By Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
We are 12 days away from the election as of this writing, less than two weeks. The candidates across the board – those running for president, the Senate, and the House of Representatives – are in the home-stretch and making their final pleas. You will see many polls calling for a Biden win by a much larger margin than what I propose here. Maybe I’m a bit too gun-shy after 2016, but I find it best to err on the side of extreme caution.
It is worth nothing a short history of popular vote poll averages and results:
- 2016: Clinton leading by 3 million in the polls, Clinton win by 2.8 million. Trump Electoral College win 304-227 (+77).
- 2012: Obama leading by 4 million in the polls, Obama win by 5 million. Obama Electoral College win 332-206 (+126).
- 2008: Obama leading by 7 million in the polls, Obama win by 10 million. Obama Electoral College win 365-173 (+192).
- 2004: Bush leading by 1.5 million in the polls, Bush win by 3 million. Bush Electoral College win 286-251 (+35).
The national popular vote polls are always accurate in their predictions. Biden currently leads Trump by about 7 million, which does project a sizable Electoral College win ahead. At the very end of this article, another map is presented taking a “Biden Blowout” into account. Take it as you will, but officially I’m choosing the safe road. As I said, gun shy.
Some polls are calling for a Biden blowout, but I think that’s too optimistic. Being as generous as I possibly can to Trump, this election is in Biden’s pocket by a comfortable 32-vote Electoral College lead and his to lose.
There are the “Big 4”. What is that? A Democratic candidate cannot win the election without winning BOTH California and New York and a Republican candidate cannot win the election without winning BOTH Texas and Florida. If either candidate loses one of the two states typically held by their party, the election is over. California and New York are very safely in Biden’s camp. Texas is a close call this time where Trump only has a four-point lead, within the margin of error, but I suspect he will win it. Florida is a different matter and may just change my projection above. But, it’s Florida and they always make things messy, don’t they? Biden has held a consistent lead in Florida and still leads on average by 2.1%. So why am I giving it to Trump in this map?
For that I go to the 2018 midterms. The race for governor between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum had Gillum leading by an average of 3.6%, but DeSantis won by 0.4%. The Senate race had Bill Nelson leading Rick Scott by 2.4% on average, and Scott won by 0.2%. Republicans also won in state seats and held their Senate and House majorities in the state legislature. This state was not part of the 2018 “Blue Wave” and I don’t see it flipping for Biden in 2020 with equal percentages in polling. However, Trump does seem to be slipping with senior citizens, and the snowbirds who have retired to Florida and comprise a large portion of the voting population may make the difference for Biden. But nothing seems to be indicating it at the moment there.
Arizona does seem to be bluing up. They recently elected one Democrat to the Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, and Mark Kelly is comfortably ahead of Martha McSally to make it two Democratic Senators from the state. Biden is leading Trump there by 3.2%, and the person polling ahead in that state since 2004 did go on to win the state. Most projections are giving the state to Biden, but again I go to the 2018 midterms when Republicans performed well including Doug Ducey being reelected as governor. Some Democrats did gain victories, but it wasn’t part of a “wave” and the state has been reliably Republican for president since 1952 with Bill Clinton being the only exception in 1996.
I am also really unsure about both Iowa and Wisconsin. Biden could lose either one and still have over 270 to win the Electoral College. However, if Trump wins both of those states, we have a 269-269 tie. Because Republicans have more House delegates for the Electoral College (in spite of the Democrats holding the majority of representatives), a tie would mean a Trump reelection. I believe this is actually Trump’s best hope. We have only had a tie three times in our history – 1801 (Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr), 1825 (Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and William H. Crawford), and 1837 for vice-president (Richard Mentor Johnson and Francis Granger).
I don’t see a tie happening. Wisconsin was absolutely part of the 2018 Blue Wave in a big way. Iowa was as well with only a couple of exceptions, one being for governor. If Trump is going to take either of these two states, I believe it would be Iowa. I do not believe he will take both given Wisconsin’s enormous flip in 2018 and current polling there with Biden consistently ahead outside the margin of error.
And then of course there is Arizona with Biden polling ahead and looking at two Democratic Senators from the state. If Trump wins both Wisconsin and Iowa but Biden takes Arizona, then Biden is over 270 again and wins.
If Biden takes Arizona with the other projection above, he gains a larger victory of 296-242.
