Arizona (11 electoral Votes)
It was not long ago that Arizona was considered a Republican stronghold. In fact, Bill Clinton’s 1996 landslide was the only time since 1948 that the state has gone blue. But Democrats have been chipping away, driven by in-migration from blue states coupled with a growing Latino population. The net result? Arizona has moved markedly toward the Democrats, who nearly picked off the state from Donald Trump in 2016, and then seized a Senate seat in 2018.
Polls have been broadly favorable for Joe Biden (and Democratic Senate contender Mark Kelly). For the first time in recent memory, it seems plausible that Phoenix’s Maricopa County, which casts a majority of the state’s votes, will go Democratic in a presidential election. Tucson is an additional source of Democratic votes, but the red parts of the state (which are smaller cities to the west and north of the Phoenix area) are deeply red, meaning that even a Democratic win here is bound to be a close one.
FLORIDA (29 electoral Votes)
Over the past three election cycles, no state has been a more constant source of heartache and frustration for Democrats than the state of Florida. A narrow defeat for governor in 2014 was followed by a frustratingly close loss for president in 2016, and then an even more frustrating loss for both governor and Senate in 2018, when the margins slipped to within one-half of one percent. (And that’s not even mentioning 2000.)
You can therefore forgive Democrats if a series of polls showing Biden leading by about 2 points is not putting anyone’s mind at ease. That said, a Democratic win here could set the tone for the night: The state counts fairly quickly, so the early closing time for polls (7 PM ET in most of the state) could let us know the state of play very quickly—unless, of course, it’s yet another Sunshine State nailbiter.
GEORGIA (16 electoral Votes)
Georgia tipped its hand as a swing state in 2018, when, after a frustrating 5-point defeat in 2016 for Hillary Clinton (in a state where she made a bit of a late play), Democrat Stacey Abrams came just a single point away from scoring the upset in the race for governor—despite all-out GOP efforts to suppress the vote. As in so many other corners of the country, it’s Georgia’s fast-growing suburbs, concentrated in the Atlanta area, that have abandoned Republicans and given Democrats hope.
Georgia has received a ton of attention this cycle, in part because its 16 electoral votes appear within reach for the Democrats, and also because two high-profile GOP-held Senate seats are in play. Biden made a campaign appearance last week, and Barack Obama is headed there in the final hours of the campaign. Democrats wouldn’t be doing all that in service of a longshot.
IOWA (6 electoral Votes)
No seriously contested state flipped to the right with more intensity than Iowa in 2016. The net swing was a whopping 15 points, as Obama’s 52-46 victory in 2012 collapsed into a 51-42 win for Trump just four years later, thanks in large part to the shifting preferences of many rural white voters.
Iowa did, however, move back toward Democrats a decent bit in 2018, though its return to true swing state status has been a surprise. Polling here has been pretty close throughout the cycle, both for president and Senate. A late Selzer poll that had Trump up 48-41 here threw many Democrats into a tizzy, but the bulk of the data has the state far closer.
MICHIGAN (16 electoral Votes)
- 2016 results: 47.3-47.0 Trump
- 2020 polls: 52-43 Biden
Michigan was another Midwestern state that lurched toward the GOP, handing Trump what might have been his biggest upset of the night when it went to Trump by a mere 10,700 votes. But like many of its neighbors, it reverted to Democrats in 2018, with victories for Democratic candidates for governor and Senate that lay in the mid-to-upper single digits.
That, notably, is where the polling averages see the race right now, and reportedly, even Trump’s own polling has shown the state out of his reach. Neither side appears to be conceding Michigan, however, as both candidates scheduled major events there in the campaign’s final days.
MINNESOTA (10 electoral Votes)
- 2016 results: 46-45 Clinton
- 2020 polls: 51-42 Biden
Of the dozen states on our roster, Minnesota is probably the one closest to graduating from tossup status. A handful of polls (mostly from partisan sources) aside, the numbers have been pretty solid for Biden.
Nevertheless, it remains on the list since both campaigns are still contesting it: Biden and Trump both visited this past weekend. Minnesota did very much return to form in 2018, with a double-digit Democratic win for governor, as well as a Senate special election win in the high single digits.
