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In mid-June, we moved both Iowa and Ohio from Likely Republican to Lean Republican. At the time, we noted that while the polls were looking shaky for Pres. Trump, they were also catching him at what could be his lowest point of the cycle.
"We'll know soon enough if this trough is temporary," I wrote back on June 19, "or if he's done permanent damage to his re-election prospects among one of his most solid constituencies: white, working-class voters."
Well, it's late September, and polling in both states suggests that the Trump slump is real.
Back in mid-June, Biden's average lead in Ohio, according to FiveThirtyEight aggregator, was 2.6 percent. Today, Trump looks better, but only slightly so. He trails Biden by an average of 1.1 percent. In Iowa, Trump's narrow 0.6 percent lead over Biden in mid-June has barely budged. The latest FiveThirtyEight average puts it at 0.8 percent.
One big reason for Trump's continued struggle in these states is his narrowing margins with white, working-class voters.
Let's start with Iowa.
Three public polls have come out in the last couple of weeks.
- The Des Moines Register showed the race a dead heat at 47 percent to 47 percent.
- The New York Times/Siena College survey had Biden up by three points, 45 percent to 42 percent.
- The Monmouth University poll found Trump with a healthier six-point lead, 50 percent to 44 percent).
The New York Times/Siena College poll (September 16-22) found Trump leading Biden among white, non-college voters by just three-points (44 to 41 percent) — a 20 point drop from 2016. Biden's 41 percent is a six-point improvement on Clinton's showing from 2016.
The Des Moines Register survey (September 14-17), found Biden leading among white, non-college women by 19 points (56 percent to 37 percent), while Trump held a huge 32-point lead with white, non-college men (64 percent to 31 percent). This translates, roughly, to a 7-8 point lead for Trump with these voters, a 14-15 point drop from 2016.
The Monmouth poll (September 18-20), finds Trump only slightly underperforming his 2016 showing with white, non-college voters, leading Biden by 17 points (56 percent to 39 percent); a six-point drop from 2016.
However, one bit of good news for the president in Iowa is that his job approval rating is in the 48-49 percent range. While that's not off-the-charts good, it's much higher than his national average of 42-43 percent and much better than what we've seen in other battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania or Arizona. The Des Moines Register and Monmouth polls also find Trump improving in both vote share and favorability since earlier this summer.
In Ohio, a new Fox News poll (September 20-23) finds Trump slipping even further behind than he was this summer. In late May-early June, Trump trailed Biden by two points (43-45 percent). This most recent poll finds him five points back — 45 to 50 percent.
Trump is basically no better off today in the September Quinnipiac survey (September 17-21), than he was back in mid-June. Back in June, Trump trailed Biden by one-point (46-45 percent). In mid-September, the race was basically in the same place — 48 percent Biden to 47 percent for Trump.
In both polls, Trump is underperforming his 2016 vote among white, non-college voters by 11 to 16 points.
But, Trump's troubles in the state extends into suburban areas that at one time looked impervious to Democratic incursion. Trump carried white, college-educated voters by one-point (47-46 percent) in 2016. And, in 2017-2018, Democrats were unable to flip hotly contested races in suburban Columbus and Cincinnati.
Today, however, even GOPers concede that Rep. Steve Chabot, who represents the suburban Cincinnati 1st CD is in serious danger this year. And, Trump is now trailing among white, college-educated voters anywhere from eight to 11 points in the most recent polls.
Another way to judge the competitiveness of a state, of course, is to check on the resources the campaigns and their allies are investing (or not) into it.
For the Biden campaign, neither state is a "tipping point;" they don't "need" to win either to get to 270 Electoral Votes. Our latest ratings show Biden with an advantage in enough states (and CD's) to get him to 290, without Ohio or Iowa. But, Biden's huge cash hauls over the summer — the former Vice President outraised Trump in August by more than $150M and had more $60M more in cash on hand than Trump — gives Biden the flexibility to spend some money in 'reach' states.
The Trump campaign can't win without either state. But, given Biden's superior financial advantage, they also have to be more judicious with where they spend their money. That means making sure that must-win states like North Carolina and Florida are well-funded.
As of now, neither campaign has invested as much in these states as they have in other battlegrounds. According to the data provided to the Cook Political Report by the campaign ad tracking firm, Advertising Analytics, the Biden campaign has spent just $758,000 on TV ads in Iowa this September. Compare that to a state like Pennsylvania, where the Biden campaign is scheduled to spend more than $21M. The Trump campaign has put more than $18M into Florida this September, but is spending just $30,000 in Iowa. Notably, however, outside groups are scheduled to spend more than $5.1M on Trump's behalf in Iowa this month.
Both campaigns and their allies are spending about $1M in Ohio this month. However, the Trump campaign has reserved $11M in Ohio for October, suggesting that they know how vulnerable they are in this state. Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has reserved $3.9M in Ohio, still a fraction of what they are budgeting for states like Florida ($14.8M), North Carolina ($10.5M), and Pennsylvania ($9M).
Iowa and Ohio join Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Maine's 2nd CD in Toss Up. That leaves just one state, Texas, in Lean Republican. Biden is in the enviable position of not having to win any of those states to get to 270, while Trump has to win all of them, plus another two states (22 Electoral votes) to win the Electoral College.