffolk University poll; Biden led by 8 points in a Quinnipiac University poll; and CNN/SSRS even put Biden ahead by 10 points among likely voters. Though these ran the gamut from being OK to great polls for Biden, together they were pretty well in line with other polls we’ve seen this month — in other words, Biden has a solid, though not insurmountable, lead in Pennsylvania.
This is, however, still an improvement from where he stood before the first debate, when the winner of Pennsylvania was more uncertain. Since Sept. 29, Biden’s odds of winning Pennsylvania have increased from 79 in 100 to 87 in 100.
It’s a similar story in Florida, another important potential tipping point state; Trump has a less than 1 percent chance of winning the White House without it. Biden’s average lead in Florida polls is currently 3.8 points — not much lower than Biden’s October high of 4.5 points, achieved for a few days last week. And yesterday, Reuters/Ipsos, CNN/SSRS and Civiqs/Daily Kos all released surveys of Florida that gave Biden either a 4- or 5-point lead among likely voters. These numbers are a bit better for Biden than they were before the last debate, when he led by an average of 2 points or less in the Sunshine State. That early-October increase brought his chances of winning Florida from about 3 in 5 to around 7 in 10, but that number has barely changed in the last couple weeks.
What’s more, states like Iowa, Ohio and Georgia all now have almost exactly 50-50 odds in our forecast. Take the several Iowa polls we got yesterday: Emerson College found Trump and Biden tied at 48 percent; Siena College/The New York Times Upshot put Biden at 46 percent and Trump at 43 percent; and depending on the turnout model used, Monmouth University gave Biden either a 3- or 5-point lead among likely voters. With these polls, Biden actually improved his position in our Iowa polling average. He went from a 0.4-point lead on Monday to a 1.1-point lead currently — the opposite of the tightening we’ve seen elsewhere. And although our forecast doesn’t think Biden is favored to win Iowa, he does now have a 48 in 100 shot — the highest his odds have been all year. And that’s bad news for Republicans, since in worlds where Biden carries Iowa, he wins the presidency more than 99 percent of the time.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, two pollsters — Siena College/The New York Times Upshot and Morning Consult — both found Trump and Biden in a dead heat in Georgia this week. And appropriately enough, our forecast now finds that both Trump and Biden have exactly a 50 in 100 shot of carrying the Peach State.
According to Morning Consult, Biden also garnered 48 percent support and Trump 47 percent support in Texas, another fairly red state that is a must-win for Trump. And a Quinnipiac University poll of the Lone Star State released yesterday found a tied race, although Quinnipiac has tended to have good results for Biden this year relative to other pollsters. Accordingly, our forecast is not yet convinced that Texas is a toss-up, although it’s not safely red by any means. Trump has just a 64 in 100 chance of winning.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Biden is still ahead in all the states he needs in order to win — and is a real threat to win some that would just be icing on the cake for him. Trump still has a path to victory, but he needs to turn things around in all of these states fast — and the debate could be his last opportunity to do so.
Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
sarah (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): This is it — the last presidential debate — and, as we’ve said in our presidential forecast for a while now, President Trump is running out of time. Joe Biden has a double-digit lead in national polls and has gotten a number of good state polls in the past few days.
We still expect the race to tighten here in the home stretch, and a debate is a great way for that to happen. But it’s also true that the last two weeks before an election don’t necessarily change the race all that much.
How much the national polling margin changed between 15 days before the presidential election and Election Day, since 1972
Leader in FiveThirtyEight national polling averageYear15 days before ELECTIONElection DayChange2016Clinton+6.9Clinton+3.83.12012Romney+1.2Obama+0.41.62008Obama+6.8Obama+7.10.32004Bush+2.4Bush+1.60.82000Bush+2.7Bush+3.50.81996Clinton+14.9Clinton+12.82.11992Clinton+14.1Clinton+7.17.01988Bush+11.8Bush+10.41.41984Reagan+16.7Reagan+18.01.31980Reagan+2.3Reagan+2.10.21976Carter+2.0Carter+0.81.21972Nixon+25.5Nixon+24.11.4The averages listed are calculated retroactively based on FiveThirtyEight’s current polling average methodology.
So, let’s start there. How big are the stakes going into tonight?
nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): The stakes are kind of big but also kind of not?
On the one hand, it’s the last obvious opportunity for Trump to win voters over and for Biden to screw up. On the other hand, I think the writing is on the wall for Trump.
Granted, our presidential forecast still gives him a 13-in-100 chance of staging a comeback. But Trump just hasn’t shown any inclination to change his base-first strategy. He’s also been behind Biden for a while now in our forecast:
I guess I’m just not counting on seeing a different Trump tonight from the one who bombed in the first debate.
kaleigh (Kaleigh Rogers, tech and politics reporter): It’s rare for debates to have large, lasting impacts on the polls at the best of times, so it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this debate upends things in a dramatic way.
geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): Given how rare live events are in the COVID-19 era, though, it’s not impossible that something could come out that reflects poorly on Biden. So, in that sense, it is a big deal.