NEVADA (6 electoral Votes)
- 2016 results: 48-46 Clinton
- 2020 polls: 50-44 Biden
Nevada joins Minnesota one of only two states on this list to have been carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Nevada’s back once more because, again, both candidates are treating the state as if its six electoral votes are up for grabs. Polls have been consistent in giving a lead to Biden, but they’ve also been (mostly) consistent in that lead being fairly modest, usually in the mid-single digits.
Both of 2018’s major statewide races (governor and Senate) handed Democrats victories of about 4 to 5 points, with a large Democratic edge in Las Vegas’ Clark County—which has a large and growing Latino population, though lower education levels than in most other major metropolitan areas—offset by the rural areas, which are politically the equivalent of Wyoming. The battle between Las Vegas and the rurals (with Reno’s Washoe County often breaking the deadlock, so to speak) is the defining characteristic of Nevada elections.
NORTH CAROLINA (15 electoral Votes)
On Election Night, North Carolina may join Florida as an early “state to watch,” since polls close fairly early (7:30 PM ET) and it counts votes fairly quickly. If Biden can seize this tough Southern state on the earlier side, it could portend good times ahead for the Democrats, who also have eyes on reelecting Gov. Roy Cooper and picking off the Senate seat held by Republican Thom Tillis.
Unlike most other states, North Carolina did not offer obvious tea leaves in 2018, as there were no statewide elections outside of judicial contests. Polling in the state has been excruciatingly close, with a slight edge to the Democrats.
OHIO (18 electoral Votes)
Ohio, like Iowa, veered from a slight Democratic lean to a hefty Republican one during the middle of the decade, capped by a lopsided win for Trump in 2016. Like so many other places in the Midwest with a lot of white blue-collar voters, it did have some degree of snapback in 2018, with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown holding onto his seat while the Democrats lost the open seat race for governor only narrowly.
Polling in the Buckeye State, however, has been decidedly inconsistent. Most polls have shown a narrow Trump lead, but Quinnipiac played against type with a poll last week showing Joe Biden staked to a 5-point advantage, a bigger lead than the pollster gave him in Florida! It seems unlikely that Biden has such a comfortable edge in a state the Democrats lost by 8 points just four years ago, but 2020 is nothing if not strange.
PENNSYLVANIA (20 electoral Votes)
No state in the Union has received more attention in the 2020 cycle than Pennsylvania. The reason, of course, is math: If Biden holds Clinton’s 2016 states (which is likely) and can reclaim Michigan and Wisconsin (as polls show him on track to do), simply winning Pennsylvania, regardless of what happens in the Sun Belt, will put him in the White House.
Polling data here in the final month has grown very consistent, outside handful of outliers published by Republicans. Almost universally, pollsters have Biden leading by 5 to 7 points—a solid lead, but just narrow enough to encourage hyperventilation in Democratic quarters. One note of potential optimism: Not only did Democrats handily win races for governor and Senate in 2018, the polls accurately predicted their final margins.
TEXAS (38 electoral Votes)
Texas has to be the most unlikely of the 2020 tossups, and yet here we are. When Democrats talked about the eventual “Purple Texas,” it was largely fueled by the state’s growing diversity. But when Beto O’Rourke nearly scored the mother of all upsets in 2018, it wasn’t just the rising American electorate that propelled him, it was also the collapse of Republican support in traditionally deep-red suburban counties (which are rapidly diversifying in their own right).
The two proved to be a whale of a combination, and they’re why Democrats are daring to believe in a blue Texas in 2020. While we don’t know if that will actually come to fruition, we do know that early voting turnout in the Lone Star State has been nothing short of bonkers, which also speaks to the state’s newfound competitiveness.
WISCONSIN (10 electoral Votes)
Wisconsin was the final brick in the crumbling Midwestern wall for Democrats in 2016, going to Trump by a mere 23,000 votes. But the Badger State saw a Democratic revival in 2018, with Democrats ousting the despised Scott Walker from the governor’s office and reelecting liberal Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin by a double-digit margin.
What’s more, polls here have been closer to Michigan than Pennsylvania, with most showing a 6- to 12-point lead for Biden.