CNN’s initial breakdown of the 2020 electoral map makes Joe Biden a slight front-runner for the White House, giving the former vice president 232 electoral votes to 205 for President Donald Trump. Another 101 electoral votes are up for grabs at the moment between the two candidates.
Which is right! Biden does have a narrow-ish edge in the Electoral College.
But the current electoral breakdown also don’t capture the whole picture – which is that Biden simply has many more plausible paths to the magic number of 270 electoral votes than Trump.
And, thanks to CNN’s “Road to the White House” interactive map, it’s easy to illustrate this fact.
Let’s start with Biden’s possible paths – based on current polling, campaign spending and, well, observation. And let’s assume here for the sake or argument that Biden wins all 20 states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, which starts him at 232 electoral votes. (To be clear: These are not ALL of the paths available to Biden. Just some of the possibilities.)
1) Biden wins back the industrial Midwest: If Biden reclaims Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – three longtime Democratic states at the presidential level – from Trump, he has 278 electoral votes and the election is over. Polling in all three states suggests Biden is ahead today. If Biden only wins Michigan and Pennsylvania, both of which look slightly more likely to revert back to the Democratic side of the aisle than Wisconsin, he is at 268 electoral votes, needing only 2 more to be president.
2) Biden wins Florida and Arizona: While Trump won Florida in 2016 and Republicans won open-seat races for governor and senator in the state in 2018, the polling data available suggests the 2020 race between the incumbent and Biden is quite close. And while the last time a Democrat won Arizona was Bill Clinton in 1992, even Republicans admit the state is changing – Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won an open seat race there in 2018 – and polling pegs the race as quite competitive. Win just those 2 states and Biden has 272 electoral votes.
3) Biden wins Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona: Based on current polling, this looks like Biden’s easiest path to the White House. He can afford to lose Wisconsin, Florida and North Carolina and still be elected president by winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona. If he claimed that trio of states, he would have 279 electoral votes.
4) Biden wins Pennsylvania and Florida: Biden, in theory, should run well in Pennsylvania, the state where he was born. And, given his strength among older voters, Biden should run well in Florida too (not to mention Pennsylvania). Win just those two big states and Biden has 281 electoral votes.
5) Biden wins Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina: As noted above, the polling data in Michigan and Pennsylvania looks good for Biden. As for North Carolina, it’s a state that Barack Obama won in 2008 but lost in 2012. And Trump won it in 2016. But the state now has a Democratic governor and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is in a real fight for a second term. Polling suggests the race in the state is a pure toss-up.
Now turn to Trump’s map to 270. And, in so doing, you immediately notice there are fewer ways that he gets to 270.
1) Trump loses Michigan and Pennsylvania: At the moment, this looks like Trump’s best chance to win a second term. If he loses only these two industrial Midwest states and carries the other 28 states he won in 2016, he would be at 270 electoral votes exactly.
2) Trump loses Arizona and Pennsylvania: If Trump’s numbers remains where they are in both states, he loses each. But, he could weather that – winning with 275 electoral votes – if he won every other state he carried in 2016.
3) Trump loses Arizona and Michigan: Same scenario as No. 2, except that Trump wins with 279 electoral votes.
And that, really, is about it. Yes, the Trump campaign has made noise about expanding the battleground into Democratic states like Oregon or Minnesota (the former is laughable, the latter is within the realm of possibility) but there’s very little polling to suggest that they can do so.
Meanwhile, the Biden map has the very real possibility of expanding into Georgia and possibly even Texas before November. And there is some data that suggests Ohio, which has been moving more toward Republicans in recent presidential elections, could also be back as a battleground.
If any of those states turn into truly competitive ones for Biden – and, consequently, trouble for Trump – then the possible paths to 270 electoral votes for the Democratic nominee multiply rapidly.
None of this means, of course, that Trump can’t win. He had a seemingly narrow path to victory in 2016 but managed to widen it by winning Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (albeit by very narrow margins), where no one thought he could.
The electoral map is a fungible thing. And the election isn’t for another 144 days. But looking at the states today, it’s clear that Biden has a LOT more ways to get to his goal than does Trump.