Joe Biden is putting so many red states in play. Here’s why

The average Georgia poll puts Biden ahead of Trump by a 2 point margin.
What’s the point: Biden seems to be leading or is quite competitive in a lot of states that Trump carried fairly easily four years ago. These include the aforementioned Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and even Texas. I get asked often whether I believe that Biden has a shot in these states.

The short answer is yes. It makes a lot of sense given the national polling that Biden is putting a lot of seemingly red states into play. This doesn’t mean he’ll ultimately carry any of these states. If the national race tightens, these states will probably fall into Trump’s column.

For now though, Biden is leading in the national polls by about 10 points. That’s 8 points better than Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by in 2016.
And remember, Biden’s lead is also significantly wider than where the final national polls put Clinton’s lead in 2016. Those national polls had Clinton up 3 to 4 points in the national popular vote, which turned out to be quite accurate.

Now take a look at the current average of polls in the states Trump won by 10 points or less in 2016. At the same time (in parentheses), we’ll examine what we’d expect those averages to be by applying an 8 point uniform swing from the 2016 results. A uniform swing is simply shifting all the results a certain amount (e.g. 8 points in Biden’s direction). We’re shifting these states 8 points because Biden’s winning nationally by 10 points, and Clinton won nationally by 2 points.

  • Michigan: Biden +8 points (Biden +8 points)
  • Wisconsin: Biden +8 points (Biden +7 points)
  • Pennsylvania: Biden +7 points (Biden +7 points)
  • Arizona: Biden +4 points (Biden +5 points)
  • Florida: Biden +4 points (Biden +7 points)
  • North Carolina: Biden +3 points (Biden +4 points)
  • Georgia: Biden +2 points (Biden +3 points)
  • Iowa: Biden +1 point (Trump up 1 point)
  • Ohio: Tied (Tied)
  • Texas: Trump +2 points (Trump +1 point)

What should be quite apparent is the state polls look almost identical to what you’d expect given a uniform shift of 8 points across states. The average difference is just a point. Moreover, there is no bias with Biden doing 8 points better than Clinton did in the average of state polls, as you’d expect with the national polls where they are.

View 2020 presidential election polling
There is, of course, no guarantee that the states will ultimately shift uniformly based upon the national result. They didn’t in 2016, when Trump did much better in the Midwest than you would have thought given a national swing of 2 points from the 2012 result.
But the reason for what happened in 2016 is fairly simple: Trump vastly outperformed Mitt Romney among White voters without a college degree, and the Midwest has a disproportionate share of them.
This year the slight differences between the state polling averages and the implied averages by the national polls make a lot of sense. Nationally, Biden’s been doing disproportionally better among White voters than Clinton did in 2016.

Now, look at the states where Biden’s matching or outperforming what we’d expect on a uniform shift: Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. White voters make up a larger share of the electorate in each of these states than they do in the nation as a whole.

Meanwhile, Biden’s doing worse than a uniform shift would imply mostly in places where White voters make up a lower percentage of the electorate than they do nationally like Georgia, Texas and especially Florida.

Still, all of these states are in play, and we shouldn’t be shocked by it. When there’s a big swing, as the national polls imply in 2020, there are going to be some seemingly shocking results.

In 2008, Barack Obama won Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia. None of those states were particularly close in 2004 during George W. Bush’s reelection, and even Bill Clinton didn’t carry any of them in his easy 1996 reelection campaign.
But remember, Obama did about 10 points better in 2008 than John Kerry did in 2004. Just based upon a 10-point uniform shift from the 2004 result, you have thought Obama would have taken Colorado and Virginia and been competitive in North Carolina.

This year, the national swing model is implying that at least two states that haven’t gone blue in a generation (Georgia and Texas) could do so this year. If past big swings are any precedent, they very well could.

Before we bid adieu: The song of the week is the theme song to Sex and the City.

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