Battleground Pennsylvania

The Presidential campaign’s intensity took a dramatic turn last week when both candidates visited Kenosha,Wisconsin, following a set of tragic events in that small city. An unarmed African-American man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police, angry protests followed that included some destruction of property, and  then a teenage white vigilante who lived outside the area came there and killed two people. President Trump rushed to Kenosha to support the police and law and order, and ignored the Blake family; within days Vice-President Biden arrived, met with the Blake family and the community, supported healing and racial justice, and rejected rioting and looting as not part of protesting.

Despite all the volatile emotions on display, the most recent national polls after both the two parties’ conventions and the events in Wisconsin, remain stable. The  Vice-President holds a lead of 7-8 points nationally over President Trump. Trump’s 2016 victory in Wisconsin was seen as the vital “ tipping point “ state in his swinging past 270 Electoral College votes. Vice-President Biden, however, has continued to show strength in the polls in Wisconsin, and other swing states, even after the events in Kenosha https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/election-update-biden-gets-good-polls-in-arizona-and-wisconsin-and-a-bad-one-in-pennsylvania/.

Nathaniel Rakich, analyzing recent polls in the article above, says that with Biden’s strength in Wisconsin and Arizona the 2020 tipping point state, that is, where the winning candidates’ decreasing margins of victory first bring him to 270 Electoral College votes, is going to be Pennsylvania. That’s why I thought it would be very useful to see the results of the very latest four polls in Pennsylvania:

Rasmussen8/25-8/271000 LV48484
Hodas&Assoc.8/26-8/31600 LV45514
Monmouth8/28-8/31400 RV45496
Quinnipiac8/28-8/311107 LV44524

Vice-President Biden’s average lead in the four polls is 4.5 points. I wrote about Pennsylvania and other swing states in several articles about the Purple Highway, https://jimbrennanscommentaries.com/2020/08/24/staying-sober-on-the-purple-highway-the-swing-states-round-4/. In mid-August, Biden’s lead was six points in Pennsylvania. In May, his lead was 5.6 points. At 4.5 points, the race in Pennsylvania has, unsurprisingly, tightened a bit but has been fairly consistent all year, at 4.5-6 points.

I am going to take a look at some ethnic breakdowns from these and a few other recent past polls. Not every poll taken in Pennsylvania provides a look at the ethnic breakdowns of the polls; sometimes they have breakdowns by region, age, and gender, but not race. Before doing that, we take a look at both the 2012 and 2016 Presidential elections in Pennsylvania, including an ethnic breakdown from the Exit Polls in 2016 from Pennsylvania.

President Obama won Pennsylvania by over 5 points in 2012:


In 2016, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes and seven-tenths of one point. The turnout increased by 400,000 over 2012.


Here are the results of the 2016 Pennsylvania Exit Poll, which sampled nearly 3000 voters, with ethnic breakdowns:

black-10%9271non-white 19%81163

Pennsylvania is heavily white- 81%- and Hilary Clinton won only 40% of the white vote. Donald Trump won 56%, and the third-party candidates won 4%. Ms. Clinton did extremely well with minorities- 92% of Blacks and 81% of minorities altogether.

A factor in Vice-President Biden’s current polling leads in Pennsylvania is that he is doing better among whites than Hilary Clinton. Hodas and Associates, where Biden led 51-45, did not provide an ethnic breakdown. Here are the sample responses among whites in the three other late August polls:


Three other summer Pennsylvania polls provided ethnic breakdowns, Franklin & Marshall, CBS/YouGov, and Fox News. Here are the sample responses among whites for these three polls:

Aug.4-7CBS/You Gov4943
July 18-20Fox News4545

Although Donald Trump had a sixteen-point margin over Hilary Clinton among whites in 2016, Vice-President Biden had closed that gap to about five points among whites in the three late August Pennsylvania polls that provided breakdowns, and in the fourth poll, Hodas, Biden led Trump by five points.

Here are the sample responses among Black, Latinos, Asians, and other nonwhites in 5 of the six summer polls. All five of the polls report all nonwhites together:

Fox News1173

Rasmussen reported Blacks and Other Nonwhites separately. I also added these numbers together to produce a total for nonwhites and included the number of persons in the sample. Rasmussen’s total sample for its late August poll was 1000 likely voters, of whom 140 were Blacks and 90 were other minorities.

All NonWhite3857230

The variation in the polling reports for minorities is explained by the sample sizes: since the share of the voters being sampled who are minorities is intended to approximate their share of the vote, Pennsylvania polls are likely to include about 20% of their respondents being minorities. With sample sizes for the polls running from 400 registered voters ( Monmouth) to 1211 registered voters (CBS/YouGov), sample sizes for minorities could range from 80 voters to 240 voters. These are very small samples and their margins of error run from 6-10 points or more.

Nonetheless, comparing a result like Rasmussen’s report of a Biden lead of 68-27 among Blacks in Pennsylvania, to the 2016 Exit Poll sample where Blacks are reported voting for Clinton 92-7, seems like an outlier to me. Biden losing other minorities, most of whom are Latino, 55-41, when the Exit Polls showed Clinton winning Latinos 3-1, also seems like an outlier.

We will be seeing Biden and Trump repeatedly in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks as both camps recognize its importance in the election.

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