Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Reading North Carolina

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 17, 2020 — CNN released new North Carolina poll results earlier this week, and we again see a familiar pattern unfolding. There has been a Republican under-poll in the southern states detected in the past few elections, and the North Carolina pattern appears to form relatively consistently upon studying its most competitive statewide races in 2014, ’16, and what may be happening in 2020. There were no statewide Tar Heel State contests in 2018.

The CNN poll (conducted through the SSRS statistical firm; Sept. 9-13; 787 likely North Carolina voters; live interview through landline and mobile phones) found former vice president Joe Biden leading President Trump, 49-46 percent; Democratic US Senate nominee Cal Cunningham edging incumbent Republican Thom Tillis, 47-46 percent; and Gov. Roy Cooper (D) easily outdistancing Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, 53-44 percent.

How do these mid-September races compare with other campaigns at this same interval, and what does that tell us for autumn?

First, the CNN poll is one of seven polls conducted in North Carolina during the month of September, and its three-point margin for Biden is the Democrat’s second-best showing within this group. The only better Biden performance came from the Fox News poll at the beginning of September (Aug. 29-Sept. 1; 722 likely North Carolina voters, live interview), which posted him to a four-point, 50-46 percent, advantage.

Among the five other surveys, Biden is ahead in two, President Trump in two, and one has the pair tied at 47 percent apiece (Survey USA for WRAL-TV; Sept. 10-13; 596 likely North Carolina voters). From the eight polls conducted from Aug. 29-Sept. 13, Biden’s edge is just 0.7 percent, meaning the two candidates average to a statistical tie.

Recent political history suggests that this type of an average spread sets up well for President Trump, and possibly Sen. Tillis. It appears that Gov. Cooper’s margin is beyond the statistically relevant late-term Republican swing.

In September of 2016, a total of 14 publicly released polls were conducted during that month. Within this group, Hillary Clinton led in 10 of the surveys with an average spread of 2.4 percentage points. Trump was ahead in just three polls with an average margin of 2.0 percent. Two polls found the candidates tied. Therefore, Clinton’s overall September edge was an average 1.1 percent.

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Why Arizona is So Pivotal

By Jim Ellis

Does Arizona hold the key in a Trump-Biden election?

Sept. 16, 2020 — For several reasons, the Grand Canyon State of Arizona is possibly the most important state on the political map to determine the ultimate presidential election outcome.

Primarily, Arizona is one of five core states that President Trump must win to form a foundation for a favorable remaining state coalition map. The other four, geographically from west to east, are Texas, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. Should Joe Biden break through in any one of these five states, he will likely win the national election.

At this point, Arizona appears to be the most precarious of the Trump core states. While the President’s numbers are improving here, the September polls find him trailing Biden in all six publicly released surveys from a range of one to nine points among likely voters, with a mean average of Biden plus-4, and a median of Biden plus-3.5.

The five states are so critical to President Trump, or any Republican national candidate, because, as a unit, they yield a relatively easy remaining victory map. Carrying the five southern sector domains and assuming no leakage in Ohio or Iowa, and even while not winning Nevada or New Hampshire, the GOP nominee then claims the presidency with a victory in any one of the key Great Lakes states: Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. For a Democrat to win under this scenario, he or she would be forced to sweep the aforementioned quartet.

President Trump won the 2016 Electoral College vote 306-232, which means he can relinquish a net 36 electoral votes in 2020 and still win the national election. Under the scenario of him taking either Wisconsin or Minnesota, along with keeping Arizona, he would defeat Biden with exactly 270 electoral votes. This model also assumes he wins the 2nd Congressional District from both Nebraska and Maine, the two states that split their electoral votes. He won both in 2016. Under this scenario, Michigan and Pennsylvania would go to Biden.

Arizona, now potentially teetering toward the Democrats, is critical to the president’s prospects because Trump cannot afford to trade it for one of the western Great Lakes States, either Minnesota or Wisconsin. Such a loss would force the president to win two of the four Great Lakes, but only one could be Minnesota or Wisconsin since those two states have 10 electoral votes and Arizona has 11.

