Eleven Three Twenty: My Predictions for the Electoral College

November 3, 2020

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For political junkies like me, today is Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. After months of following numerous political web sites, listening and watching countless pundits and campaign spokespeople, and poring over and dissecting polls ranging from quality pollsters to thinly veiled public relations firms, I am SO ready for Election Day and everything that comes with it.

If you’ve been following this series, you know I have been objectively presenting the current state of the Electoral College, based on poll numbers and The Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight.com — two of the two most highly respected, non-partisan electoral college/election tracking sites.

But for this special Election Day edition, I’ve chosen to put myself out there and offer you my prediction for the final Electoral College map. I’m also listing the three states I’ve allocated for each candidate that I am LEAST sure about, including why I’m so uncertain about them and where they objectively stand going into today.

My Electoral Map

As I alluded to in my column yesterday, a whole slew of high-quality state and national polls were released over the final three days of the campaign. Some of them showed the race tightening — especially in the state of Florida, where Donald Trump seemed to be making a last-minute surge. Consequently, I am less certain of some of my state predictions than I was even a few days ago. But I am sticking with the following Electoral Map prediction, presented using CNN’s interactive map:

As you can see, I’m predicting a fairly large victory for former Vice President Joe Biden, although a number of the races in states are going to be extremely close and could go either way. (FiveThirtyEight.com’s final election forecast gives Biden an 89% chance of victory and Trump a 10% chance, with the possibility of everything from a Biden blowout to another narrow Trump victory.) Specifically, here are the states I gave to Biden but am not overly confident about.

  1. North Carolina (Toss Up — Leans Biden)

I am least confident about placing “The Tar Heel State” in the Biden column. However, I ultimately did for a number of reasons.

First, Biden has polled very well there throughout the campaign, although his lead narrowed there over the past few days. Ultimately, though, a couple things jumped out at me as I looked at the early voting numbers from North Carolina.

The first is that almost 29% of the voters who voted early did not vote in 2016. (This and all early voting numbers are taken from Dr. Michael McDonald’s The United States Election Project.) That indicates high new voter enthusiasm, and that generally benefits the challenger. This enthusiasm is further supported by the fact that North Carolina will begin Election Day at almost 100% of their 2016 total votes.

Also, even though over 4.5 million North Carolinians voted early, there are still a lot of votes outstanding in the Charlotte and Raleigh areas — which should lean Biden. If those voters show up today, they should counter what is expected to be a huge Trump advantage in Election Day turnout. But that’s a big “if” — hence my nervousness at giving the state to Biden.

2. Florida (Toss Up — Leans Biden)

First, let me state right up front that I would have agonized putting “The Sunshine State” in either candidate’s column, given its propensity for tight elections. I swear to god that if you ask Floridians to choose between getting free ice cream every day for a year or having bamboo shoots shoved under their fingernails every day for a year, the final tally would be 50.5–49.5%. (And don’t ask me to predict which one would come out on top.)

Seriously, I expect this to be yet another tight race in Florida. Ultimately, I gave it to Biden because of numerous polls showing President Trump has lost significant support among seniors due to his handling of the pandemic. And Florida is not a state in which you want to lose support among senior citizens.

3. Arizona (Toss Up — Leans Biden)

This spot was a toss up between “The Grand Canyon State” and “The Peach State” of Georgia. But the early voting numbers out of Georgia showed high enthusiasm among women voters and African-American votes — two solidly pro-Biden groups in 2020 — so I went with Arizona.

Again, Biden has been running strong in Arizona, and in a reverse of the norm, he might be getting helped by the Senate campaign of popular Democratic candidate Mark Kelly (former astronaut and husband of Gabby Giffords). But I didn’t expect the state to be a toss up until 2024 at the earliest, so I don’t feel too comfortable turning this state blue.

Honorable Mentions: Georgia (Toss Up — Leans Biden) and Pennsylvania (Leans Biden)

Like Arizona, Georgia was not expected to be a toss-up state for another election cycle or two. But changing demographics have made it turn purple faster than expected. Still, it’s hard for me to accept that it might indeed be blue this year. However, Biden’s poll numbers have been strong, and the apparent enthusiasm of women and African-American voters can’t be ignored. (Although I fully realize these are not entirely separate demographic groups, given that many African-American voters are women.)

