Amid the protests following the police killing of George Floyd and the ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic, something very important has been overlooked: President Donald Trump is now a decided underdog to reach the 270 electoral votes he needs to win a second term in the fall.
A series of polls in swing (and not-so-swing) states released Wednesday make this reality plain.
* A Fox News poll in Arizona shows Joe Biden leading Trump 46% to 42%
* A Fox News poll in Ohio put Biden at 45% to Trump’s 43%
* A Fox News poll in Wisconsin had Biden at 49% and Trump at 40%.
* A Quinnipiac University poll in Texas had the race at Trump 44%, Biden 43%.
How bad are those numbers for Trump? To put a fine point on it: Really bad.
The last Democrat to win Arizona at the presidential level was Bill Clinton in 1996. In Texas, no Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 has carried the state in a presidential race. Ohio was one of the swingiest states in presidential races at the start of this century but moved heavily toward Trump in 2016, as he carried it by 8 points. And Wisconsin is widely seen as the most likely state that Trump flipped in 2016 to again support him. (Polling in Pennsylvania and Michigan – two other longtime Democratic states Trump won in 2016, suggests he is behind Biden at the moment.)
And according to tabulations made by CNN’s David Wright, the Trump campaign has already spent more than $1 million on ads in Ohio, Wisconsin and Arizona since the start of the year. Which means that even with Trump’s preferred message being beamed to their TV screens, voters in those states aren’t persuaded – at least not yet.
Now, let’s look at what these numbers would mean to Trump’s chances of getting to 270 in November.
Start here: Trump got 306 electoral votes in his 2016 win. Now, consider these 2020 scenarios (all calculations made via 270towin.com):
* If Trump loses Texas (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden, 270 electoral votes to 268 electoral votes.
* If Trump loses Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 278 to 260.
* If Trump loses Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 279 to 259.
* If Trump loses Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 276 to 262.
* If Trump loses Arizona, Ohio and Wisconsin (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 271 to 267.
The point here is not to say any of these electoral map scenarios are locked in. After all, we are still 152 days away from the November 3 election. (And, yes, I counted.)
Rather, they are to note that Biden, as of right now, has a WHOLE lot of different paths to 270 electoral votes, while Trump has a dwindling number. And of course, the polls on released on Wednesday don’t even deal with potential trouble spots for Trump in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia – all of which he won in 2016.
For what it’s worth, Trump’s best/most likely path to a second term would be to lose either one or both of Michigan and Pennsylvania and hold every other state he won in 2016. If he lost both Michigan and Pennsylvania, he would eke out a 270 to 268 electoral vote victory over Biden. If he lost only Pennsylvania, he would win with 286 electoral votes. Lose just Michigan, and Trump has 290 electoral votes and a second term.
As longtime political handicapper Stu Rothenberg wrote in a post-Memorial Day column:
“The country is as polarized as it was two months ago, and the trajectory of the contest is essentially unchanged, with Biden holding a comfortable lead in national polling and having multiple paths to 270 electoral votes.
“While daily developments give the cable television networks something to chatter about, today’s big story will be replaced by a new one tomorrow, and another one the day after that. But the fundamentals of the race remain unchanged.”
That is exactly right. As of today, Biden has more ways than at any point in the campaign to date to get to 270 electoral votes. And Trump has fewer.
Could that change? Of course! In the summer of 2016, the electoral map looked like Hillary Clinton would roll to a win over Trump. Heck, it looked that way all the way into the fall.
The election isn’t today. Trump will run a well-funded – and likely vicious – campaign that seeks to paint Biden as out-of-touch on every issue – from immigration to China to race. And as the last few months have reminded all of us, events can and do intervene to change what we think we know about the November election.
All of that is true. None of it changes the fact that Trump is looking at an increasingly difficult electoral map today, with little suggesting a major change is coming anytime soon.