Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has led President Trump in the polls for months, and Trump continues to slump. The new Bob Woodward book casts Trump as a two-faced charlatan lying to the public about the risks of the coronavirus. Congress is punting on another coronavirus stimulus bill, leaving millions of struggling workers sinking. And a surge of rehiring has clearly slowed, with a full recovery from the coronavirus layoffs not likely till 2022 or later.
Yet Trump could still pull off a second stunner and beat Joe Biden. “Right now I would tell you [the winner] would be Trump,” Stefanie Miller, managing director of FiscalNote Markets, says in the latest episode of the Yahoo Finance Electionomics podcast. “It really seems like he’s got just a slight, slight edge over Biden. The states where he seems safer are more solid and they have more electoral college votes.”
Many analysts think the race will come down to six swing states—Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona. Miller thinks it’s important to watch a few others, including Minnesota, which leans toward the Democrats, and Ohio, Iowa, Texas and Georgia, which lean Republican. A recent poll in Minnesota, for instance, shows Trump and Biden tied—a sharp improvement for Trump compared with a few months ago. Trump remains within striking distance in Pennsylvania, and he might be ahead in Florida.
Trump can lose some of the swing states that propelled him to victory in 2016, and still win in 2020, as the map below shows. If Biden flips Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin into the Democratic column, Trump could still win if he takes Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, along with Minnesota. It would be a surprise if Biden won the other upper Midwest states but Trump won Minnesota. Yet Minnesota was ground zero for civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Trump’s law-and-order mantra might explain the recent shift in his favor
Another issue that could influence the tiny portion of voters who are still undecided is back-to-school policies amid the coronavirus pandemic. “One of the ways Republicans have been trying to resonate with voters is sounding way more sympathetic to working parents than Democrats, who sound way more sympathetic to taking precautionary efforts against spreading the virus,” Miller says. She points out that women bear more of the burden for remote schooling and child care than men, while flipping female voters away from Trump is a top Biden priority. “Doing things that are helpful to women, particularly white women and suburban women, can be really impactful and change dynamics at the electoral college level,” Miller says.
There’s one scenario in which Trump and Biden could actually tie, with neither candidate reaching the 270 electoral votes needed to win, as the following map shows. Biden would win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, while Trump would win the other swing states. Two single-vote portions of Maine and Nebraska would cancel each other out, with Trump getting the Maine vote and Biden getting the one in Nebraska. In a tie, the House of Representatives determines the winner—and it would probably be Trump. Democrats have a majority in the House, but Republicans control more state delegations and probably will in 2021 as well, which is how a tie would be broken.
Biden can lose Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania as long as he wins the upper Midwest, Arizona and at least one of the two single votes in Nebraska or Maine. He could also do a lot better. If Biden wins the six core swing states, he could be competitive in former Republican strongholds Texas and Georgia. Miller even thinks normally red Iowa could be in play, because incumbent Republican Sen. Joni Ernst faces shaky reelection odds. She’s a fervent Trump supporter, and if voters reject her they could reject Trump as well. That would cap a season of terrible news for Trump, and produce defeat so resounding no fabricated excuse would explain it.
The writer is a senior columnist. He’s also the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.