Biden’s Path to 400 Electoral Votes

Before we get started, let me reiterate — Donald Trump can still win this election. (Don’t send this to me after the election if the president is reelected).

That being said, let’s have a little fun.

The Electoral College only requires a winning candidate to secure 270 electoral votes to become the president. But what if the polls are right this cycle? What if Biden’s large, consistent advantage over Trump actually exists? What if demography continues its steady march? What if close, toss up states turn blue? Could Biden not only cross 270 electoral votes, but 400 as well?

Bill Clinton came close in 1992, winning 370 electoral votes. Here’s Biden’s path to 400:

Step 1 — Defending “solid Democrat” and “likely Democrat” states.

Step one is the easy part. California, New York, Massachusetts, etc. Even in a tough election cycle, it would be hard for a Democrat to lose any of these states. Along with 17 of these states, there is also Maine’s first district (which casts a sole electoral vote apart from the state itself) and Washington, D.C.’s three electoral votes.

The “reddest” of these states would be Colorado, Maine, and Virginia. Clinton won all three states, however, and there’s no indication Biden would lose here.

Electoral Votes: 212

Step 2 — Winning states that Clinton either lost or won narrowly.

These seven states are Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, plus Nebraska’s second district. The Cook Political Report has these states (and district) as “lean Democrat.”

The three easiest states for Biden in this slate would be Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire. These states all voted for the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008 and 2012, as well as Clinton in 2016.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — Democrats know the pain of these states. All three went to Trump by less than a single point. Had Clinton won these states (less than 80,000 votes collectively), she would be president. The good news for the Biden campaign is that all three states were won twice by Obama-Biden.

Nebraska’s second district was carried by Obama-Biden in 2008 but not 2012. Polling is limited, as a single electoral vote might not justify the financial investment of a large scale survey. What few polls do exist look favorable to Biden, and FiveThirtyEight gives Biden a 77% chance to win this district.

That leaves us with Arizona, a state that voted against the Obama-Biden ticket twice and then voted for President Trump. Theoretically, this state would be more out of reach, but due to demographic shifts, Arizona is in play for Democrats. The last three polls (Data Orbital, YouGov, and even the right-leaning Rasmussen) have Biden up +5, +3, and +2. FiveThirtyEight awards Biden a 66% chance of winning Arizona. Regardless of what happens with Trump/Biden, it seems likely that Arizona will have two Democratic senators after election day.

Electoral Votes: 290 (it should be noted that only 270 electoral votes are needed to win, so if Biden can just win the above states, he will be president.)

Step 3 — The “toss ups.”

Here are the five states (plus Maine’s second district) that The Cook Political Report lists as “toss ups,” followed by the polling average from FiveThirtyEight:

Florida (Biden +2.3)

Georgia (Trump +0.4)

Iowa (Trump +0.3)

Maine-2 (Tie)

North Carolina (Biden +2.1)

Ohio (Trump +1.0)

These states all have polling well within the margin of error. Obama-Biden carried Florida, Iowa, Maine-2, and Ohio twice, as well as North Carolina in 2008. Georgia is a bit stickier, but the state has been getting bluer. Two years ago in the governor’s race, Democrat Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp by just 0.4%, signaling just how competitive Georgia is now.

Electoral Votes: 375

Step 4 — The white whale — Texas.

I’ve written about the likelihood that Democrats can take Texas this election cycle.

But first, two things.

First, the FiveThirtyEight polling average has Trump leading Biden by just 2.1 points. Trump carried Texas last election by the smallest margin for a Republican in decades.

Second, polling in Texas tends to skew towards Republicans. Two years ago, The Real Clear Politics polling average had Republican Ted Cruz beating Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 6.8 points. Beto lost by 2.6 points. If the same Republican-favored 4.2 margin of error still exists, Biden will win Texas.

Why is Texas getting bluer?

Perhaps no other state has an urban/rural political divide as Texas does. Almost half of the entire vote in Texas comes from five counties: Harris (Houston), Dallas, Tarrant (Fort Worth), Bexar (San Antonio), and Travis (Austin). In 2016, Hillary Clinton won these five counties with 54.9% of the vote share. In 2018, O’Rourke increased that lead to 60.6%.

This is where population growth comes into play.

Let’s compare the O’Rourke midterm race with the previous midterm election from 2014. In 2018, half a million more people voted in Harris County (Houston) than 2014. In Dallas County, it was 300,000 more votes, and the other three counties (Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis) it was about 200,000 more votes.

The rural parts of the state, as Kirk Goldsberry of FiveThirtyEight notes, are “staunchly red, but they’re also staunchly stagnant, too” (in terms of population growth). He adds that if Democrats can just keep this math, and those five cities continue to grow, then “that might be all they need to turn Texas blue.”

It’s a three-jab gut punch to the GOP. First, the Democrats are increasing their margins in the cities. Second, the cities are increasing in population. Third, the reliably red areas of the state aren’t seeing an increase in population (and therefore political power.)

Beyond population, there is also a racial demographic change as well. For every single white person that moves to Texas, about nine Hispanics relocate there. Texas is the fastest growing state, with over 1,000 additional people being added to the state’s population every single day, and Hispanics are set to be a larger voting bloc than whites in Texas within the next two voting cycles. The share of the vote that is white is 12% lower today than it was two decades ago.

In 2016, Trump mustered just 28% of the Latino vote.

Given these trends, it’s no wonder Trump is flailing in Texas. Two polls this week have Biden beating Trump in Texas, and another two have the race as tied. Trump seems worried too, tweeting, “Biden is against Oil, Guns, and Religion, a very bad combination to be fighting in the Great State of Texas. We are Winning Big, in the Real Polls, all over the Country!!! NOVEMBER 3rd. VOTE!!!”

The Biden team has seen an opening in Texas. Last week, the Biden campaign purchased a $3.6 million ad buy in Texas. Dr. Jill Biden is scheduled to make a few appearances in Texas next week.

Electoral Votes: 411

No, Biden is not likely to garner over 400 electoral votes. But it’s possible. And the fact that this is possible means getting to 270 — the only number that matters — is probable.

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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