Eleven Three Twenty: The Updated Electoral College Outlook
October 13, 2020
As I alluded to in last Tuesday’s Electoral College update, we’re not really three weeks away from election day — we’re actually about a quarter of the way through election month. For as Michael McDonald of the United States Election Project reported this afternoon, 11.5 million Americans already have cast their 2020 ballots.
I also mentioned in last week’s column that 41 of the 50 states basically are already locked in as either Democratic Blue or Republican Red. Therefore, I’m going to continue to focus this week on just the states that ultimately will decide who is the next President of the United States. If you read last week’s update, you may remember that I 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 goals 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 continues to struggle.
“The Necessary Nine” as of October 13, 2020
Let’s get our discussion of goal #2 quickly out of the way. Like last week, there is not a single state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 in which Donald Trump currently leads or is considered a “Toss Up” by either The Cook Political Report or FiveThirtyEight.com — two of the two most highly respected, non-partisan electoral college/election tracking sites. That means there is little chance the President will increase his electoral numbers from 2016.
And things aren’t all that much better for President Trump in terms of goal #1 — simply winning at least most of the states he won in 2016. (Remember, he has a 36-vote cushion, so he could lose 2 or 3 of the smaller states and still win re-election.) But that’s going to be a significant challenge for the President if his 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 five, Georgia, Iowa, and Ohio appear in FiveThirtyEight.com’s list of “Toss Ups.” But last week, they had listed Georgia and Iowa as states President Trump was “slightly favored” to win, so that’s a step backwards for him. North Carolina remains in the states Joe Biden is “slightly favored” to win in their forecast. But in another bad sign for the President, they now list Florida among the states Biden is outright “favored” to win.
That means the Sunshine State joins the following states that President Trump won in 2016 but that Joe Biden is now “slightly favored” or “favored” to win, according to FiveThirtyEight:
- Arizona (11)
- Florida (29)
- Michigan (16)
- North Carolina (15)
- Pennsylvania (20)
- Wisconsin (10)
Consequently, President Trump remains trailing in — or at best facing a “Toss Up” situation — in 9 states 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.
Even if Florida stays Republican Red, any combination of three of the above six states Biden currently is 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. In fact, he can pin his hopes on the following two pieces of good news. First, even though his national poll numbers have dropped significantly since the first debate and his coronavirus diagnosis, many of the state polls have stayed about the same.
Furthermore, polls indicate his supporters are much more enthusiastic to vote for him than Biden’s supporters are to cast their votes for the former Vice President. That means he may see overwhelming turnout on November 3 — especially given that even Democratic strategists agree the President has a better organized get-out-the-vote machine for in-person voting (what political insiders call a “ground game”).
But the clock is ticking. And as the above numbers indicate, the President doesn’t have any margin for error between now and November 3. Conversely, former Vice President Biden, has time on his side and multiple paths to the Presidency. Therefore, 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.