A Year Out: Battleground States and 2020

09 Dec 2019
A Year Out: Battleground States and 2020
In mid-November the Perth USAsia Centre hosted CEO of the Sydney-based United States Studies Centre, Professor Simon Jackman, for a private discussion on key developments in US politics, the unfolding Impeachment Inquiry, and the 2020 Presidential Election. Convened under Chatham House Rule, below is a profile of discussions as they concerned early head-to-head polling in battleground states for the 2020 Presidential Election.
Following examination of the complexities and very consequential quirks of the United States Electoral College System, registered voters in six “battleground states” - and those who ultimately decide to cast or not cast their ballot on 3 November 2020 - will significantly determine who wins next year’s US Presidential Election:
  • Michigan (MI): 16 Electoral College votes; 47.6% Trump > 47.4% Clinton primary votes in 2016 (Trump Takes 16 Electoral College votes with 0.2% Margin)
  • Pennsylvania (PA): 20 Electoral College votes; 48.6% Trump > 47.9% Clinton primary votes in 2016 (Trump Takes 20 Electoral College votes with 0.7% Margin)
  • Wisconsin (WI): 10 Electoral College votes; 47.8% Trump > 47% Clinton primary votes in 2016 (Trump Takes 10 Electoral College votes with 0.8% Margin)
  • Florida (FL): 29 Electoral College votes; 49% Trump > 47.8% Clinton primary votes in 2016 (Trump Takes 29 Electoral College votes with 1.2% Margin)
  • Arizona (AZ): 11 Electoral College votes; 49% Trump > 45.5% Clinton primary votes in 2016 (Trump Takes 11 Electoral College votes with 3.5% Margin)
  • North Carolina (NC): 15 Electoral College votes; 50.5% Trump > 46.8% Clinton primary Votes in 2016 (Trump Takes 15 Electoral College votes with 3.7% Margin)
President Donald Trump won four of these “winner-takes-all” states in the 2016 Election (See Map) by a 1.2% margin or less (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida) – and earned a decisive 75 Electoral College votes to ascend the nationally-needed 270. Notwithstanding Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton winning the national popular vote by nearly three million votes, President Trump won the Electoral College 306 to 232.

United States Electoral College Map – 2016 Presidential Election
Source: https://www.270towin.com/live-2016-presidential-election-results/state-by-state/
In the 2012 Election, President Barack Obama held those four states against Republican Mitt Romney, after winning five (all bar Arizona – the home state of rival Senator John McCain) in his inaugural 2008 Election victory. President Trump won all of these states back for the Republican Party in 2016, by securing significant turnout and favourable voter swings from non-college educated White Americans. While white Americans are an incrementally declining demographic nationally, the predominantly working class sub-demographic of non-college educated White Americans are a powerful voting group in the mid-west battleground states.
In a voluntary voting franchise – especially where race and education delineations are leading indicators of voting blocs - voter turnout and trends among certain sub-demographics in certain states are often more decisive than national preferences and approval ratings.

One year out from the 2020 Election, the New York Times recently polled nearly 4,000 registered voters across these six battleground states (Times/Siena Poll). Pitting President Trump against the three lead candidates for the Democratic Nomination: former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, results showed:
  • Trump v Biden: President Trump trailed Joe Biden among registered voters by at least two points in four of the six states (with President Trump leading in North Carolina and Michigan even), and trailed in five states among “likely voters”;
  • Trump v Sanders: President Trump and Senator Sanders split leading three states each among registered voters, with President Trump leading Sanders in four states among “likely voters” (polling ahead in Pennsylvania);
  • Trump v Warren: President Trump leading Senator Warren three states to one among registered voters (with two even), and leading in five among “likely voters” (with one even).
More than 90% of registered voters surveyed said they’re “almost certain” or “very likely” to vote, above the 87% in Times/Siena Polling in the final weeks before the 2016 vote. Significantly, President Trump led Biden (+24), Sanders (+24) and Warren (+26) among non-college educated white Americans surveyed, on par with his +26 over Clinton in 2016. And while trailing all three potential 2020 Democratic Nominees among college educated white Americans, as well as black Americans and Hispanics, the non-college educated white demographic is significant; if not the majority, in many of these states.
While a year is a very long time in politics, in recent cycles head-to-head polls a year out from a US Presidential Election have been as close to the final result as those taken the day before. Notwithstanding low national approval ratings, the 2018 midterm results and the spectre of Impeachment proceedings, 90% of President Trump’s 2016 supporters approve of his performance. He remains highly competitive in the race, if not the early favourite, to be the US President on the Inauguration podium come 20 January 2021.
*The United States Studies Centre and the Perth USAsia Centre will continue to provide insights and analysis in the lead up to the 2020 Presidential Election.



Hugo Seymour
Hugo Seymour
Research Analyst
Hugo Seymour is the Research Analyst at the Perth USAsia Centre. He develops content and publishes on Western Australia and Australia's engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
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