At the same time, a national poll from The Economist/YouGov found this week that Biden led 52 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, and that only 4 percent of those voters said they might change their minds. So, unless Trump can win over the incredibly small number of voters who genuinely are unsure — there are a lot fewer undecided voters this year — it’s going to be tough to win the election. And I’m not sure much can happen that’s going to shift public opinion sharply.
kaleigh: Like Nathaniel, I’m curious to see whether Trump changes his strategy at all. Obviously, the muted mics will limit how much he can talk over Biden, but arguably, that tactic didn’t work so well. At least one poll found the majority of respondents disapproved of Trump’s behavior in the last debate, and even some Republicans said it made them support him less afterward.
nrakich: I’m not so sure the muted mics will make a big difference, Kaleigh. Maybe we won’t be able to hear Trump’s interruptions, but Biden will. And that could trip Biden up or stop him mid-answer.
sarah: Saying Trump bombed is a bit harsh, though, Nathaniel. After all, Clinton “won” the 2016 debates, and we saw how that turned out.
It’s easy to get obsessed with comparisons to 2016, and as we’ve written, you shouldn’t make too much of one election — after all, it’s a sample size of one. That said, there are some pretty big differences from 2016, yes?
kaleigh: Well, there’s the pandemic. That’s a pretty stark contrast. It has changed how we vote, how candidates campaign, how the economy is doing and so much more.
I wonder how different this election would be compared with 2016’s if COVID-19 hadn’t happened.
geoffrey.skelley: Well, as that Economist/YouGov survey and others have shown, this election has far fewer undecided or third-party voters, which makes it harder for the debates to move mountains.
In FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average, Biden and Trump’s combined support adds up to about 94 percent. But at the same point in 2016, Trump and Clinton totaled just about 86 percent — a lot more voters were in play even in the late stages of the campaign. The same is true in state-level polls as well. For example, around 95 percent of voters in Wisconsin are backing Biden or Trump in our polling average, whereas 86 percent of voters there said they supported Trump or Clinton at this point in 2016.
nrakich: Not to mention, Biden’s lead is simply bigger than Clinton’s was at this stage of the 2016 campaign.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Biden led by 9.9 points in our national polling average; 13 days before Election Day in 2016, Clinton would have led by an average of 6.4 points, using the same methodology.
Something else that I think makes tonight’s debate less important: At least a quarter of voters have probably already cast their ballots. According to statistics collected by political scientist Michael McDonald, more than 41 million early or absentee votes have already been cast, or 30 percent of 2016 turnout (although 2020 turnout could be much higher if voter enthusiasm is any indication). So, even if something big happens tonight, a lot of people will have already voted.
geoffrey.skelley: That’s true, Nathaniel, but it could be that those early voters would have voted already anyway, as studies have shown that voters who vote early are more likely to be very partisan. Or, put another way, maybe those people weren’t going to change their minds anyway.
sarah: Those are all really good points — especially Kaleigh’s, about what this election would have looked like if COVID-19 hadn’t happened. What could we be missing, though? (And one big reason why comparisons to 2016 have their limitations!)
nrakich: Well, it’s always possible there will be a polling error.
So, if the debate budges the polls just enough — say, to where Biden has a 4-point national lead instead of a 10-point one — that makes it significantly more likely that Trump could win.
If Biden stays at +10 nationally, though, it would take a truly bonkers polling error to save Trump.
kaleigh: There are also more conventional differences. For example, this election has an incumbent candidate.
geoffrey.skelley: Speaking of polling error — and whether we could have a “Dewey Defeats Truman” on our hands — pollsters have tried to account for some of the things that led to problems with state polls in 2016. For example, some are weighting their samples by education, or even education and race, to avoid underrepresenting white voters without a college degree, voters who went so strongly for Trump in 2016.
So, some state polls could be better this time — although, of course, it’s impossible to predict the direction of a polling error before an election.
Weighted-average statistical bias of polls in final 21 days of the election, among polls in FiveThirtyEight’s Pollster Ratings database
CycleGovernorU.S. SenateU.S. HousePres. GeneralCombined1998R+5.7R+4.8R+1.5R+4.21999-2000D+0.6R+2.9D+0.9R+2.6R+1.82001-2002D+3.0D+1.4D+1.3D+2.22003-2004R+4.2D+1.7D+2.5D+1.1D+0.92005-2006D+0.3R+1.3D+0.2R+0.12007-2008D+0.5D+0.8D+1.0D+1.1D+1.02009-2010R+0.7D+1.7D+0.62011-2012R+1.3R+3.3R+2.6R+2.5R+2.62013-2014D+2.3D+2.5D+3.7D+2.72015-2016D+3.3D+2.8D+3.7D+3.1D+3.02017-2019R+0.9D+0.1R+0.3R+0.3All yearsD+0.3D+0.1D+0.7D+0.2D+0.3Bias is calculated only for elections where the top two finishers were a Republican and Democrat. Therefore, it is not calculated for presidential primaries. Averages are weighted by the square root of the number of polls that a particular pollster conducted for that particular type of election in that particular cycle. Polls that are banned by FiveThirtyEight because we know or suspect they faked data are excluded from the analysis.
