One way to predict which way a state will vote in the Electoral College is to examine races for statewide positions such as Governor and Senator that were held together with or a couple of years before the Presidential Election. Statewide races are similar to a Presidential election in that the entire state votes thus they reflect the political preference of a given state and could hold a clue as to how voters will vote in the upcoming Presidential election. In this analysis, I will identify the key swing states of 2020 and then look into the history of each state and see how the Senate and Governor elections predicted how the state voted in Presidential races of the past. Based on that information I will assemble a 2020 Electoral Map prediction. On Nov 1st, 2019, the 2020 electoral map starts out like this:I will assume that all pink and red states are won by Trump. Actually any state that has a hint of red, I will assume that Trump wins. I will also assume that key swing states of Florida and Ohio go for Trump. I will assume that Maine goes Democrat because a Republican hasn’t won Maine since 1992. Maine is a state that rejected Trump in 2016 and I am not sure why he would do any better there now given that his net approval rating there is at -13. I will assume that any state that is “Likely” to vote Democrat will vote Democrat (that would be the Blue states like Colorado and New Mexico). I will consider “Leans Democratic” (Light Blue States like Minnesota) to be “Toss Up” states. After making these adjustments, we are looking at Trump getting 239 votes and Democrat Candidate getting 243 votes with about 86 votes hanging in the balance. The tossup states are: Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Hampshire.For each of these tossup states I look at the Senatorial and Gubernatorial elections and look at how well they aligned or predicted with the Presidential election in the past. I look at data starting 1980 which is when the current political map was formed. For example, prior to 1980 Texas and the South in general were Democratic states which hasn’t been the case for the past 30 years. So I will focus on more recent data starting 1980. Below is an example of how I calculate the “Success Rate” for one state. In Arizona, the Senate election predicted the state’s vote in the Presidential election 75% of the time. Gubernatorial election was less accurate at 56%.After I calculate Historical Prediction Rate (or Success Rate) for each of the states, I calculate “Trump Odds”. I take the type of race (Governor or Senator) with the highest prediction rate for the state and give it 65% weight. For the other race, I give 35% weight. For example, in Arizona the latest Senator to be elected is Kyrsten Sinema who is a Democrat. Since in Arizona Senator prediction rate is 75%, I assume that Trump’s odds if you listen to the Senate race are only 25%. I give that a weight of 65% because Senatorial prediction rate is better than Gubernatorial prediction rate. The Governor who is a Republican gives Trump odds of 56%. That I multiply by 35%. So Trump odds in Arizona are = 65% * 25% + 35% * 56% = 36%.
As you can see in the chart above, Senatorial races tend to align more closely with how a state votes in a Presidential election. Senate and Presidential races are often general “values” races and in those voters tend to vote their values whereas in Governor races voters tend to vote on local issues. In any case, there are states like New Hampshire and Minnesota where Gubernatorial races have better than 60% success rate.
Since the 2016 Trump election, in these 7 tossup states of Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Hampshire, Democrats have won a series of wave elections. The only Republicans to win a Senate seat or Governorship are Ducey of Arizona and Sununu in New Hampshire. Burr was elected with Trump in 2016. All other 11 statewide races were won by Democrats, unbelievably even in Arizona which traditionally is a heavy Republican stronghold. This presents a big problem for Trump right off the bat since Senate races tend to skew the odds greatly in Democrat favor. In the states of Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Trump has below 40% odds of reelection. You can basically write those off for Trump. The only tossup state where you can predict a Trump win based on statewide races is North Carolina where Trump’s odds are north of 60%.That leaves us with three “true” tossup states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Hampshire where Trump’s odds are about 50%. Both Pennsylvania and Michigan have Governors and Senators that are Democrat and Trump is the only Republican to win those since HW Bush. To break the tie in these states I look into Trump’s Net Approval Rating (Approval – Disapproval) in these states. In Michigan his net approval rating is -11 and in Pennsylvania it is -8. Those are states where his approval rating was heavily positive just 2 years ago: +7 in Michigan and +10 in Pennsylvania at the start of 2017. So whatever Trump has done in the last 2 years (ill-conceived tax legislation) is not working out for voters in these 2 states. Both of these states had thumping Democratic wins in the latest 4 statewide races in 2018. These states were razor thin wins for Trump in 2016 and if you adjust the statewide race odds with the net approval rating, the picture does not look good for Trump. 50% Odds -10% Net Approval Rating = 40% Reelection Odds. Reelection Odds < 50% means Trump loses the state. Basically, the only state with better than 50% reelection odds is North Carolina.
When I make the changes and put Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire for the Democrats and North Carolina for Trump we get a 284-254 win for the Democrats in this Statewide Prediction Model. So the most likely 2020 election outcome is a 30 vote win for Democrats.
What Happens If Nobody Gets 270 Votes?
But let’s say, you think Trump losing Arizona is a stretch and New Hampshire is winnable because it has a Republican Governor that still doesn’t give Trump a victory (assuming Maine goes for Democrats). It is a split 269-269 decision at which point the race goes to Congress.
This is an important strategic question that almost nobody is asking today. The US Electoral College has the following rules for selecting a President and Vice President in case no ticket gets 270 electoral votes:
- The House of Representative elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote.
- The Senate elects the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President.
- If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.
In the Presidential vote, each state gets one vote which is determined by the state delegation. Currently most of the Democratic House reps are from New York and California and thus even though the House is held by Democrats in an electoral scenario Trump might win because most state delegations would be Republican. Here is a breakout of party representatives by State. Republicans would carry 32 state votes and Democrats only 17.However, I still think if Congress had to choose between Trump and a Democrat candidate, I think it elects the Democrat. Trump is already considered too extreme or toxic. Trump has a very wide opposition within the Republican Party. Many GOP congressional candidates distanced themselves from Trump in 2018 to get the suburban and woman vote. If it came down to it, I don’t think Wisconsin Republicans would vote for Trump if Paul Ryan’s stance was any indication. I don’t think Arizona Republicans vote for Trump given how loyal they are to the McCain family.
You can also get into a situation where there is a standoff between Democrats and Republicans. I have seen situations like these in other countries and usually a middle of the road candidate emerges after a long standoff between the 2 extremes. These are professional politicians, not regular voters. They will pick a candidate that checks all the boxes and if there is a candidate that checks no boxes, that would be Trump. Honestly, I just can’t picture Congress electing Trump. I just can’t picture professional politicians electing Trump. In the list above Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming are all listed in the Republican column. I don’t think these states are automatic Trump votes given how anti-Trump their senators are. The 10 GOP Senators from these states voted against Trump on a resolution of disapproval on Trump’s national emergency declaration around the border wall. I understand all the math, I just don’t think the GOP brass would cast their vote for Trump if it came down to them in 2020. They would rather put Pence atop the ticket than subject the country to another 4 years of Trump mayhem.