Therefore, simply put, losing Arizona because of its 11th electoral vote would mean that Trump would be forced to carry either Michigan or Pennsylvania in addition to one of the other three remaining Great Lakes States. A further scenario involving Trump losing Arizona and replacing it with both of the 10-electoral vote states (MN and WI) could result in the election ending in a 269-269 tie. This would force a tiebreaker to be decided in the US House of Representatives.

Let’s look at the chances of Trump winning Arizona by comparing his current standing to where he was at this point in 2016. Looking at the Real Clear Politics polling archives, we find that 19 Arizona polls were conducted during the entire 2016 election cycle. In 2020, just since the July 4th holiday break, 25 surveys were publicly reported in the Grand Canyon State.

Four years ago, at the end of August through mid-September, two individual polls came from Gravis Marketing (Aug. 25-27, 2016) and NBC News/Marist College (Sept. 6-8, 2016). These surveys yielded Trump four and one-point leads, respectively. Shortly thereafter, the trend began to turn Hillary Clinton’s way. The OH Predictive Insights survey (Sept. 28-30, 2016) found the two candidates tied at 42 percent apiece, while Emerson College (Oct. 2-4, 2016) and the Arizona Republic newspaper poll (Oct. 10-15, 2016) detected consecutive leads for Clinton of two and five points.

Therefore, Arizona did not turn toward Trump for good until the Monmouth University survey in late October (Oct. 21-24, 2016), which put him just one point ahead. Going into the election from that point, and remembering the 2016 election was on Nov. 8, Trump led in the final four polls from a two to five-point margin. He would eventually win the actual vote count by 3.6 percentage points, 48.7 – 45.1 percent, meaning a raw vote margin of 91,234 votes of more than 2.573 million ballots cast.

Because of Arizona’s fast population growth, the state has changed in four years. During that interval, the overall population expanded five percentage points to 7,278,717 individuals according to the Census Bureau’s July 2019 estimate, the latest available.

Minorities, specifically Hispanics and blacks, account for approximately 69 percent of the population gain, thus at least partially explaining Biden’s improved prospects in the state. Overall, Hispanics represent 31.7 percent of the overall Arizona population, and blacks 5.2 percent, as compared to the non-Hispanic white position receding to 54.1 percent.

The population changes suggest that this already tight political state will likely become even closer as we head for Nov. 3.

Delaware & Rhode Island Vote Today

By Jim Ellis

Former Delaware Sen. Joe Biden’s old seat is up for selection today.

Sept. 15, 2020 — The regular election state primaries conclude today as voters in Delaware and Rhode Island, two of America’s smallest states, vote to close out nomination season.

Louisiana holds its primary concurrent with the general election, so voters there will either elect officials outright with majority support or send the top two finishers into Dec. 5 runoff elections. We will also see a special jungle US Senate primary in Georgia concurrent with Election Day, and voters in the Atlanta area will go to the polls on Sept. 29 to choose a short-term successor to the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta). Otherwise, nominations throughout the 50 states are complete.

As Joe Biden runs for president, the Delaware US Senate seat he held for 36 years also appears on the ballot in this election. Biden resigned the position when he became vice president, just after being elected to his seventh term in the body. Then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) appointed Broadcasting Board of Governors member and Biden confidant Ted Kaufman (D) to replace the outgoing senator, and he served the first two years of the term but chose not to enter the 2010 special election. In that vote, voters selected a new senator to serve the final four years of that existing term.

The special election winner was then-New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D), who was nominated in party convention and then defeated consultant Christine O’Donnell (R), 57-40 percent. This proved to be a wacky race where rumors abounded, and even a campaign commercial aired suggesting that O’Donnell believed herself to be a witch.

Sen. Coons was then re-elected to a full term in 2014, a 56-42 percent victory over Republican Kevin Wade. He now stands for a second six-year term this year and appears as a lock for re-election. Today, Sen. Coons faces a relatively minor Democratic primary challenge from business consultant Jess Scarane who had raised over $323,000 through the Aug. 26 pre-primary filing deadline. There is no indication that this election will be close either tonight or in the general election.

A pair of Republicans are on the ballot, attorney and Marine Corps veteran James Martino and Trump campaign activist Lauren Witzke. Whoever wins tonight will only be a small threat to Sen. Coons in the general election.

