NPR Battleground Map: Florida, Pennsylvania Move In Opposite Directions

Jun 26, 2016
Originally published on June 28, 2016 10:59 am

The past month has not been kind to Donald Trump.

He has landed in controversy on everything from how much he (eventually) gave to veterans groups to Trump University (and the judge who he declared biased because of his Mexican heritage) to his response to the Orlando shooting.

National polling has certainly reflected that — Hillary Clinton has opened up a 6-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of the polls after the two were tied at the end of May. But Trump continues to be competitive in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania because of blue-collar white voters. Polling and reporting bears that out. NPR's Don Gonyea, for example, traveled to Northeastern Ohio earlier this month and found Rust Belt union voters, people who should be reliable Democrats, considering Trump, in part, because of his trade message.

Still, there appears to be some earth shifting beneath Trump's feet, especially with disunity between Trump and party leaders and the pause he's giving some rank-and-file, mainstream Republicans. At the same time, Democrats have moved more toward unity. Clinton joined Trump as the presumptive nominee for her party, got the endorsement of President Obama and liberal hero Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Bernie Sanders is inching closer to endorsing her.

When evaluating the landscape this month, we have made some changes to the NPR Battleground Map, most notably:

-Florida (29 EVs) moves from Toss Up to Lean D
-Pennsylvania (20 EVs) moves from Lean D to Toss Up

The changes are net-plus of 9 Electoral Votes for Clinton from last month's initial ratings. It moves Clinton's advantage in our map over Trump to 279-191, as you can see in our battleground map above. (This style of map is new this month and reflects a proportional representation of each state by Electoral Vote strength.)

A presidential candidate needs 270 Electoral Votes to become president. In other words, if Clinton wins just the states leaning in her direction, she would be president without needing any of the toss up states — Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio or Pennsylvania. (If you want to read about Trump's potential path, check out the write up of our initial ratings last month.)

Florida

Because of demographics, Florida has appeared to us to be, if not leaning, moving toward Democrats, especially with Trump on the ticket.

Adam Smith at the Tampa Bay Times noted:

"A candidate wildly unpopular with non-white voters and presiding over a deeply fractured party with swaths of voters who can't stomach their nominee simply has little shot of winning a state as diverse and competitive as Florida. This, at least, is the conventional wisdom from wise political players who never imagined the reality star could win the Republican nomination against Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. TheTampa Bay Times surveyed more than 130 Florida political professionals, fundraisers and other experienced politicos, and nearly 70 percent predicted Clinton will win Florida in November. ...

"Florida being Florida, the safe assumption is that the numbers will tighten into a neck-and-neck contest by November. Yes, Trump can win America's biggest battleground state, but only if the GOP closes ranks behind him. And only if he can perform far better against Clinton than Mitt Romney did against Barack Obama in places like Tampa Bay and North Florida to compensate for what most experts predict will be a historic Democratic drubbing in vote-rich southeast Florida."

A Quinnipiac poll this month showed Clinton up 8 (47 to 39 percent), though she only leads by 3 in the RCP average. Of course, while the fundamentals appear to favor Clinton there, Obama won it by less than a point in 2012 and Democrats worry that strict Voter ID laws could make it tight.

Pennsylvania

Democrats have won Pennsylvania in every presidential election in the last quarter-century (since 1992). But Pennsylvania is a place that is an emerging battleground.

As David Wasserman wrote at 538:

"I'd argue Pennsylvania has leapfrogged Colorado and Virginia as the next most winnable state for Republicans. In fact, it may be on pace to claim sole 'tipping point' status. As it turns out, Colorado and Virginia are among the top 10 fastest Democratic-trending states in the nation — they are, respectively, getting about 0.9 percentage points and 1.2 points more Democratic-leaning compared with the country every four years. By contrast, Pennsylvania has gradually migrated in the opposite direction. It's gotten about 0.4 percentage points more Republican every four years. Projecting this trend forward another four years from 2012's results would reorder the existing battleground states on the 2016 electoral map."

NPR's Steve Inskeep and the team at NPR's Morning Edition traveled to a key county in Pennsylvania recently in The View From Here series — Bucks County. It's the kind of place Donald Trump likely has to win if he wants to win Pennsylvania. Obama won it twice, narrowly in 2012, as did John Kerry in 2004. Blue-collar whites were open to Trump's message.

That's also true elsewhere in the state as well. See Politico's piece on Cambria County in the Western part of the state. It went for Romney, but is indicative of the trend in a place that used to go for Democrats. The key in Pennsylvania — especially places like Bucks that has a higher rate of college graduates than the country at large (37 percent vs. 29 percent) — is if Trump's tone turns off GOP and independent white professionals.

The RCP average has Clinton just 0.5 percentage points ahead with polls this month showing her in the low 40s and 1-point, non-statistically significant, leads. Clinton has work to do to keep this state blue.