sarah: OK, back to the debate. The rules have changed, as Kaleigh and Nathaniel were mentioning earlier, and now the moderator can mute the candidates if they speak out of turn. Here’s a snapshot of the six issues they are expected to stick to:
Fighting COVID-19American familiesRace in AmericaClimate changeNational securityLeadership
What do we think might be covered by these issues? What plays to Biden’s strengths? And Trump’s?
geoffrey.skelley: Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “fighting COVID-19” is not going to go well for Trump because Americans generally think he’s done a poor job handling the pandemic. That leaves Biden with a lot of material to work with.
nrakich: Yeah — according to our poll with Ipsos before the last debate, respondents said 78 percent to 20 percent that Biden was better on the issue of COVID-19. And that was before Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Share of people who named each issue as the most important one facing the U.S., and whether they think Trump or Biden would handle that issue better, according to a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll
Who’s better on the issue…issueshareTRUMPbidenCOVID-1931.9%20.1%78.0%The economy22.079.119.2Health care9.627.971.8Racial inequality7.46.090.9Climate change4.94.795.3The Supreme Court4.561.138.4Violent crime4.280.618.1Economic inequality2.914.385.7Immigration2.861.338.7Abortion2.893.56.5Other1.755.341.8Education1.544.744.1Gun policy1.469.630.4Respondents who didn’t name a top issue are not shown.
Data comes from polling done by Ipsos for FiveThirtyEight, using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, a probability-based online panel that is recruited to be representative of the U.S. population. The poll was conducted Sept. 30 – Oct. 6 among a general population sample of adults, with 2,994 respondents and a margin of error of +/- 2.0 percentage points.
kaleigh: Trump has already been trying to positively spin his bout with the coronavirus — he’s been through it! He survived! But it will be pretty easy for Biden to point out that Trump didn’t take the virus seriously since he actually caught it. Not to mention, many Americans don’t think Trump took enough COVID-19 precautions, and there are signs that this hurt him electorally.
nrakich: I’m curious what the “American families” segment will touch on … does anyone have any inkling what that means?
Perhaps it’s a roundabout way of saying the economy. Kitchen table issues. Of course, the economy touches almost every topic to some extent.
kaleigh: That’s my bet, Geoffrey, but it’s just vague enough to be uncertain.
sarah: My money is on the suburbs.
Or, at the very least, I can imagine suburban families being mentioned by both Biden and Trump. Trump won suburban voters in 2016, but he’s in real trouble here in 2020, as many white suburban women are continuing to move away from the Republican Party, as we saw in 2018.
But, yeah, given the economy ranked as voters’ first or second issue, according to our polling with Ipsos, I think that’s right, too, Geoffrey and Kaleigh.
The economy is one issue where Trump has always had an advantage.
nrakich: “Climate change” and “race in America” also seem like good issues for Biden. According to that Ipsos poll, more than 90 percent of Americans trust Biden more than Trump on both of those issues!
On the other hand, they also said they trust Trump more than Biden, about 81 percent to 18 percent, on “violent crime.” So Trump might try to reframe the segment on race in America into one about rioting and looting.
As for national security, I think it’s fair to say that segment will move the fewest votes. American elections generally aren’t decided on foreign-policy grounds.
kaleigh: Honestly, is there anything in that lineup that isn’t well-trodden territory at this point?
sarah: Yeah, it is hard to imagine that any of the issues discussed tonight will cover new ground in a way that sways voters. They do feel like well-trodden talking points at this stage, and the reality remains that Trump really does need the polls to tighten. Otherwise, his odds in our forecast will continue to fall. But, of course, even a 5 percent chance of something happening is something you should take seriously.
OK, the stakes are high. Trump needs some movement in the polls, and Biden isn’t a safe bet. What will you be watching for tonight, and in the last week of the election — knowing, of course, we’re all kind of flying blind?
nrakich: To me, the big question is, can Biden maintain his 10-point national lead after this debate? Or will tonight “reset” the race and bring the polling average down to Biden +7 or so, which is where it has been for most of the year?
Even if that were to happen, Biden would still have a good chance of winning, but the size of his margin could determine things like whether Democrats win the Senate or the number of state legislatures Democrats flip.
geoffrey.skelley: It’s true that incumbent presidents have had a habit of struggling in first debates, only to come back stronger in later ones. This was true of Barack Obama in 2012 and Ronald Reagan in 1984. So don’t count out a much better showing from Trump tonight.
