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Have you heard the argument that eliminating the Electoral College would undermine democracy because then only a handful of states would matter in presidential elections? That’s the status quo. As far as the Biden and Trump campaigns are concerned, the U.S. consists of ten states, AKA “battlegrounds”:

A couple of times in the last year or so Minnesota has joined that list, but it’s not currently in play. Apparently, Michigan and Wisconsin aren’t either, since all election forecasters predict Biden will win both. No battlegrounds are unanimously predicted for Trump.

Stacking the forecasts from smallest Biden lead to largest Biden lead reveals how each battleground state factors.

Biden 259

FORECASTER: Polls as of October 20.

New polls are released essentially every day, and so the conglomerate numbers are in constant flux. Placing states with Biden or Trump leads under 5% as toss-ups, on Tuesday October 20, two weeks before Election Day, the state polls put Biden at 259.

If Biden wins Michigan and Wisconsin, but loses both Pennsylvania’s twenty electors and Arizona’s eleven electors, he’s at only 259. To win the election he’d need to pick-up one more toss-up: Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, or Ohio. Iowa’s six electors wouldn’t be enough. For Trump to win, he would need to sweep them all but Iowa.

Biden WINS with 279

FORECASTER: Politico, Polls as of October 26.

If Biden wins either Pennsylvania or Arizona, he wins. Arizona would pull him up to exactly the magic 270 (assuming he also wins the one elector from Maine’s second district), and Pennsylvania would put him over at 279.

As of today, Monday October 26, eight days before the Election, the polls would put Biden at 279 by including Pennsylvania. All of the other battleground states remain in the toss-up column’s margin of error.

Politico predicts Pennsylvania for Biden too, leaving Arizona in the toss-ups and shifting Georgia and Texas to the Trump column.

 

Biden WINS with 290

FORECASTER: Crystal Ball, Cook Political Report, CNN, NPR, U.S. News.

If Biden wins BOTH Pennsylvania and Arizona, he wins in the Electoral College by a margin of twenty. Four of those five maps feature five toss-up states: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa. U.S. News gives Iowa and Georgia to Trump, and all give him Texas too.

 

Biden WINS with 319

FORECASTER: Inside Elections.

Biden wins not only Pennsylvania and Arizona, but also Florida, leaving four toss-up states: Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa. And Texas goes to Trump.

Biden WINS with 323

FORECASTER: The Economist.

A week ago The Economist agreed with Inside Election’s count, but they’ve since moved North Carolina to Biden and Arizona to toss-up. They also give Ohio to Trump.

Biden WINS with 334

FORECASTER: Decision Desk, PredictIt Market Probabilities, FiveThirtyEight.

Biden wins Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. Two of these forecasts leave Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa in the toss-ups. PredictIt, which is based on actual betting where there is no such thing as a toss-up, gives all three to Trump, though by the smallest margin range possible. All give Texas to Trump.

 

Biden WINS with 335

FORECASTER: JHK Forecasts, Princeton Election Consortium.

Sorry, did I forget Maine? There’s one swing vote in Maine’s second district. That’s how Biden might pick up on additional elector. Both JHK and Princeton leave Georgia and Iowa in the toss-ups, but JHK predicts Ohio will go to Trump. And Princeton is the only forecaster placing Texas in the toss-ups.

So the two most popular predictions are Biden at 290 and Biden at 234/235, each with five forecasters.

Combining them all, using Biden’s worst-case scenario and Trump’s best-case scenario, leaves four states in the unknowns but leading toward Biden: 

A majority of the forecasters predict Biden will win one, two, three, or all four of the middle column. No forecaster predicts Trump will win any of them, and Trump needs to win all of them to win the election. Biden needs to win any and only one. 

Here are the currents polls (according to FiveThirtyEight and updated October 26) for the middle column:

Pennsylvania: Biden up 5.6.

Arizona: Biden up 3.0.

North Carolina: Biden up 2.5.

Florida: Biden up 2.4.

And the current polls for the other battleground states:

Wisconsin: Biden up 6.7.

Michigan: Biden up 8.

Ohio: Trump up 1.5.

Iowa: Biden up 1.2.

Georgia: Biden up .4.

Texas: Biden up .1.

Many of these polling numbers are well within the margins of error (Texas and Georgia are really dead heats), but if they reflect actual votes, Biden will win with 394, taking nine of the ten battleground states:

With a final map that looks like this:

Is that too much to hope for? Definitely. Handicapping Biden with a two-point Trump-favoring margin of error produces this map:

And raising that margin to three points looks like this:

Raising it to four points makes no difference. And neither does five points. In all those scenarios, Biden wins.

For Trump to win, Pennsylvania’s polls have to be more than five points off. FiveThirtyEight puts Biden ahead there by 5.6. The right-leaning Real Clear Politics says it’s only 5.1. FiveThirtyEight also gives Biden an 86% chance of winning Pennsylvania, an 87% chance of winning the election overall, and a 31% chance of a double-digit popular-vote landslide. If state polls are as wrong as they were in 2016, they still predict Biden wins with 280. 

When will we know the outcome?

Both Arizona and Florida expect to report on election night. If Biden wins either, Trump has no plausible path to victory. If Trump wins both, we have to wait for Pennsylvania, which probably won’t report its count until late Saturday November 7 (because it has to accept mail-in ballots arriving as late as November 6). Whoever wins Pennsylvania almost certainly wins the country. 

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