Gov. John Carney (D) runs for a second term, and he, too, should see little in the way of serious competition. He has one opponent today, Army veteran David Lamar Williams, Jr. (D), a minor candidate. Seven Republicans are in this gubernatorial primary race, including two state senators, Colin Bonini (R-Magnolia) and Bryant Richardson (R-Sussex County). Whoever wins the primary tonight begins as a heavy underdog to Gov. Carney in a very short general election cycle.

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The Senate Trends

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 14, 2020 — The AARP organization yesterday released a series of polls covering nine Senate races in eight states that help set benchmarks for the most recent data.

AARP contracted with four polling firms, two Republican and two Democratic, and paired each with the opposite party pollster. The Benenson Strategy Group (D) partnered with the GS Strategy Group (R) for surveying Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina.

The Fabrizio Ward firm (R) and Hart Research Associates (D) conducted the joint Colorado, Georgia (both races), Iowa, Maine, and Montana survey research. All of the polls were live interview with large sampling universes of likely voters unless otherwise noted.

Predominantly, the ballot tests find the Democratic candidate typically leading, but with the Republican improving his or her position in comparison to the previously released polling results.

Below are the AARP results followed by the two most recent reported surveys in each state:


ARIZONA
Benenson Strategy/GS Strategy (Aug. 28-Sept. 8; 1,600 likely Arizona voters)
• Mark Kelly (D) – 48%
• Sen. Martha McSally (R) – 45%
Previous:
• Change Research (D) – (Sept. 4-6) – Kelly +6
• Redfield & Wilton Strategies (UK) – (Sept. 30-Aug. 4) – Kelly +15


COLORADO
Fabrizio Ward/Hart Research (Aug. 30-Sept. 5; 800 likely Colorado voters)
• Ex-Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) – 51%
• Sen. Cory Gardner (R) – 46%
Previous:
• Morning Consult – (Aug. 21-30) – Hickenlooper +9
• Public Policy Polling (D) – (Aug. 18-19) – Hickenlooper +9 (voters)


GEORGIA-A
Fabrizio Ward/Hart Research (Aug. 30-Sept. 5; 800 likely Georgia voters)
• Jon Ossoff (D) – 48%
• Sen. David Perdue (R) – 47%
Previous:
• Public Policy Polling (D) – (Aug. 13-14) – Even (voters)
• Garin Hart Yang Research (D) – (Aug. 10-13) – Ossoff +2


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A Polling Comparison

By Jim Ellis

Neck-and-neck polling in a few key battleground states between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden shows interesting parallels to the 2016 race between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Sept. 10, 2020 — With a plethora of presidential polls being released every week providing sometimes radically diverse results, it is often difficult to draw a clear picture of where the electorate is heading.

The conventional wisdom and preponderance of polling trends suggest that Joe Biden is leading the presidential race, but that President Trump is making a comeback, and the race is beginning to show some of the same characteristics found in 2016.

Three of the key states that baffled the political pollsters four years ago were Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. As we will remember, President Trump was expected to lose them all but scored close upset victories in each place.

The aggregate group of 2016 pollsters missed in each of the three states and the Real Clear Politics polling archives still publicly maintains all of those survey results. Therefore, we have the historical data to draw clear parallels between then and now.

In Wisconsin, 33 polls were taken during the election cycle and only one, from the Trafalgar Group at the end of the campaign season, placed Trump in front. A total of 62 polls were conducted in Pennsylvania with only three, again including a Trafalgar poll, projecting the future president into the lead. In Michigan, 42 polls were publicly released with Trump ahead in just two.

Though it is not generally statistically significant to average polling results because the polling methodologies, and certainly sample sizes, are very different, doing so does give us a guide as to the error factor that was present in 2016, and possibly a glimpse into what might exist this year.

In Wisconsin, the average Hillary Clinton lead advancing into the general election was 6.5 percentage points. With a 0.7 percent win for Trump, the overall error factor became a whopping 7.2 percent. The Pennsylvania numbers were closer but still a significant miss. Clinton’s average lead heading into Election Day was 2.1 percent and the president won there by the same 0.7 percent that he carried Wisconsin. Therefore, the Keystone State error factor was 2.8. Michigan was a similar story. Error factor: Clinton plus-3.6 percent. Trump victory margin: just 0.3. Total Michigan error factor: 3.9.

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