The 2020 election might feel like either a dream or a nightmare, depending on who you’re rooting for. But with our new interactive, you’ll at least be able to choose your own election adventure and explore how winning a state or a combination of states will affect President Trump’s and Joe Biden’s chances of winning the Electoral College.
When you first open the interactive, it’ll show you a map that’s shaded based on our presidential forecast and the 40,000 simulations we run each time we update the model. Deep-blue California, for example, is almost certain to go to Biden, while Trump is favored but not a lock in light-red Texas given their current odds. But what happens if, say, Trump gets some swing states called for him on Nov. 3? How might the probabilities change? That’s what this interactive is all about.
Unlike other tools that explore paths to 270 electoral votes — many of which are very cool and we like a lot! — ours focuses specifically on how the states are related to one another. Click on Kentucky to turn it red, for instance, and the forecast barely budges, since Trump is almost certain to win Kentucky anyway, and that assumption is already built into the forecast.
Upset wins or decisions in states that our model considers toss-ups could matter a lot more, though. If Biden wins Florida, for instance, his chances1 of winning the Electoral College shoot up to greater than 99 percent, which could be important on Nov. 3 because Florida generally counts its votes quickly and the networks might be able to determine who won the state on election night. But if Trump wins Florida, his Electoral College chances rise to 39 percent, making the race practically a toss-up.
Why such big swings based on just one state? It’s not simply that Florida’s 29 electoral votes are valuable, although they are. It’s also that Florida provides an indication of how other states might vote. Polling errors are correlated, so if Trump wins Florida — where he’s slightly behind right now — he could beat his polls in other states too.
You can also look at how states behave in combination with one another, according to our forecast. Say that Trump wins Florida but that Biden wins North Carolina, another state that usually tallies its votes quickly. This is a good trade for Biden, on balance. His projected number of electoral votes declines from our initial forecast — he’s averaging 345 electoral votes in our forecast as of Tuesday afternoon, and he’d drop to around 309 in this scenario — because without Florida, he won’t have any sort of runaway, landslide victory. But Biden’s probability of winning some combination of 270 electoral votes and therefore the Electoral College increases to 92 percent if he loses Florida but wins North Carolina, because it’s hard for Trump to win the Electoral College unless he wins both states.
In general, Biden has more paths to 270 than Trump, which reflects the fact that he has the polling lead in most swing states. But problems in the Upper Midwest could spell trouble for Biden, as it did for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump has a 75 percent chance of winning the election if he wins Wisconsin, for instance.
Another “fun” challenge is to seek out scenarios that could produce a 269-269 Electoral College tie. For instance, if Trump wins Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina but Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Arizona, then we wind up with a tie about 12 percent of the time. And before you ask, yes: The interactive does let you choose the winners of each congressional district in Nebraska and Maine, states that give one of their electoral votes to the winner of each district — those single votes are sometimes important in breaking ties.
Our simulations also reflect that states that are more geographically and demographically similar are more likely to swing in the same direction. If Trump wins both North Carolina and Florida, for instance, then Biden’s chances of winning neighboring Georgia fall to just 4 percent. If Biden wins North Carolina and Florida, though, his chances in Georgia soar to 74 percent. By contrast, the candidates’ chances of winning Montana don’t go up or down much based on what you tell the interactive to do in Florida and North Carolina because Montana is so dissimilar to them.
But we’d encourage you to stick to relatively realistic scenarios. The interactive will allow you to do weird things, but only up to a point. Namely, it won’t let you call a state for a candidate if he has less than a 1.5 percent chance of winning it in our initial forecast. But say you want to see what happens if Biden wins Ohio but loses Michigan. You can test that, but be warned: Although both Ohio and Michigan are competitive, that combination of outcomes is rare, since Ohio and Michigan are similar states but Michigan is usually much bluer.
The model will still spit out an answer, but it’s hard to know how reliable it will be — very few of the 40,000 simulations we run in our forecast will have Biden winning Ohio but Trump winning Michigan. In cases like this where there are few simulations that match the map you’ve chosen, the interactive instead uses a regression-based technique and essentially runs some new simulations on the fly. Still, that could lead to a “garbage in, garbage out” problem.
The goal of our forecast is to figure out which scenarios are most plausible in the real world, and if you deliberately choose some implausible ones, it may be hard to know what to make of the output. Overall, though, we hope you’ll find the interactive both fun and informative — and if you’ve got any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line.
Over the past few months, President Trump has framed the 2020 election as a defense of suburbia. In a Wall Street Journal column in August, he and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson promised to protect the suburbs from being transformed into “dysfunctional cities.” And in a tweet several days later, Trump warned that suburban women should be wary of Democrats, as they would allow crime to drift into suburban communities. More recently, the president has grown less subtle, imploring suburban women at his rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, last week to like him. “[C]an I ask you to do me a favor, suburban women? Will you please like me? Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?”
