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The Purple Highway Round 3: Arizona and North Carolina

In the past few weeks I have written about the Presidential election in highly competitive swing states, first in Michigan and Pennsylvania on May 5th, and Florida and Wisconsin on May 11th.

This article focuses on Arizona and North Carolina, both won by Donald Trump in 2016. Before delving into that subject, here is an Update on the national polling picture between President Trump and Vice-President Biden:

PRESIDENTIAL POLLS LATE MAY-EARLY JUNE 2020
RATING POLL DATE SAMPLE BIDEN TRUMP
A+ ABC/WP May 25-28 835 RV 53 43
B/C Optimus May 23-30 784 RV 50 45
B/C Mg Consult May 31-J.1 1,624 RV 51 39
B/C RMG May 28-30 1,200 RV 46 39
B- Ipsos June 1-2 964 RV 47 37
A+ Monmouth May 28-J.1 742 RV 52 41
B You Gov May 31-J.2 1294 RV 47 40
A- Emerson June 2-3 1431 RV 53 47
B/C Civiqs June 1-3 1327 A 47 44
A/B IBD/TPP M.31-J.3 964 RV 45 42
AVERAGE 49.1 42.2

I have added the 538.com rating associated with each of the pollsters whose results are presented. There are ten polls here starting as early as May 25 and running through June 3rd.

Vice-President Biden holds about a 7 point lead on average in these ten polls combined. I offer no predictions, this is just a report.

As Nate Cohn, the New York Times polling expert has pointed out, the swing states will decide the election in the Electoral College even if Biden wins the popular vote .

ARIZONA

Although Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton in Arizona in 2016 by 3 1/2 points, many analysts believe Arizona is authentically in play in 2020.

Here’s what happened in Arizona in 2016:

arizona 2016

Donald Trump won by more than 90,000 votes, about 3 1/2 percentage points. But he garnered 48.1% of the vote and 3d party candidates won over 7% of the vote, about 190,000 votes.  The votes of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates are presented above. Other candidates received the remainder.

Although the Republican Party won Arizona in 2016, in 2018 the battle to win Senator John McCain’s seat after his death resulted in a win for Democratic candidate Krsyten Sinema. This followed two years of the public’s reactions to now President Trump. Here was the result:

arizona senate 2018

In 2018. Democrat Krysten Sinema won by about 56,000 votes and won virtually 50% of the vote; the Green Party candidate got 57,000 votes, more than 2% of the vote. The results show how highly competitive the Democratic party was becoming in Arizona by 2018. Martha McSally, the Republican Senate candidate who lost to Krysten Sinema, was then appointed to the Senate seat by the Republican Governor following the departure of Senator Jeff Flake. She is now in a battle with a strong Democratic candidate, Mark Kelly, who has been leading in the polls.

Here’s the Presidential picture in recent Arizona polls:

ARIZONA PRESIDENTIAL POLLS MARCH-JUNE 2020
RATING POLL DATE SAMPLE BIDEN TRUMP
A+ Marist March 10-15 2523 RV 47 43
A+ Monmouth March 11-14 847 RV 46 43
B/C OH Insights May 9-11 600 LV 50 43
B/C High Ground May 18-22 400 LV 47 45
C- ChangeRsch May 29-31 329 LV 44 45
A Fox News May 30-J.2 1002 RV 46 42
AVERAGE 46.7 43.5

These six recent polls show an average lead for Joe Biden of just over 3 percentage points, near the edge of the margin of error and clearly showing the election there is very close and competitive.

Arizona is home to large numbers of retirees; Exit Polls in Arizona in 2016 estimated the electorate over the age of 65 was 25% of the vote, far higher than the national average for voters over 65 of 16%. A recent analysis of Biden’s strengths in his matchup with the President are showing significant change among American voters over the age of 65. In 2016. Trump won this group 55-42%, 13 points. But in an analysis of 48 national polls since April 1st that included this age group, Donald Trump is down 14 points from his 2016 margin against Hilary Clinton. Joe Biden has been leading Donald Trump by one point among voters over 65. Since Arizona voters are disproportionately older, there’s a strong chance support from older voters is a major factor in Biden’s competitiveness in Arizona.

NORTH CAROLINA

Donald Trump won North Carolina by over 170,000 votes in 2016, about 3.7 points. Here’s the result that year:

north carolina 2016

The President did a bit better in North Carolina than in Arizona; he had virtually 50%, and about 4% of the electorate voted 3d-party, compared to more than 7% in Arizona. President Obama won North Carolina in 2008 in part due to a massive African-American turnout, but he lost to Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2016, the Democratic candidate for Governor, Roy Cooper, won the Governor’s race by 10,000 votes despite Trump’s victory, and Governor Cooper is up for re-election this year. Governor Cooper won 49% of the vote in 2016, won by two-tenths of one-percent, and ran nearly three points ahead of Hilary Clinton.

Here are the results of recent North Carolina Presidential  polls:

NORTH CAROLINA PRESIDENTIAL POLLS MAY-JUNE 2020
RATING POLL DATE SAMPLE BIDEN TRUMP
B/C E.Carolina May 7-9 1111 RV 43 46
B/C Meetg Street May 9-13 500 RV 47 47
B/C Nghd Rsch May 12-21 391 RV 42 42
B/C Harper May 26-28 500 LV 44 47
C- Chge Rsch May 29-31 806 LV 46 45
B PPolicyPllg June 2-3 949 RV 49 45
AVERAGE 45.2 45

These six North Carolina Presidential polls from early May to early June 2020 show the two candidates in a dead heat. The average support in all six polls combined for Joe Biden is 45%; the average for Donald Trump is the same, 45%. Vice-President Biden seems very competitive, but Hilary Clinton made an intense, but unsuccessful, effort in North Carolina in 2016.

The Democrats have two strong statewide candidates in 2020 who could help the full ticket with Vice-President Biden. First, Governor Cooper, who won statewide in 2016 even as Trump was winning by four points, has commanding leads in the polls against his Republican opponent, Dan Forest, running anywhere from 8 to nearly 20 points and frequently polling in excess of 50 percent.

Governor Cooper is benefiting from his leadership through the pandemic. And the Democrats have a strong candidate for United States Senate, Cal Cunningham, who is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Tillis. Polls in this race are virtually tied, just like the Presidential race. Defeating Senator Tillis is critical to their chances of winning the United States Senate and the Democrats will be funding that Senate campaign heavily. But these two statewide candidates are not at the top of the ticket; a win for the Democrats in North Carolina is challenging, like all the swing states, but Vice-President Biden seems very competitive right now.

I haven’t discussed all the extraordinary events of past weeks or months:the murder of George Floyd, the pandemic, the economic collapse. Will the outrage and anguish about what happened to Mr. Floyd and the systemic racism it represents translate into a political victory for the Democrats ? Can Vice-President Biden succeed in offering hope and inspiration? These are questions I cannot answer in this post. But the election will run through the swing states and the Electoral College, no doubt.

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