Which Battlegrounds Will Decide the Presidential Election?

Introducing Slate’s swing state tracker.

Welcome to the mix, old friend.
Welcome to the mix, old friend. Getty Images Plus

The 2020 presidential race is a seemingly inexhaustible source of emotional turmoil. But how much actual electoral turmoil is going on? The polling has made it clear that most of the contest is not really in doubt: Joe Biden is going to hold onto most of Hillary Clinton’s share of the map from 2016, and Donald Trump is going to hold onto the majority of the states he won.

So the Slate Swing State Tracker is here to look at the smaller part of the big picture: How many of the genuinely contested states would each candidate have to win to hit 270 electoral votes, and what does this week’s polling say about their chances? For the purposes of this analysis, we’re assuming there are already 228 electoral votes locked into Biden’s column, and 163 in Trump’s. We’re setting aside the two single electoral votes up for grabs under Nebraska and Maine’s district system. That leaves 10 all-or-nothing battleground states in play.


Where do the two campaigns stand? You only need a couple of good polls for Trump in a week to terrify every Democrat in the country. And so there were, exactly, a couple. Battleground polls from ABC News/The Washington Post showed Trump leading Biden by four points in Florida, which has tightened over the last month, and by one point in Arizona, the first lead Trump has posted in a nonpartisan poll of the state in months.

This, however, is why they make polling averages. Four other surveys of Arizona this week saw Biden leading between 1 and 9 percentage points, while he led other Florida polls by 2 or 3 points. Meanwhile, we finally got some polls of this election’s “forgotten man,” Ohio, whose blue-collar diner patrons must have been feeling unusually neglected this cycle. The numbers, on the back of the improvements Biden has made with non-college whites and seniors, were strong for the challenger, but we demand more polls of the state and will not rest until they’re taken.


So Biden remains, at the end of this week, in a strong position for a comfortable victory—assuming the polling industry has fixed itself since 2016 and Democratic votes won’t be simply thrown in the trash by the new Supreme Court. If he carries his four strongest states out of the 10, he wins. Trump, meanwhile, would need to win his seven most favorable (or least unfavorable) states, including five states where Biden currently holds a lead in the polling average. Their paths meet (for now) in the tipping-point state of Pennsylvania, where Biden’s lead stands at 4.3 points.

A chart showing which swing states are leaning toward Biden or Trump
Source: RealClearPolitics polling averages, Sept. 25, 2020. Slate