The suburbs, in Trump’s telling, are under siege — and a Joe Biden presidency would transform them beyond recognition. But it might be that Trump doesn’t actually recognize what suburbia looks like today.
Establishing what constitutes a “suburb” is hard; there is no single definition, and what’s more, in the past 40 years, the suburbs have become much more diverse. This is bad news for Trump, as his vision of suburbia seems largely stuck in the 1950s — a manicured lawn, a husband heading into the city to work at a white-collar job, and a “housewife” tending to the children and preparing dinner. Only this version of suburbia doesn’t really exist anymore.
It wasn’t that long ago, though, that Trump had an edge among suburban voters. In 2016, Trump won them, 47 percent to 45 percent, according to an analysis of validated voters by the Pew Research Center. But by 2018, 52 percent of suburban voters supported Democratic candidates for Congress, compared with 45 percent who supported Republican candidates. And according to our analysis of polling data from Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape, Trump is losing suburban voters to Biden, by 54 percent to 44 percent.1
What is driving this move away from Trump and Republicans in the suburbs? According to our analysis of Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape data, beyond the diversification of the suburbs, it’s mostly because of white suburban women: 54 percent of them support Biden, while just 45 percent support Trump (very few are undecided).2 Meanwhile, white suburban men haven’t stopped backing Trump — he’s winning them 57 percent to 41 percent. (The reason we’re zooming in on white suburban voters is that nonwhite voters in the suburbs are much more likely to say they’ll back Biden — 83 percent of Black, 69 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, and 57 percent of Hispanic likely voters said they supported Biden, according to our analysis.)
There is, of course, still a significant share of white women in the suburbs who are on Trump’s side (45 percent), but as you can see in the chart above, white men support Trump much more overall. And Trump may actually be reaching those men with pleas ostensibly geared toward women, according to Jane Junn, a political science professor at the University of Southern California. “When he talked about suburban housewives, I think the message was as much to men as it was to women,” Junn said. “It was a shoutout to their masculinity.”
One reason why white suburban men might be more receptive to Trump’s racially coded appeals and callouts to traditional gender roles is that white suburban men tend to score higher than white suburban women on questions of racial resentment and hostile sexism, even among Democrats.3The one exception to this, as the chart below shows, is among white suburban Republicans. In this case, men’s and women’s racial resentment scores are basically the same, which is somewhat expected as partisanship is a big driver of issues like racial discrimination and sexism.
However, white suburban Republican women were less likely to score high on the question we used to measure gender resentment, about whether women who complain of harassment often cause more problems than they solve. This signals that, compared with white men, they may be less receptive to Trump’s rhetoric concerning women this time around. And that could be a big problem for Trump since sexist attitudes strongly correlated with support for him in 2016.
The same is true of some of Trump’s core campaign issues, like immigration, which don’t seem to resonate as much with white suburban Republican women as with white suburban Republican men. Of the five issues we looked at, white Republican women in the suburbs were far less hard-line than their male counterparts. On some issues, like support for building a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico, there wasn’t much difference, but on the question of separating a child if their parents could be prosecuted for entering the U.S. illegally, the gap in support was huge: Just 25 percent of white suburban Republican women supported that policy compared with 46 percent of white suburban Republican men. There was also a sizable gap on support for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants.
Share of white suburban Republican likely voters who said they support the following immigration policies, by gender
PolicyMenWomenThe border wall75%72%Child separation4625Path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants4137Deportation of all undocumented immigrants6452Path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to U.S. as children6064Averaged from surveys conducted Sept. 3 to Oct. 7.
Source: DEMOCRACY FUND + UCLA NATIONSCAPE
While not directly related to the law-and-order rhetoric that Trump has been leaning into recently, immigration is a good example of why Trump’s presidency may have had a souring effect on white women, but not on white men. Claiming that immigration and crime are threats to the suburbs is a strategy that often works to remind white Republican women why they’re Republican, according to Jessica Trounstine, a political science professor at University of California, Merced, but this might not land with voters in the same way this year. That’s because the white women most likely to find Trump’s messages appealing are probably the ones who stuck with the Republicans in 2018. In other words, according to Junn of USC, the white women who abandoned Republicans in 2018 aren’t likely to be persuaded to come back based on this messaging.
White suburban men, however, don’t seem to be as badly shaken, and because their more traditionalist gender views make that retro vision of the suburbs more appealing, their support for the president might even be reinforced by his talk about suburban women. The trouble for Trump is that simply holding onto the votes of white suburban men isn’t enough — he needs to make up for lost ground among white suburban women, too. But with only two weeks left until Election Day, there might not be much he can do to bring them back.
We’re in the final stretch of the campaign, with just 15 days to go until the election. Indeed, “the election” is something of a misnomer, since early or mail voting is already underway in most states and about 30 million people have already cast ballots.
