Biden Plateau?

It has been too long since my last update. Oops.

Given that, I'll start with a reminder that while I only do these blog posts occasionally, the 2020 pages on Election Graphs are updated nearly every day as new polls come in. So you can always see the current status there for yourself.

In any case, since the last update on July 1st, there have been new state polls in Arizona (x9), Florida (x7), Michigan (x7), North Carolina (x6), Pennsylvania (x7), Wisconsin (x4), Colorado, Montana (x4), Texas (x7), Maine, Alaska (x2), Alabama, Iowa (x2), Georgia (x4), Missouri, Nebraska CD2, Kentucky (x4), South Carolina, Ohio, and Minnesota.

Yeah. Like I said. Too long since the last update.

Last time around, Trump was collapsing. Over three weeks later, where are we now?

As usual, let's start with the summary table of changes, then get into the graphs:

Model Metric 1 Jul 24 Jul ­ŁÜź
Categories Trump Best
Biden Best
Biden +56
Biden +162
Biden +288
Biden +36
Biden +168
Biden +288
Trump +20
Biden +6
Tipping Point Biden +7.3 Biden +6.5% Trump +0.8%
Probabilities Trump 2¤â
Biden 2¤â
Biden +82
Biden +158
Biden +262
Biden +80
Biden +168
Biden +272
Trump +2
Biden +10
Biden +10
Trump Win
Biden Win

So compared to 23 days ago, we've got a mixed bag. Some metrics move toward Trump, some move toward Biden.

If I had to characterize the whole thing at once, I'd say Biden has improved his "right now" position a bit, but it is slightly more precarious than it was, and movement has slowed. Things seem to have plateaued the last couple of weeks.

At least in the probabilistic view. The categorization view is more volatile.

For instance, this update would have looked significantly different a week ago in the categorization view. Things looked much better for Biden a week ago, but they have swung back since then.

You can see that clearly on the chart:

That giant dip in the expected cases is caused by Georgia, Texas, and Ohio all flipping from just barely Trump, to just barely Biden, but then Georgia and Texas flipping back again.

In the categorization view, the difference between "just barely Biden" and "just barely Trump" is massive, as the state immediately changes sides. But in reality, either way, you have a tossup situation.

The probabilistic view accounts for that, and we'll look at that view shortly.

But first, let's look first at all the states that moved in or out of our "Weak Trump" and "Weak Biden" categories since the last post.

In order from biggest to smallest:

Texas is, of course, a huge electoral vote prize. The hope of a blue Texas completely changing the political map is once again tantalizing Democrats as it seems like it could be in reach. Our polling average briefly dipped into the blue before reverting to the red side of the centerline.

The bottom line here at the moment is just that Texas is very much a battleground state. As of this update, in the Election Graphs averages, Texas is the closest state of them all, with Trump leading by only 0.3%.

Florida, on the other hand, is not a close state at the moment, even though it famously often has been. For a very brief moment in the last few weeks, Biden's lead in Florida fell below 5%. But then subsequent polls drove Biden to his biggest lead in Florida yet, with an 8.4% margin over Trump.

Ohio continues to be more sparsely polled than you would think it would be, so the average isn't as responsive to events. But with the latest poll, the average flips from the Trump side to the Biden side.

Either way, Ohio is a close state and very much in play.

Georgia is another super close state. Since the last blog post, Georgia has flipped from Biden to Trump, back to Biden, then back to Trump yet again as new polls came in.

Just looking at the states we have flagged as "super close" so far… ┬áTexas, Ohio, and Georgia… tells you quite a lot about the race. If these three states are the close states, the Republican is in deep trouble.

After a lot of polls in June showing Biden with 10%+ leads in Michigan, more recent polls caused Biden to drop below a 5% lead in the average… for a little bit… before new polls showed Biden's lead increasing again.

Biden's lead is nowhere near as strong as it was in mid-June, but it is still a very strong lead.

Wisconsin exhibits a similar pattern. A big move toward Biden, which has subsequently receded, still leaving Biden with a lead, but a much less substantial one than he had.

In Wisconsin's case, at the moment, Biden's lead is still under 5%, which means we consider it to be a state that Trump could steal under the right conditions, so this movement is responsible for the 20 electoral vote improvement to Trump's best case margin.

Along with Maine, Nebraska is one of the two states that award some of their electoral votes by congressional district. Polls for the two congressional districts in Maine and the three in Nebraska tend to be rare. But we now have two for Nebraska's 2nd congressional district.

