Eleven Three Twenty: The Current Electoral College Outlook
October 6, 2020
It is officially four weeks until election day — although as of this morning over four million votes already have been cast. And that number is going to rise dramatically over the next few weeks. So, we’re really in the early stages of election month.
Therefore, I am going to take a look at the current state of the electoral college each Tuesday from now until November 3. To do so, I could simply post a map of the United States with each state colored according to current polls. But basically 41 of the 50 states already are locked in as either Democratic Blue or Republican Red. Therefore, I’m going to focus each week on just the states that ultimately will decide who is the next President of the United States. I will refer to this group as “The Necessary Nine” — because both Joe Biden and Donald Trump need to win at least some of these nine states to be elected President.
A Quick 2016 Refresher
For those of you who may have forgotten, here’s what the final 2016 electoral map looked like:
This resulted in then-candidate Donald Trump receiving 306 electoral votes, while Senator Hillary Clinton garnered 232. (270 votes are required to win the Presidential election outright.)
Typically, the incumbent’s goal in the following election is straightforward. First and foremost, he or she attempts to win all the states they won previously, thereby guaranteeing re-election. And, two, they attempt to pick up a few states they narrowly lost in the previous election as a safety net, should they lose some of the states they previously won.
In both cases, President Donald Trump currently is failing…”bigly.”
“The Necessary Nine” as of October 6, 2020
Let’s begin by looking at the second goal — winning a few states they narrowly lost in the previous election as a safety net. According to The Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight.com — two of the two most highly respected, non-partisan electoral college/election tracking sites, here are the number of states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 that currently are considered “Toss Ups” or in which President Trump is leading: Zero, Nil, Nada.
Normally, that wouldn’t be a huge cause for concern. Again, all President Trump has to do is win the states he won in 2016 (or at least most of the states he won, given that he has a 36-vote cushion). But that’s going to be a significant challenge for the President if the poll numbers don’t change in a hurry.
Specifically, here is the list of states (including their number of electoral votes up for grabs) that President Trump won in 2016 that currently are listed as “Toss Ups” by The Cook Political Report:
- Florida (29)
- Georgia (16)
- Iowa (6)
- North Carolina (15)
- Ohio (18)
Of these, only Ohio appears in FiveThirtyEight.com’s list of “Toss Ups.” The good news for the President is that they list both Georgia and Iowa as states he is “slightly favored” to win. The BAD news is that they include Florida and North Carolina as states Joe Biden is “slightly favored” to win.
But the REALLY bad news for the President comes from the following states that he won in 2016. According to polling, Joe Biden currently is leading in each of these states — in some cases by nearly double-digits:
- Arizona (11)
- Michigan (16)
- Pennsylvania (20)
- Wisconsin (10)
This means that President Trump is either trailing in — or at best facing a “Toss Up” situation — in 9 states that he won in 2016, for a total of 141 electoral votes. Remember, Joe Biden needs to pick up only 38 electoral votes to win (assuming he doesn’t lose one of the states won by Hillary Clinton — a safe assumption as of today). Depending on the specific states, the former Vice President needs to win only two of these nine states if Florida is one of them. And even if Florida stays Republican Red, any combination of three of the above four states Biden is currently leading in will win him the Presidency. (Technically, winning Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin would get him only 37 electoral votes, which would result in an electoral tie. But that would throw it to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to decide the outcome. And I think we all know how that would turn out.)
Does this mean President Trump won’t win re-election? Absolutely not. Four weeks is an eternity in Presidential politics. But it does mean that the President has very few paths to victory, while Joe Biden has a number of them. And with November 3 rapidly approaching and millions more votes to be cast before then, the President has to make significant inroads in a number of states sooner rather than later. Otherwise, his campaign is doomed.
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.