This is a period of high anxiety for almost everybody. So here are a few tips on how to process news and polls over the final two weeks. I’m going to keep these fairly short and sweet; we’ll save the more philosophical stuff about election forecasting, etc., for elsewhere.
The most important story in the country is that 210,000 Americans and counting have died from the coronavirus, plus virtually everybody’s lives have been disrupted in some way by the pandemic. And far from the U.S. having turned the corner, cases and hospitalizations are growing again in most parts of the country. President Trump’s approval ratings on COVID-19 are poor, too, considerably worse than his overall approval numbers. The pandemic isn’t a new story, but it’s liable to be more important to voters than, say, whatever is in Hunter Biden’s emails.
Although COVID-19 and other issues make Trump’s road to reelection difficult, he still has a 12 percent chance of winning the Electoral College, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of Sunday afternoon. And if Joe Biden maintains his current lead in the polls, Trump’s chances will fall further — although the forecast thinks it’s more likely that the race will tighten.
But say Trump’s chances do decline further — to 5 percent by Election Day, for example — I’d keep a few things in mind.
First, even a 5 percent chance is something you ought to take seriously if the consequences are very high, something I think both Trump and Biden supporters would say is true of this election. And second, the outcomes in this election aren’t entirely binary. Say Biden wins: His margin of victory will still be heavily scrutinized. Does he win by double digits nationally? Does he win a state like Texas? This could affect both the degree to which Democrats pursue a more aggressive agenda, and the extent to which Republicans regard Trumpism as having been repudiated. Also, many Senate races are competitive, and having control of 50 versus 52 versus 54 or more Senate seats will greatly affect Biden’s first two years in office. Statewide races matter too, especially in states where control of the redistricting process is still in play.
Polling is an imperfect instrument, more so in some years than others. However, 2016 — while far from a banner year from the polls — was not quite so bad as some critics assume. The national polls were pretty good, and Trump’s wins in the swing states were not that surprising based on the close margins in those states beforehand. Meanwhile, 2018, with the midterms, was one of the more accurate years for polling on record.
One other thing to keep in mind about polls in an election like this one: They do provide some way to measure public sentiment, however imperfect, independent of election results, which could be important if the election is disputed. It’s not surprising then that Trump frequently disparages polls — which could give Americans more confidence about the results if they closely resemble the polls — when he’s also repeatedly failed to commit to accepting the results of the election.
[Live Updates: We’re Tracking The Vote And Voting Problems]
I know it’s fashionable to make comparisons between 2016 and 2020, and to discuss the various ways in which they might or might not be similar (there are fewer undecided voters this year, for instance). But to some extent, I think those comparisons are misguided. You shouldn’t make too much of a sample size of one election. And you should avoid thinking in binaries, i.e., that the polls will either be “wrong” or “right.” Instead, it’s more of a spectrum: The larger Biden’s lead in the tipping-point states, the more that polls could be wrong and he could win anyway. And there’s also no guarantee that a polling error will work in Trump’s favor as it did in 2016. In 2012, polls underestimated then-President Barack Obama and Democrats instead.
At the same time, while there is no particular reason to think that polls will be wrong in exactly the same ways that they were in 2016, there are also precedents for larger polling errors than the one we experienced in 2016. The final Gallup poll in 1948 had Harry Truman 5 points behind Thomas Dewey, for example, but Truman actually won by 4 points, making for a 9-point polling error. A polling error of that magnitude probably would be enough for Trump to win the Electoral College, although not necessarily the popular vote.
This is perhaps the single piece of advice we give most often at FiveThirtyEight, but it’s especially important in the final couple weeks of a campaign. After a lull this weekend, there are likely to be a lot of polls the rest of the way out. On any given day, it will be possible to take the two or three best polls for Biden and tell a story of his holding or expanding his lead, or the two or three best polls for Trump and make a claim that the race is tightening.
Resist buying too much into those narratives. Instead, turn to polling averages like FiveThirtyEight’s that are smart at distinguishing (ahem) the signal from the noise. We do program our averages to be more aggressive in the closing days of the campaign — so if there’s a shift in the race, our average should start to detect it within a few days. But while there is such a thing as underreacting to news developments,5 the more common problem in the last days of a campaign is false positives, with partisans and the media trying to hype big swings in the polls when they actually show a fairly steady race.
Indeed, while the Comey letter really did matter in 2016, contributing to a 3-point shift toward Trump in the waning days of the campaign, it’s more the exception than the rule. On average, in elections since 1972,6 national polling averages shifted by an average of 1.8 points and a median of just 1.4 points in the final 15 days of the race.