The five poll average still includes the 2008-2016 election results as a baseline as well as the two actual 2020 polls. But both of the new polls show a substantial Biden lead, which is enough to pull the district into "Weak Biden" territory for the moment. If future polls back up the first two, this may end up as a Strong Biden electoral vote before we are done.

In addition to the states above that changed categories, we have some intra-category movement with these close states:

There is a decent amount of range between the best polls for Biden and the best polls for Trump in North Carolina. The poll average itself has bounced around quite a bit too.

But, in the last year, aside from a short time in May, polling has consistently had North Carolina in the "Weak Biden" category, even when other states have been swinging dramatically in one direction or the other.

Arizona had a bit longer foray over to the Trump side from late January to early March, but since then, Biden has maintained a small but steady lead.

And finally, Iowa, which has been "Weak Trump" since December, but where Biden has been gaining on Trump since late April.

With all of these changes together, the probabilistic model produces a view that recognizes that "just barely Trump" and "just barely Biden" are both tossups, rather than immediately classifying a state on one side or the other. We run about a million simulations based on the current polling, and an analysis of the 2008-2016 polling average accuracy here on Election Graphs, and get this…

The big move toward Biden and back caused by Texas and Georgia is not evident here like it is in the categorization model.

Instead, in the median case, we see the rapid movement toward Biden in the first half of June, a slower movement toward Biden through about the July 4th holiday, and then things being stable since then. This is our plateau.

In addition, for the lines showing the top of our 2¤â (95.45% chance) and 3¤â (99.73% chance) probability bands, you can see Trump improving at the end of June, but losing most of that gain over the following few weeks. This represents Trump's temporary improvement in Weak Biden states, which then slipped away again.

In terms of Biden's chances of winning if the election was held today (which it is not!), the odds are still pegged at a number which rounds to 100%. But if you look at the unrounded number, it is 99.9931%, which is not quite as good as the 99.9977% in the last blog post.

The risk for Biden would not be in the odds if the election were held today. At the moment, Biden has a very strong lead, large enough that we wouldn't expect a different outcome due to systematic polling error or anything like that. No, the risk is that there are still 102 days until election results start coming in, and there is time for the situation to change.

Which brings us to the tipping point, which measures just how much things have to change to flip the winner.

Last time we noted the movement from Biden by 2.7% to Biden by 7.3% in less than two weeks. Since then, Trump improved in this metric to only losing to Biden by 4.8% in the tipping-point state but then slipped again, now losing by 6.5%.

The thing that this chart helps us remember is how fast things can change with the right events in the news. If Biden can gain 4.6% in two weeks, then given the right combination of events, he could lose 4.6% in a similar period. If that were to happen, he would only be ahead by 1.9% in the tipping point state… just barely better than the 1.6% lead Clinton had in the tipping point on Election Eve 2016, so clearly within the realm that things could go the other way.

But that isn't where things are today. Today Biden has a huge lead. The question is if he keeps it over the next 102 days.

As we have in the last couple of posts, let's make a quick comparison of where Biden is today and where Clinton was at the same point in 2016.

<102 Days Out> 2016 2020
Expected Case Clinton by 144 Biden by 168
Tipping Point Clinton by 2.8% Biden by 6.5%

Biden continues to be significantly stronger than Clinton was.

Now a quick look at the spectrum of states that are either actively in play, or could be if there is a significant movement toward one candidate or the other:

Here is what it looked like in our last update:

And here is how it looks today:

Fundamentally, while at the moment Biden can win without ANY of the close states, at the same time there are a LOT of "Weak Biden" states that are stealable by Trump with a relatively small move in the polls, so it wouldn't take a lot to change this picture dramatically.

Finally, the current map:

102.0 days until polls start to close on election night. Stay tuned!

For more information:

This post is an update based on the data on the Election Graphs Electoral College 2020 page. Election Graphs tracks a poll-based estimate of the Electoral College. The charts, graphs, and maps in the post above are all as of the time of this post. Click through on any image for current interactive versions of the chart, along with additional details.

Follow @ElectionGraphs on Twitter or Election Graphs on Facebook to see announcements of updates. For those interested in individual poll updates, follow @ElecCollPolls on Twitter for all the polls as I add them. If you find the information in these posts informative or useful, please consider visiting the donation page.

The 2020 Starting Line

Well, here we are. A few months later than I intended, but it is finally time to launch the Election Graphs coverage of Election 2020.