As for Pennsylvania…I grew up in western PA, about 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh. Consequently, I know that state and the mentality of its voters very well. So, it’s not surprising to me that Biden has not polled as well there as he has in Michigan and Wisconsin. As political pundit and fellow Pennsylvanian Chris Matthews so wisely observed, the state is “Philadelphia in the East, Pittsburgh in the West, and Pennsyltucky in between.” And those Pennsyltucky voters love President Trump. Yes, I think Biden will win it. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if Trump somehow managed to win it again. (BTW, if Biden does hang on to Pennsylvania, modeling shows Trump with around a 2% chance to win the election. So it truly is “The Keystone State” this year.)

Speaking of the President…it’s honestly hard for me to identify three states I gave him on my map that I’m worried about him losing. Most of his states are solidly red. But there are three potentially close states I could see turning blue, depending on turnout and the President sliding in certain demographic groups.

1. Ohio (Toss Up — Leans Trump)

“The Buckeye State” fascinates me this year. No one expected it to be a toss-up in 2020. After all, President Trump won it by a comfortable 8.1% in 2016.

But two things about the polling in Ohio stand out for me. One, there hasn’t been a lot of consistent high-quality polling in the state (the pollsters obviously didn’t see it as a toss up either!) And, two, the polls that have been conducted are surprisingly close. Not only has the President’s lead been within the margins of error in most reputable polls, but the former Vice President actually has led in some of them (albeit well within the margins of error as well). Consequently, the Biden campaign began to contest Ohio after initially writing it off, especially after the cash-strapped Trump campaign had to cut way back on advertising there to focus on Florida.

I still feel very comfortable giving this state to the President. But if he were to lose one of the red states on my map, I would guess it would be this one. And if he does somehow lose it, it’s game over — no Republican has ever won the Presidency without winning Ohio.

2. Iowa (Toss Up — Leans Trump)

Again, this was a state that was supposed to be an easy hold for the President, after he won it by 9.4% in 2016. It’s very white. It’s very religious. And it’s very rural. These are classic Trump voter demographics. And yet…

Just like in Ohio, polls in Iowa consistently have shown a tight race (with the exception of the Selzer & Co. poll I wrote about yesterday). Furthermore, both the Trump and Biden campaigns made appearances there last week, which indicates their internal polling also showed it was close. So who knows?

3. Texas (Leans Trump)

Like Arizona and Georgia, “The Lone Star State” is undergoing a demographic transformation that is slowly but surely turning it purple. Still, most political pundits viewed it as at least one to two Presidential cycles away from being a toss up. And while I’m still not sure I believe it’s truly in play this year, three things give me pause:

A) The poll numbers are shockingly close. Most polling, including that of highly respected pollsters, indicates a race that’s within their margins of error. (A number of them even show Biden with a small lead!)

B) Republican lawyers attempted, but failed, to get almost 130,000 curbside-delivered votes from Harris County (the Houston area, which is highly Democratic) thrown out by the courts. If they’re worried about that number of votes in such a large state (almost 10 million votes have already been cast there) their internal polling must show a fairly close race. Speaking of all those cast votes…

C) The early voting numbers in Texas are mind boggling. Heading into today, Texas had already surpassed the total number of votes cast during the entire 2016 election. (They are at 108% of the 2016 vote as of the posting of this column.) If that gets up to 130 or 140% by tonight, all bets are off. Because that means not only will have Trump’s supporters come out in droves, Democrats would have put up good Election Day numbers there as well. Consequently, I’m going to be closely tracking turnout in Texas throughout the day.

Finally, let me address the popular vote — even though it doesn’t really matter due to the Electoral College. I’m predicting Joe Biden will dominate the President in this area, eclipsing Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory by almost 2 million more. That means I think Biden will win the popular vote by about 5 million (for what it’s worth).

So, there you have it — my final predictions for the 2020 Electoral College map. Tune in starting this evening (it may take days to finally declare a winner) and see how I did.

One thing I DO know for sure: tonight is going to be unlike any Election Night in modern U.S. history. For those of you who are interested in my real-time thoughts and observations, consider following me on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be posting all day — especially throughout the evening as actual results start coming in.

For those of you wondering why I’m qualified to write about this topic, I have a Ph.D. in Human Communication Studies from the University of Denver — with an emphasis on leadership, power, and persuasion. My dissertation research focused on political communication, specifically Ross Perot’s 1992 Presidential campaign (“A Mythic Analysis of Ross Perot’s 1992 Campaign Infomercials as a Modern American Jeremiad”). And I have worked on — or consulted for — a number of political campaigns, ranging from the mayoral to the Presidential level.

President of Marathon Leadership, LLC — an organizational and leadership consulting firm based in Thornton, CO. Learn more at http://marathonleadership.com/

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