As you can see, there is a lot of room for play and speculation here. I am no political scientist and not remotely qualified to predict any political race, so keep that in mind.
I believe the Democrats are going to take the majority in the Senate at 51-49, obviously effectively having 52 with Kamala Harris if Biden wins the election as I think he will.
Arizona currently has Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who beat Martha McSally in 2018 with 50% to 47.6% in a special election to replace Jeff Flake. McSally was then appointed by the governor to fill the seat vacated by the death of John McCain. Democrat Mark Kelly is running against her and has held a consistent comfortable lead. McSally’s red seat will be turning blue.
In Iowa, incumbent Republican Joni Ernst is facing Theresa Greenfield. Greenfield has a held a consistent small lead, and Ernst recently performed very poorly in a debate showing that she is completely out of touch with what is most important to voters in Iowa – agriculture. This is really a questionable call. Greenfield’s lead is within the margin of error on the small side. But it’s consistent, and Iowa was part of the Blue Wave in 2018.
In Michigan, incumbent Republican Gary Peters has remained consistently behind John James. Michigan was a big part of the 2018 Blue Wave and polling there indicates that is continuing in 2020. This is very likely going to be another flip for Democrats.
In North Carolina, Republican incumbent Thom Tillis has been consistently behind Cal Cunningham, and that seat also looks to be turning blue.
John Hickenlooper has maintained a comfortable lead against incumbent Republican Cory Gardner in Colorado to make another flip to blue there.
There are no real surprises in the House of Representatives. Democrats are absolutely going to hold it and very likely will pick up seats in these races. That’s really all I’m going to say about the House.
While I am clearly seeing Democrats take the White House and the Senate as well as holding the House of Representatives, thus technically being a “Blue Wave”, I hesitate to use that term because I don’t think it’s going to be by the huge margin I see so many suggesting. It will be “Blue Enough”.
Donald Trump is taking people down with him who are up for reelection, hence the Senate projection.
Remember that Trump only won the Electoral College by 80,000 votes in 2016, a true squeaker. He won it in states that flipped from their usual voting history for him and seem to be returning to that history with a bad case of buyer’s remorse. That said, this presidential election is much closer than I’d like it to be. I do have another map with Trump winning, and hopefully that one won’t come true. But it could. I’m much less confident now than I was only two weeks ago. I’d love a true Blue Wave, to see Florida go to Biden early and know then and there it’s over. Somehow, I think we’re in for a long night.
I actually don’t believe we’re going to have to wait too long for a result as some are saying due to a higher number of mail-in and absentee ballots. There is also record in-person turnout this election, and that balances it back out to what we normally see. If Trump loses, he’s going to take it to court no matter what. That’s been his plan all along. It’s why we actually need a wave – a win of much higher proportions than what I’m projecting here. I wish I could say I was confident that will happen, but I’m not.
I want you to look at this projection with a sense of urgency. We MUST vote, preferably in person to get it counted right away. Don’t take anything for granted. That’s what cost us the election in 2016, and cannot afford four more years of this unmitigated disaster. I literally do not believe that we will recognize our country after four more years of Trump. We will be something else, and I’m very afraid of what that is.
So get out YOUR vote and get out THE vote. We need it now more than we ever have.
If there is to be a Biden Blowout, a true Blue Wave taking Trump down in a big way, I would see that turning out the following way:
This shows, in addition to Biden’s current lead in the popular vote of 7 million, an Electoral College win of 358-180 (+78). This wouldn’t be the type of win Obama saw in either of his two elections, but it would be decisive.
The Unthinkable: A Trump Win
I want to share two more maps below, the first showing a Trump win and the second a Trump-Biden tie.
In this map, I have Trump winning Wisconsin and Iowa, in which case he wins the Electoral College 270-268. However, if Biden takes Arizona, then it flips and he still wins.
Bigger Trump Win
In this map, I give Trump all of Nebraska (likely) as well as Pennsylvania (less likely), in which case he wins 290-248. Scary, but certainly possible.
Trump-Biden Tie (Trump Win)
In this map, in addition to giving Trump Wisconsin and Iowa, I give Biden the single electoral vote Democrats usually get in Nebraska. That would make it 269-269, and Trump would be re-elected president because it would go to the House of Representatives. In spite of the Democrats having a majority in the House, the Republicans have two more Electoral College delegates and the tie-breaker would go to Trump.
The final message? Hope for the best and act like it’s not going to happen, unless you VOTE.