An analysis of the results with a State-to-State map and the latest survey and forecast data
Joe Biden is the favorite to win the election. She has a nine-point lead in the polls, which is double what Hillary Clinton had four years ago. EL PAÍS’s daily prediction gives him an 85% chance of being elected, which is considerable leadership. But 85% is not 100% and Donald Trump retains a choice in six of winning.
Surprises are a possibility. Polls are an approximation, although there is nothing better to predict elections. Thanks to the polls we know some things with some certainty, such as that young people will vote for the Democratic candidate or that in Oklahoma Trump will win. But we can’t expect them to be exact and guarantee us the winner in tight states like Florida or Pennsylvania.
That is why forecasts are expressed in probabilities. It is a way of underlining the uncertainty of an electoral result. We are going to explore it below by raising five possible outcomes, State by State. In the former Biden wins and the latter are Trump’s surprises.
A likely scenario is that Biden and Trump win in states where they currently have the upper hand. In that case, if the polls hit everywhere, Biden would win with 351 electoral votes to just 187 for Trump.
That the map is exactly that would be weird (there are too many combinations). But there are many similar results — one, two, or four states changing color — and Biden wins in all of them. That’s why he is the favorite, because Trump needs a considerable surprise to win.
A first surprise would be that Biden does better than what the polls. From this list it is perhaps the most likely that instead of winning by eight points, he will win by 10. The following map represents the result assuming that the Democrat wins all the States where he has a 33% probability, according to the statistical model of FiveThirtyEight. It is a possible scenario that could lead to more than 400 electoral votes and that would solve all the unknowns on Tuesday night.
Trump’s victory comes as a surprise – which, by definition, cannot be overtaken – or to follow a narrow path. The first fundamental state is Florida, which distributes 29 delegates and is more open than any: in the last five elections it has fallen three times on the Republican side and twice on the Democratic side. Trump has to start by changing his three-point poll disadvantage there. Then he must ensure victory where he is the leader – Iowa (+1 point in the polls), Texas (+2), Ohio (+2), Alaska (+6) – and win other disputes, such as Georgia (0) and Carolina del North (-3). If you add a middle state at stake, like Minnesota, for example, it would be one of the tightest results in recent history.
On that map, Trump would be just two delegates short. To add them up, or make up for some other state that could lose, you have three main alternatives, which are explored below. None is impossible, but they all happen to win in states where right now the polls place him far from Biden.
The first scenario for a Republican victory is to win again in the states of that area with an industrial past and today in decline: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota. In all of them, as in the semi-rural counties of Ohio and Iowa, Trump obtained the highest gains in 2016 compared to 2012, guaranteeing himself the 307 delegates that the White House gave him.
So the polls failed there because they did not include enough white working-class people in their samples. Pollsters have corrected that mistake and are predicting a Democratic victory. But the president remains popular on the Republican ranks, and that leaves open the possibility that even if urban areas in the Northeast and Southwest vote Democratic, the Midwest will make Trump the winner again.
This scenario calls for considerable survey failure. Trump needs to win three or four states where he is five, eight or nine points behind Biden. Pennsylvania, the one with the most at your fingertips and the FiveThirtyEight, it only gives you 14% options. Biden seems a more competitive candidate than Clinton in the rural and industrial Midwest: He himself is from Scranton, Pennsylvania, has a centrist profile, and does not receive the penalty among men that his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, did.
The second most likely route for Trump would be to keep the Republican fiefdoms in the south (Georgia, Texas, Arizona) and recover several of the recently lost, such as Nevada, New Mexico or Colorado.