This is Joe Biden's best electoral path

Just like in 2016, President Donald Trump is trailing in the polls in the key battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- three states he narrowly won. CNN's Harry Enten explains why 2020 is very likely to be different.

Posted: Oct 19, 2020 5:11 AM
Updated: Oct 19, 2020 5:11 AM

A big question heading into this cycle was whether Democrats' best path to winning back the White House ran through the Sun Belt or the Great Lakes (i.e. Rust Belt). While we won't know for certain which pathway was best for them until the votes are actually counted, the current data shows a pretty clear divide.

If former Vice President Joe Biden is to win this election, his best chance probably runs through the Great Lakes.

Two new polls out Sunday morning are demonstrative of a larger trend. Biden was up 51% to 46% in a CBS News/YouGov poll in Wisconsin. CBS News/YouGov also found Biden at 50% to President Donald Trump's 47% in Arizona, a result well within the margin of error.

These polls taken in isolation wouldn't be that noteworthy, but they speak to the larger aggregate.

View 2020 presidential election polling

Hillary Clinton won contests containing 232 electoral votes. Were Biden to hold the Clinton states (and polls indicate that he probably will), he needs to find an extra 38 electoral votes.

Those extra 38 electoral votes are likely to come from the six closest states Trump won in 2016: Arizona (11 electoral votes), Florida (29 electoral votes), Michigan (16 electoral votes), North Carolina (15 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) and Wisconsin (10 electoral votes). You can also add in the one electoral vote from Nebraska's Second Congressional District, which Trump won by just 2 points in 2016.

(Nebraska, like Maine, gives an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district.)

Now, look at the polling aggregates in each of those contests.

  • Michigan: Biden +8 points

  • Wisconsin: Biden +8 points

  • Pennsylvania: Biden +7 points

  • Nebraska's 2nd District: Biden +7 points

  • Arizona: Biden +4 points

  • Florida: Biden +4 points

  • North Carolina: Biden +3 points

What you see here is a pretty clear divide between the Great Lake and Sun Belt states. Biden has advantages of 7 points to 8 points in the Great Lakes, while his leads are 3 to 4 points in the Sun Belt. Nebraska's Second District is really not part of either region, though it is part of the Midwest (where the Great Lakes is mostly situated) and lacks the racial diversity of the Sun Belt states.

The key in these poll numbers is that Biden doesn't actually need Arizona, Florida or North Carolina to win. Just by winning in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and holding the Clinton states, Biden gets to 278 electoral votes.

Obviously, that map doesn't leave Biden a lot of room for error, but it is good enough.

Not surprisingly, statistical models suggest that Pennsylvania is the state most likely to determine the Electoral College winner in 2020.

An examination of the demographic voting patterns in the last few cycles and national polls indicate that Biden's relative strength in the Great Lakes makes a lot of sense.

Remember that Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin formed part of what was deemed "the blue wall" heading into the 2016 election. All three states had voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992.

Trump was able to break through that blue wall because of his strength among White voters without a college degree. These voters make up about 50% or more of the voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They make up a significantly lower percentage in the Sun Belt, which is more racially diverse.

Visit CNN's Election Center for full coverage of the 2020 race

The live interview national polls taken since the first debate have Trump winning White voters without a college degree by about 17 points nationally. That may seem like a big lead, but Trump led among that group by 30 points in the final pre-election polls in 2016.

Trump's declining support among White voters without a college degree is bigger than his declining support overall and has been consistent throughout this cycle. Meanwhile, Biden's been at best matching and usually underperforming Clinton among Black and Hispanic voters, who are a far bigger factor in the Sun Belt than Great Lakes.

Additionally, Biden's been doing about 10 points better among White voters overall and nearly 20 points better among White women than Clinton did. All of these trends manifest more greatly in the Great Lakes than Sun Belt.

Importantly, you'll note that the comparison here controls for the Great Lake poll misses in 2016. We're focusing on the national polls, which were largely accurate in 2016. Also, we're doing an apples-to-apples comparison between pre-election polls then and now.

And if you still don't believe the polls, just look at the results in 2018 and the actions of the Biden campaign. House Democrats did significantly better in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin than in Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. They also won the governorship and Senate races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2018.

There's a reason why Biden based his campaign in Philadelphia and has been outspending Trump by factors of greater than 2:1 in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

For Trump to win, he'll probably need to knock down the big blue wall again. If he can't, Biden's probably the next president.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
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