2020

Introducing The Cook Political Report's 2020 Electoral College Ratings

AWalter Head
January 11, 2019

Here it is. Our first pass at the 2020 Electoral College ratings. These ratings take into consideration the 2016 and 2018 results as well as what we’ve learned about the political coalitions that currently make-up the Trump and Democratic bases. Obviously, what we don’t know — the political and economic climate in 2020, the Democratic nominee, the results of the Mueller investigation — are substantial. But, this is our best assessment of where things start today.

Full 2020 Ratings:


Click here for the full 2020 Electoral Ratings. 

The Toss Up Column (86 EV):

  • Arizona - 11 EV
  • Florida - 29 EV
  • Michigan - 16 EV
  • Pennsylvania - 20 EV
  • Wisconsin - 10 EV

Anchoring the toss-up column are the three former "Blue Wall" states that Trump narrowly carried in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Florida, the perennial 50-50 state is also housed here. Making it’s first appearance in Toss Up - at least this early in the cycle - is Arizona, a state that has been slowly drifting away from its GOP moorings in the Trump era.

On their face, the three Rust Belt states are the most tenuous for Trump. Not only did he fail to reach 50 percent in any state in 2016, but in 2018 GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates in all three states were defeated, including Wisconsin’s battle-tested Gov. Scott Walker.

Trump’s success in all three states was built less on over-performing Romney’s showing in 2012, than it was on Clinton drastically underperforming Obama.

Another worrying sign for Trump here is the fact that Trump only narrowly won these states at a time when Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.1 percent nationally. To win in 2020, Democrats might need to win the national popular vote by at least three points to be reasonably sure of hitting 270 Electoral votes. But with the national popular vote for the House going, at last count, 8.6 points toward Democrats, that's not such a great sign for Republicans either.

We don’t have a lot of polling in these states (not surprisingly), but Morning Consult found Trump’s job approval rating well-under 50 percent in all three.

History and political science tell us not to read too much into midterm election results as predictive of the next presidential election. But, just as Romney and Trump failed to reach 50 percent of the vote in these three states, none of the 2018 Republican gubernatorial or Senate candidates hit 50 percent either.

Florida is as pure of a Toss Up as one can get. Trump won it with 49 percent. Obama carried it in 2012 with 50 percent. In 2018, GOP Gov. Rick Scott won the Senate race by less than one-point. Still, Democrats can’t help but feel snake-bit here: from hanging chads in 2000 to disappointing early vote 'analytics' in 2016 to the loss of not one but two top statewide races in 2018.

Arizona is one of the new entrants to the Toss-Up category. It is one of the few states where Clinton outperformed Obama (by 1 point). Moreover, 2018 Democratic Senate nominee Kirsten Sinema improved on Clinton’s performance by five points and took more than 200,000 more votes than Clinton.

The Lean Democrat Column (22 EV):

  • Maine - 2 EV
  • Minnesota - 10 EV
  • New Hampshire - 4 EV
  • Nevada - 6 EV

Included in this category are states that were once considered purple to red-leaning (Nevada and New Hampshire), to those that once fit into the more safely Democratic category (Maine and Minnesota).

Trump narrowly lost both Minnesota and New Hampshire in 2016, but, as with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, his showing wasn’t all that much stronger than Romney’s. Instead, it was Clinton who significantly underperformed Obama’s 2012 showing.

Even so, these aren’t slam dunks for the Democrats. In Nevada, not only did Clinton narrowly carry the state, but in 2018, the winning Democratic nominee for Governor took just 49 percent of the vote and the Democratic Senate nominee barely cracked 50 percent. While we focused a lot on the growing Latino population in the state during the Obama era, the Trump era has cast a spotlight on the significant white working class vote in the state. As one operative described it to me, if one were to remove the Latino vote, Nevada would vote more like Ohio. New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota are overwhelmingly white and have significant rural and small town populations where Trump remains popular. Democrats won statewide races in 2018 in Maine and Minnesota, but struggled in House races that were centered in more rural parts of the state.

The Lean Republican Column (39 EV):

  • Georgia - 16 EV
  • Iowa - 6 EV
  • Maine 02 - 1 EV
  • Nebraska 02 - 1 EV
  • North Carolina - 15 EV

This column features two 'reach' states for Democrats (North Carolina and Georgia) as well as two formerly purple/blue rural regions of the country that have become more settled in the GOP universe in the Trump era (Iowa and Maine’s 2nd district). In 2008, Nebraska’s 2nd district (nestled in Omaha and its suburbs), voted for the first time since 1964 to give its one electoral vote to a Democrat. In 2018, Trump won it by an anemic 47.8 percent.

Georgia has provided both promise and heartache to Democrats over the last few years. In 2016, Clinton narrowly improved on Obama’s 2012 performance, but still came up five points short of winning the state. In 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams took more than 45,000 more votes than Clinton, yet still came up short.

Obama’s 2008 win in North Carolina was the last time that a statewide federal Democratic candidate won here. In fact, even counting 2008, no Democratic candidate for Senate or president has taken more than 49.7 percent of the vote since 2008.

Iowa was a train-wreck of a state for Clinton in 2016. She underperformed Obama’s 2012 showing by 10 points and over 100,000 votes. Results in 2018 were a mixed bag for both sides. Democrats picked up two House seats, leaving Rep. Steve King as the only Republican member of the House delegation. Yet, while some thought the Trump instigated trade wars with China would sour Iowa farmers on the GOP in 2018, GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds won the open gubernatorial contest by a little over 2 points.

It’s been apparent for some time now that Maine is really two states. The more liberal, coastal and urban southern part of the state, and the more rural, working class, culturally conservative northern part of the state. In 2016, Trump carried the 2nd CD by 10 points, marking the first time in the state’s history that the state split its electoral votes. While Trump is deeply unpopular south of Augusta, he remains relatively well-liked "down east." It wasn’t quite enough to help GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin who lost to Democrat Jared Golden 49 percent to 51 percent in the state’s first ranked-choice-voting election. Ranked choice voting is not likely to be used in the presidential election.

Also, before you dismiss ME-02 and NE-02 as too tiny to matter, play around with the electoral college app 270towin.com. It’s not that hard to produce a 269-269 tie where either one of those one electoral votes could be the deciding factor.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the ratings is the fact that three states that have been consistent members of the competitive race category now occupy more safe territory.

One-time swing states Virginia and Colorado are behaving more like dark blue states than purple ones. Both are in Likely Democrat.

It’s hard to remember a time when Ohio wasn’t considered a toss-up. Today, it’s hard to see how a Democrat wins here. It starts in Likely Republican.