How much the national polling margin changed between 15 days before the presidential election and Election Day, since 1972
Leader in FiveThirtyEight national polling averageYear15 days before ELECTIONElection DayChange2016Clinton+6.9Clinton+3.83.12012Romney+1.2Obama+0.41.62008Obama+6.8Obama+7.10.32004Bush+2.4Bush+1.60.82000Bush+2.7Bush+3.50.81996Clinton+14.9Clinton+12.82.11992Clinton+14.1Clinton+7.17.01988Bush+11.8Bush+10.41.41984Reagan+16.7Reagan+18.01.31980Reagan+2.3Reagan+2.10.21976Carter+2.0Carter+0.81.21972Nixon+25.5Nixon+24.11.4The averages listed are calculated retroactively based on FiveThirtyEight’s current polling average methodology.
Also, keep in mind that relatively few voters are undecided this year, and that many people have already voted, which could dampen the effect of any last-minute news developments.
These last two points are things I’ve learned by experience. There’s enough conflicting information in the final days of the campaign that it can help to triage, and one category of information I’d generally ignore are reports about how the Biden or Trump campaigns are feeling about the race. Even if reporters have good access into campaigns and are accurately reflecting their thinking, presidential campaigns often do not have a better read on the race than public polls. Campaigns are often just as surprised by unexpected results as anyone else; the Trump campaign’s models gave it a 30 percent chance of winning the Electoral College on the eve of the election in 2016, the same as FiveThirtyEight’s forecast did. And of course, less diligent reporters are subject to being spun by the campaigns, or to publishing information that is designed to deceive or bluff the campaign’s opponents.
Democrats have a huge edge in early voting so far … but as I talked about on my weekly segment for ABC’s “This Week,” I’m not sure I’d read too much into it. The early-voting lead for Democrats is largely in line with what polls predicted, and Republicans are likely to draw the race closer with a huge Election Day turnout. Moreover, our experience in past elections is that people tend to read more into early voting data than is warranted and often cherry-pick data in ways that are favorable to their preferred party or candidate.
Also, the huge partisan split in early in-person voting and mail voting is new — historically, it was something that both parties took advantage of — and that makes it hard to put it into context. Maybe it really will turn out to be a bad sign for Republicans that Democrats are banking so many votes. Or maybe Democrats will underperform polls because mail votes have a higher rate of ballot spoilage. On balance I’d rather have a lot of votes locked in than not, but we’re flying pretty blind here. Besides, most polls try to account for early voting — for instance, by asking voters whether they’ve already voted — so to the extent that Democrats are benefiting from it, it should be reflected in the polls already.
It’s going to be a long 15 days — and perhaps beyond, since we may not know the winner on Nov. 3. FiveThirtyEight will be providing all the content that you might want, from daily podcasts to near-constant updates of our forecast. But you’ll usually know all that you need to if you’re pacing yourself and only checking in with news coverage of the campaign once a day or a couple of times a week. Stay safe and stay sane, and we’ll enjoy watching the rest of the election with you.
There’s a well-known truth in politics: No one group swings an election.
But that doesn’t mean that the demographic trends bubbling beneath the surface can’t have an outsized effect. Take 2016. President Trump won in large part because he carried white voters without a college degree by a bigger margin than any recent GOP presidential nominee, though there had been signs that this group was shifting rightward for a while.
Likewise in 2018, a strong showing by Democrats in suburban districts and among white voters with a four-year college degree helped the party retake the House, a shift we first saw in 2016 when Trump likely became the first Republican to lose this group in 60 years.1 And this is just scratching the surface. In the past few years, we’ve also seen hints that more women voters are identifying as Democrats and that some nonwhite voters might be getting more Republican-leaning.
The question, then, in 2020 — as it is in every election — is what will the electorate look like this time around? Can we expect a continuation of what we saw in 2016 and 2018, or might some of those trends slow or reverse direction? And, of course, are there any surprises lurking beneath the surface that we haven’t quite identified yet?
We tried to answer this question by comparing data from the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study to 2020 data from Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape polling conducted over the past month.2 This comparison is hardly perfect — the 2016 CCES data is based on data from people who were confirmed to have actually voted while the UCLA Nationscape data is a large-scale survey of people who say they have voted or will vote, and the two studies use different methodologies, which could lead to differences in what types of voters were reached and how they were weighted. But this is as close as we can get to a direct comparison before the election, and it did allow us to identify some interesting trends.
First off, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is attracting more support than Hillary Clinton did among white voters as a whole — especially white women, older white voters and those without a four-year college degree — which has helped him build a substantial lead of around 10 points, according to FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average. However, Trump is performing slightly better than last time among college-educated white voters, and he has gained among voters of color, especially Hispanic voters and younger Black voters.
White voters made up more than 7 out of 10 voters in the 2016 electorate according to CCES, so any large shifts in their attitudes could greatly alter the electoral calculus. And as the chart below shows, that’s more or less what has happened: Trump’s edge among white voters is around half of what it was in 2016, which could be especially consequential as this group is overrepresented in the states that are most likely to decide the winner of the Electoral College.