Other changes/notes:

-Georgia (16 EVs) from Likely R to Lean R: Georgia's demographic trends are unmistakable. The white versus non-white vote has drastically declined over the last couple of decades. Trump is still the favorite, but, like Obama in 2008, who finished just 5 points behind, the RCP average right now is just 4.

-Nebraska (1EV) from Likely R to Lean R: Nebraska is one of those states that splits its electoral votes by congressional district. This one, in the Omaha area, is the most left-leaning in the state. (Obama won it in 2008.) There is a Democratic congressman there, Brad Ashford, who was endorsed Monday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

-Utah (6 EVs): There's been a lot of talk about Utah and whether it should move to Lean R. Mormons remain unconvinced of Trump and his morality, and because of that he's been struggling in the polls. But Clinton hasn't seen much of a boost, polling in the 30s. No Democrat has won more than 35 percent (Obama in 2008) in Utah in the last 50 years. Now, if Clinton starts to poll in the 30s, or Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, starts to get in the mid-to-high teens, then this state could be for real. But until then, it remains Likely R.

Here's the full breakdown:

Safe D (164): California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine* (3), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), New York (29), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington, D.C. (3), Washington state (12)
Likely D (37): Maine (1), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New Mexico (5), Oregon (7)
Lean D (78): Florida (29), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10)
Pure Tossup (68): Colorado (9), Iowa (6), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20)
Lean R (28): Arizona (11), Georgia (16), Nebraska* (1),
Likely R (27): Indiana (11), Missouri (10), Utah (6)
Safe R (136): Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (8), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Texas (38), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3)

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Donald Trump has landed himself in controversy after controversy over the last month or so. Questions about money he gave to veterans groups, the Trump University fraud case, what he said after the mass shooting in Orlando. So for the last several weeks, the big question was whether any of this would matter for the presidential race. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro has been studying that very question. How you doing?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, how are you? Good afternoon.

SIEGEL: Domenico, you've unveiled a new NPR battleground map. You did it on Sunday. I've looked at it, and it looks very much like the old NPR battleground map, except for two states where you've changed them.

MONTANARO: Right. And usually, you know, a lot of these states do wind up staying the same, but there's a battleground of about 11 to 13 states or so that you always watch. And two of them we moved this month. Florida we moved out of toss-up to lean Democratic, and we went the other way with Pennsylvania. We moved it to toss-up from the lean Democratic column.

And there are a couple reasons for this. In Florida, you look at the demography which has grown more Puerto Rican, more Hispanic over the last 10 years especially in that I-4 corridor connecting Tampa to Orlando. People used to think that was a swing area, not so much anymore. Polling has also started to show Clinton with a bit of an edge there. Quinnipiac poll earlier list month showed Clinton with an eight-point lead, so we'll watch that. Of course, Barack Obama only won it by one point and the strict voter ID laws in the state are something that worry Democrats.

In Pennsylvania, on the other hand, you know, even though Democrats have won it since 1992 and have really had a good run there, it started to trend more Republican over the years. Trump is appealing to white blue-collar voters, for example, this year. We've picked up on that in reporting, and the polls certainly show them neck-and-neck.

SIEGEL: OK. So a couple of big states - Pennsylvania now considered a toss-up, you say, and Florida now considered leaning toward Clinton. One has gone in each direction. What does that say about the overall state of the race?

MONTANARO: Well, Hillary Clinton still has a significant advantage. I mean, the fundamentals have favored her and have favored Democrats. In fact, a candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win. In our map, this gets Hillary Clinton to 279 already with just the states that are leaning in her direction.

In other words, the toss-up states that we have in our column right now, Hillary Clinton would need to win any of them. And that means places like Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina. She could win without all of those. Of course, the Clinton campaign is still spending tons of money in all of those lean Democratic states, and they're going to be important battleground places in the election to come.

SIEGEL: But, you know, there are two big polls out over the weekend. One had Clinton up 12 points, and in another she was up just 5 points. Help us understand what is going on here.

MONTANARO: Well, it's important to look beneath the surface of these polls. And the big thing that happened between these two polls - and you're talking about the ABC Washington Post poll and the NBC News Wall Street Journal poll - both very good polls. But the ABC poll had more Democrats sampled in their poll than the NBC poll. They had a plus 12 Democratic Party identification advantage. The NBC one was plus four.

So when you look at that the truth as in most things in life is probably somewhere in between those two things. But over the past month, it's clear that the trend line has been down for Donald Trump, and he's got to make up for that going into the convention and into the heat of the fall campaign.

SIEGEL: But also to return to our initial question, Donald Trump's odd month or so that he's had - I gather you're saying it has taken a toll on his standing in the polls.

MONTANARO: I mean, unquestionably when you look at the trend overall - and I think that's how people really need to look at polls - Donald Trump has been in decline. He's down some seven points on average to Hillary Clinton. And that's something he's going to really have to make up heading into the conventions and into the heat of the fall campaign.

SIEGEL: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, Thanks.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.