Before I start rolling in the state polls that have already come out, let's look at a more general Democratic vs Republican view based on the last few elections, just as I did four years ago.

Election Graphs uses a five poll average generally (with certain exceptions I won't get into here). When there have not yet been five polls, we use previous election results to "jump start" the poll averages.

The map above represents the average percentage margins (Republican-Democrat) over the last five election cycles. That would be 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. This is a very long time period. Things look different in 2019 than they did in 2000.

You could argue that just using the 2016 results would be a better starting point, but averaging over a long time period like this to some degree gives us an impression of where states stand independent of the specifics of any one specific election.

Looking at specific states and where those averages are, you get this spectrum:

Specifically, let's zoom in and look at the states where the margin in this 5 cycle average is under 10%:

These are the states (and Maine and Nebraska congressional districts) that look like they are in play based on the historical results from 2000 to 2016.

Once we get close to the election, "Strong" states mostly will slip out of reach. (Although Wisconsin was a "Strong Clinton" state and Trump still managed to win it, so it CAN happen, it is just exceedingly rare.) This far out though, just under 612 days until the first election night polls close, this whole zone is potentially up for grabs.

If the right set of events happens, even some states outside of this group may end up becoming competitive. Major changes do happen during presidential campaigns. But here at the beginning, it seems unlikely that any of the states (or CD's) outside of those above will be in play.

Things will move quickly as new polls putting actual candidates against each other get added. But this is the starting line.

Where does this put us in terms of who might be ahead or behind? Election Graphs traditionally not only shows an electoral college breakdown based on who is ahead in every state but also where things would end up if you let all of the "Weak" states swing to one or the other candidate to generate "Best Case" scenarios for each candidate.

Here is what that looks like at the starting line:

DEM REP Margin
REP Best 216 322 REP by 106 EV
Expected 272 266 DEM by 6 EV
DEM Best 332 206 DEM by 126 EV
The tipping point state is Iowa where DEM is ahead by 1.1%.

So… we start at essentially a dead heat. The average of the last five elections (three where Republicans won, and two where Democrats won), is a Democratic squeaker. When you throw the "Weak" states from side to side, you get a fairly large range as well.

That's as good a place to start a presidential race as any. Dead even.

Now the specific candidates for 2020 will start differentiating themselves with their campaigns, and they will move this to one side or another… or of course, we can arrive at the election itself with things still too close to call… which is always fun.

Before I close out this post and start adding in actual 2020 polls though, it is worth also looking at how this "five election average" has shifted over the years. I currently have elections back to 1980 entered into the data Election Graphs pulls from, so we can look at these averages back through 1996.

First up, here is the electoral college trend itself:

From 1996 through 2008, each election moved the electoral college results based on these averages toward the Democrats… even when the Republicans won… because they won by less than the Republicans from the earlier elections that dropped out of the average.

That stopped in 2012. Obama won in 2012, but not as strongly as Clinton won in 1992, which dropped off the five election average that year.

Then Trump won in 2016, which was obviously a more Republican result than Clinton winning in 1996.

2016 also reversed another trend, which was that the electoral college totals of the states that were closer than 5% had been going down with each election. In other words, there were fewer close states each time. But dropping 1996 and adding 2016 expanded the range between "best case" scenarios a bit. We have a wider playing field going into 2020 than we did going into 2016.

Next, the tipping point:

This basically shows the same pattern, so I won't spend time digging deeper there.

But there is one more place to spend a little time. Time to look at how each state moved from the 1996-2012 average to the 2000-2016 average.

Let's start this historical review with an animation of the national view flipping between how things looked four years ago, and how they look today:

As expected, since we are replacing Clinton's 1996 win with Trump's 2016 win, the overall map becomes redder and blue retreats.

Now let's look at individual states that moved to different Election Graphs categories ("Solid", "Strong", "Weak" for either party) in this change.

Of these category changes, only two favored the Democrats:

Every other category change was toward the Republicans:

All of the states moved of course. The ones highlighted here are just the ones that shifted between my categories. And of course, many of those were not decisive. But the shift toward the Republicans is clear.

The stage is set.

Next up, very soon, I'll start folding in the polls on specific candidate matchups that have already been released on the state level, and we'll see how things look once we are looking at real data on the 2020 race rather than just long term generic averages.

The race is on, and Election Graphs will be tracking it for you.

Here we go.