One factor driving this is that Biden looks to be doing better than Clinton among white voters without a college degree, a voting bloc that made up close to half of the overall electorate in 2016 and forms a majority of the population in key swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.3 While Clinton lost this group by more than 20 points four years ago, Biden is behind by just 12 points in UCLA Nationscape’s polling. This isn’t entirely a surprise: We saw some signs of Biden’s strength with non-college whites in the 2020 Democratic primary, as he did better than Clinton in counties that had larger shares of white Americans without a college degree. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why we’re seeing this, though. One possible explanation is that as an older white man, Biden just resonates more with these voters than Clinton did in 2016, especially considering the role sexism and racism played in voter attitudes in 2016. But it’s also possible that some of these voters are just turned off by Trump after four years with him in the White House.
Take white women. They backed Trump over Clinton in 2016 but were split pretty evenly between the two parties in the 2018 midterms. And now they favor Biden by 6 points in UCLA Nationscape polling, which would be around a 15-point swing toward the Democrats compared to what CCES found for the 2016 race. Trump has also taken a major hit among older white voters. In 2016, he won white voters age 45 or older by more than 20 points, but according to UCLA Nationscape polling, he now leads by only 4 points.
Trump isn’t losing ground among all white voters, though. White men, for instance, look likely to back Trump by around 20 points again. And Trump is also making inroads with college-educated white voters. Trump lost this group by more than 10 points in 2016, and Republican House and Senate candidates lost it by a similar margin in 2018, but Trump may be running closer to even among them now. As FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. recently noted, many college-educated white voters are Republican-leaning, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line. The question will be whether Trump can attract support from this group nationally, as he’s already essentially got a lock on many Southern states (although maybe not as many Southern states as he’d like). Trump is currently polling at 49 percent among white, college-educated voters in UCLA Nationscape’s polling, and if he stays there, that could help him hold on to battleground states he carried in 2016, such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, where college-educated white voters are more likely to prefer the GOP.
Trump has also gained real ground among nonwhite voters. To be clear, he still trails Biden considerably with these groups, but in UCLA Nationscape’s polling over the past month, he was down by 39 points with these voters, a double-digit improvement from his 53-point deficit in 2016.
While older Black voters look as if they’ll vote for Biden by margins similar to Clinton’s in 2016, Trump’s support among young Black voters (18 to 44) has jumped from around 10 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in UCLA Nationscape’s polling. Black voters remain an overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning constituency, but a notable reduction in their support could still be a problem for Biden.
Notably, young Black voters don’t seem to feel as negatively about Trump as older Black Americans do. For instance, an early-July African American Research Collaborative poll of battleground states found that 35 percent of 18-to-29-year-old Black adults agreed that although they didn’t always like Trump’s policies, they liked his strong demeanor and defiance of the establishment. Conversely, just 10 percent of those 60 and older said the same.
It’s a similar story with younger Hispanic Americans, a group where Trump has also made gains. According to UCLA Nationscape’s polling, Trump is attracting 35 percent of Hispanic voters under age 45, up from the 22 percent who backed him four years ago in the CCES data.
Most notably, even though Trump stands to gain with nonwhite voters across the board, his support seems to have risen the most among Hispanic voters with a four-year college degree. We don’t want to overstate the influence of this group — they make up about 2 percent of the population age 25 and older nationwide — but they are disproportionately concentrated in one especially vital swing state: Florida. In fact, 24 percent of Hispanic Floridians have a college degree, compared to 16 percent of Hispanic adults nationally.4 So even if Trump isn’t doing as well among older white voters, his gains among Hispanic voters, including highly educated ones, could offer a path to victory in the Sunshine State.
One last point on where Trump has made gains among Black and Hispanic voters: He has done particularly well with Black and Hispanic men, which might speak to how his campaign has actively courted them. For instance, the Republican National Convention featured a number of Black men as speakers this year. And Politico talked with more than 20 Democratic strategists, lawmakers, pollsters and activists who explained that many Black and Latino men are open to supporting Trump as they think the Democratic Party has taken them for granted. The same can’t be said of Black and Hispanic women, though, and the gender gap among nonwhite voters is shaping up to be even bigger than it was in 2016. Ninety percent of Black women supported Biden in UCLA Nationscape polling — unsurprising, as this group is arguably the most staunchly Democratic demographic in the electorate — whereas less than 80 percent of Black men did the same. And among Hispanic voters, 64 percent of women backed Biden compared to 57 percent of men.
In the end, elections are all about margins. That means Biden doesn’t necessarily have to win more white voters than Trump to win the election; he just needs to improve on Clinton’s performance four years ago. By the same token, if Trump can do better among nonwhite voters than he did in 2016 — even if he still doesn’t win them outright — that could open a door for him to win if white voters don’t shift toward Biden as much as the polls currently suggest.
But at the moment, the real margin to keep an eye on is Biden’s double-digit lead in the polls. That kind of advantage will be hard to overcome if Trump is merely chipping away at the edges of Biden’s support, especially when so many of Biden’s gains seem to have come at Trump’s expense.