Election Polls in Battleground States

Spirited Reasoners will recall the evening of shock we experienced when Donald Trump proved almost every poll wrong, running the table in a string of battleground states to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Actually, those polls weren’t all that wrong. Ms. Clinton did, indeed, win the popular vote by two percentage points, collecting nearly three million more votes than Mr. Trump. That’s why this blog post will focus on five key swing states—the ones with lots of electoral votes and lots of independent voters; i. e., those states where the majority of voters have demonstrated that they are not reliably Democratic or Republican.

They are the following (with electoral votes shown in parentheses): Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15) and Wisconsin (10). Why these five? Because Barack Obama won all five in 2008 while Donald Trump won all five in 2016.

To win the 2020 election, Joe Biden would need to keep all the states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 while adding 38 electoral votes from states won by Donald Trump. (Careful readers will note that there were seven “faithless electors”—those who refused to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their respective states. Five of these were Democrats. So, in fact, Ms. Clinton actually needed 43 additional votes to account for the five Democratic electors who cast their ballots for someone else. There is no way to predict what might happen along these lines in 2020, so these extra votes have not been considered.)

As reported by the website fivethirtyeight.com, Joe Biden is leading in all five of those swing states as of July 8.

See https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/bidens-polling-lead-is-big-and-steady/

Perhaps Biden’s biggest advantage, however, is that he saw what happened when polls like this were taken for granted in 2016. One the most serious strategic blunders committed by Ms. Clinton was to assume that Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all of which had voted reliably for the Democratic presidential candidate for several elections in a row, would remain in the “blue wall” forever. Biden must therefore (a) shore up his base of support in the states Clinton won in 2016 (i. e. not assume the loyalty of even the bluest state), and (b) focus on flipping three of the five swing states, preferably all five.

If you happen to be reading this post in one of those five states, or in one of the states won narrowly by Hillary Clinton, you should not be surprised at the number of campaign ads or amount of time spent by Joe Biden or Donald Trump in your area this fall. But it is in those five states where the lion’s share of the money will be spent.