April 10, 2020 207 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the presidential candidates everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to the Surge! For the past few weeks, as everyone’s attention has turned from the election to the virus, we’ve been trying out different things to rank. Governors, world leaders, stuff like that. But this week, we get back to the election—the general election, now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out—which may not involve public campaign appearances by either candidate for quite some time. Despite the paucity of formal electioneering, socially distanced voters can still respond to pollsters, so there’s a good amount of state-level data available about the matchup that we now know—to the extent we can know anything about what will happen in the future in the United States or on Earth—will be on the ballot this November. Here, a ranking of the seven swingiest swing states in order of their current measured swinginess (i.e., how narrow the margin is between Donald Trump and Joe Biden) according to the most recent poll available for them conducted by a pollster with a FiveThirtyEight rating of B-minus or higher. (Yes, this week we actually have standards.) One particular state that’s not in the Trump column, despite its typically favorable attitude toward spray tans and lying about real estate, may surprise you!

Photos of Joe Biden and Donald Trump. In the background, there are blue, purple, and red shapes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images and Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. Arizona (Biden +1)

Cactus Joe!

If Democrats’ electability-driven consensus decision to nominate Joe Biden instead of Bernie Sanders pays off later this year, Arizona will be example No. 1 as to why. The most recent poll of the state, conducted by NBC News/Marist in mid-March, found Bernie Sanders trailing Trump by 3 points, but Biden leading him by 1. That’s within the margin of error—but a Monmouth poll conducted just slightly earlier found Trump leading Sanders by 1 point and losing to Biden by 3. Biden’s brand is a less aggressive version of the centrism practiced by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who won her statewide race by 2 points in 2018; he also has the endorsement of Astronaut Mark Kelly*, who is currently leading this cycle’s Senate race in the state. And if Biden pulls it off, he’ll win 11 electoral votes—more than he’d get, as it happens, for winning over the vaunted swing people of Wisconsin.

*Not his real title. His real title is Gabby Giffords’ Husband.

Rank 2

2. Wisconsin (Biden +3)

Bovine Joe!

Speaking of which: Wisconsin is the whitest and most rural of the three Great Lakes–touching purple states that doomed Hillary in 2016 (the others being Michigan, which is next on our list, and Pennsylvania, which has been a bit all over the place pollwise but still looks good for Biden). Given that white, rural voters are Trump’s “base,” it’s a problem for him that Marquette Law School’s late-March poll found Biden leading in Wisconsin’s Toby Keith–inclined environs by 3 points. On the other hand, as the events of this week indicate, the Republican-held Wisconsin Legislature may well pass a law in late October stipulating that anyone who wants to vote in a majority-black precinct must first contract the bubonic plague.

Rank 3

3. Michigan (Biden +3)

Joe-town! (Like Motown!)

The same early-April Public Policy Polling survey that found Biden leading Trump by 3 in the Big Mitten Plus the Other Thing on Top State also found that 62 percent of Michigan voters approve of the way Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has responded to the coronavirus, which is 16 points more than say the same about Trump. This is a gap that Trump has only drawn more attention to by repeatedly complaining about Whitmer—who has become a buzzy vice presidential dark horse—at his tediously long daily press conferences. Intentionally increasing the salience of a rival who is more popular than you, and is allied with your election opponent, in a critical state … let’s just say that if Trump wins again, this will have proved to be the most 11-dimensional of his many 11-dimensional political chess moves.

Rank 4

4. North Carolina (Biden +4)


Remember when I said Arizona would be example No. 1 of a Biden electability landslide? Check that, because example No. 1 might actually end up being North Carolina, which has a whoppin’ 15 electoral votes. Trump won it by 3 points over Hillary Clinton, but in a late-February Marist College survey, “the Donald” trailed Biden by 4 among Tarheel humans. But Mr. Surge, you might be saying, isn’t it possible that things have changed since late February? First of all, Mr. Surge is my father’s name—you can call me Moon Unit. Second, Biden has actually increased his national lead over Trump from about 5 points to about 6 points since February, which would suggest that he remains strong as well in the higher-latitude Carolina.

Rank 5

5. Ohio (Biden +4)

Buckeye … Joe … or … Joe … Buckeye.

Ohio? Ohio? Ohio wasn’t even supposed to be here. Ohio was supposed to have been taken out of the swing state category altogether after Trump won it in 2016 by 8 points and solidly conservative Republican Mike DeWine won the governor’s office by 4 points even amid #Resistance backlash in 2018. And yet here we are now with Biden ahead of Trump in Marist’s mid-March poll and Mike DeWine defending mail-in voting against Trump’s conspiracy theories. What happened? I HAVE NO IDEA! (But if these numbers make you question the polls, which in 2016 only had Trump winning Ohio by 2, I understand.)

Rank 6

6. Texas (Trump +4)

Hey, there you go, buddy!

OK! That’s more like it. An auspicious 4-point lead for Trump in the Marist poll of the electorally crucial, traditionally moderate state of … Texas? That can’t be right. But indeed it is: Texas, for now, is in play, to the point that an earlier CNN/SSRS poll in late February actually found Lone Star Joe beating the president there, albeit by a negligible 1-point margin. As it happens, that CNN poll also had Sanders and Michael Bloomberg beating Trump by the same 1-point margin—but found Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren losing to the president by between 4 and 10 points. What is it, do you think, that Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Michael Bloomberg have in common, but Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren do not? Join the 21st century, 5 to 15 percent of Texas voters! (Also, Trump will win Texas.)

Rank 7

7. Florida (Biden +6)

Smash the red button at Trump HQ.

Florida—a place known for garish golf resorts, criminal fraud, insanely shortsighted decisions about the coronavirus, and the elderly—has to be the defining state of Trumpism. But there you have it, right there in the University of North Florida’s April 6 press release: Biden 46, Trump 40. And that was among a sample of voters that, according to the UNF poli sci professor who directed the survey, leaned to a “very slight” degree toward having voted for Trump over Clinton in 2016. Have the Democrats shown our aging, work-averse president and his erstwhile fans in Florida what a truly checked-out retiree candidate looks like?