The Second Big Indicator To Watch in 2020 — the Electoral Map

Yesterday, I discussed the relevance of President Trump’s approval rating on his re-election chances. I closed by acknowledging that national approval marks could only go so far, because presidential elections are not straight popular votes. Rather, for better or worse, it’s the Electoral College that picks our president.

Therefore, the second Big Indicator to monitor in 2020 is…

2. The Electoral Map

A good outlet for forecasting the electoral map is For its electoral map, it assembles the projections of three leading political websites — Sabato’s Crystal BallThe Cook Political Report and Inside Elections — and combines them into a cautious electoral map. As 270towin explains, “only states rated safe by all of these forecasters are shown in the darkest shade.” One shade lighter is considered “likely” for that party, while the lightest pink and blue colors are considered swingable, though they currently lean toward one direction or the other. The grey states are toss-ups.

Here’s the map as of January 2:

Thank’s so much, Maine and Nebraska, for being the cool kids that complicate everything.

(Is it starting to feel real to you, too? This map just triggered some PTSD!)

Now, I cannot emphasize the following enough: it’s too early to take anything for granted in an electoral map. I went back and took a look at my Six Months Out piece from May 2016, one in which it was taken for granted that a “blue wall” consisting of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, which the Democrats had won for six straight elections, could be counted on by the Democrats. We know how that worked out.[1]

Nevertheless, like bench-marking the President’s approval rating yesterday, the purpose of establishing this map today is as a reference point for future posts. We can identify which side is gaining or losing momentum over the year. Here’s what we can consider for the moment:

  • Democrats start with a floor of 183 “solid” electoral votes to the Republicans’ 125.
  • On top of that, Democrats are “likely” to win Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico (27 combined) while Trump, by the same calculations, is “likely” to win Texas (38 by its Texan-sized self). Added to the “solid” number, we now have 210 to 163 in favor of the Democrats.
  • After that, we get into the “leaner” states that, last time, were more swingy than we expected. It is not at all wise to consider these in tabulations yet. The map I used in Six Months Out showed that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were all Democratic learners — and they all went to Trump.
  • However, for what it’s worth, those were the only three misses of the entire Six Months Out map. All the solids and likelies held firm. Of the remaining 2016 leaners, Hillary Clinton won New Mexico, the only other state which had been “leaning” toward her, while Trump won all of his: North Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri. In total, 48 out of 51 contests (including the District of Columbia) were predicted correctly by a Six Months Out map.
  • Therefore, though not a perfect prognosticator, electoral projections are a useful tool.

Boringly, today’s map doesn’t shock us in any meaningful way. My instinct, which should not be given too much weight, disagrees in just two states: it does feel that the President is being sold short in Florida and North Carolina. To me, he very much feels like the favorite in those two states.

Just for the sake of hypothetical fun, let’s award the two sides all their “leaner” states (adding 38 electoral votes to the Democrats and 41 to Trump) and throw Trump Florida and North Carolina’s combined 44. Those additions would bring both sides up to 248. At that point, the two nominees would then race to 270 (they’re each 22 short) by battling over the 42 remaining electoral votes: Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), Arizona (11), Wisconsin (10), and Nebraska’s Second Congressional District (1). Incredibly, all it would take is one side winning Arizona and Wisconsin (likely Trump) and other side winning Pennsylvania and Omaha (likely the Democrat) for us to have a terrifying electoral tie.

But again — too early! We don’t even know the Democratic nominee yet, and the nominee can definitely impact this electoral map and President Trump’s approval rating. It’s only then that the campaigns’ strategies will be fully deployed, which impact both those first two indicators.

That brings us to the third Big Indicator to monitor. For that, I’ll see you tomorrow.


[1]For the record, I noted that “[Trump’s] strength with white working class males . . . might put the northern ‘Rust Belt‘ states in play, helping in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.” Nonetheless, I still trusted all but Ohio would go Democratic, but only Minnesota did so (and barely). If only I had taken this premonition more seriously.


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