What to watch in the election

What to watch in the election
© Getty Images

Joe Biden is ahead by all indications with the election just two days away. He leads Donald Trump by an average of 8 points in national polls, which is several times the lead of Hillary Clinton at this point in 2016, according to the Real Clear Politics. In critical swing states, Biden today leads by an average of 3 points, which also sets him in a slightly better position than Clinton at this stage, when she led by less than 2 points.

But we are in the midst of one of the most unprecedented elections in our modern history. Over 80 million Americans have already voted, and given the volume of mailed ballots around the country, it is highly likely that the winner will not be declared on Tuesday, as counting may drag on for days or weeks. There are several states and demographic groups of voters that we can look to as potential bellwethers of the final result.

We need to watch states that once made up the “blue wall” of Democrats. These are Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Thought Biden leads in each of these states by around 4 points, 6 points, and 7 points, according to Real Clear Politics, the former vice president likely cannot afford to lose even one of these states, unless he picks up a win in a more unlikely swing state such as Arizona, Nevada, or North Carolina. Because those states do not count absentee ballots before the election, they may look like they are going for Trump initially as the in person tallies are counted, but as mailed ballots are counted, the votes could start to favor Biden.


Another critical state we need to watch is Florida, which Trump cannot lose if he is to win the race. Biden holds a lead of 1 point, according to Real Clear Politics. Democrats have to take caution as the early results come in. Florida has been counting mailed ballots for weeks, so it may look like it is going for Biden initially as these tallies are reported, given the likely advantage of Democrats in mailed ballots. The race will likely tighten as the in person tallies are counted. It is also the case for North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio, where Biden is in competition.

We also need to watch numerous demographic groups. These are Latino voters, white voters without college degrees, suburban voters, and older voters. Trump has consistently outperformed his 2016 figures with Latino voters, whereas Biden has underperformed the position that Clinton held, but he leads by double digits. Latino voters are difficult to poll for several reasons. It means that they could surprise us either way.

However, Hispanics comprise a significant portion of eligible voters in swing states like Florida. As a group that votes reliably with Democrats when they do turn out, especially Hispanics who are not Cuban, Biden needs to not only turn out these voters, but run a significant margin of victory to win states such as Florida, Arizona, and Nevada.

Another critical group to watch is white voters without college degrees. Support with this group was essential to Trump in 2016. However, Biden has strong margins in states like Wisconsin and Michigan. It means that Trump could be losing ground with these voters. Biden will certainly not score a majority of these voters. However, if he is able to improve on the margins of Clinton, he has a strong chance with retaking those Rust Belt states and Great Lakes states that went for Trump in 2016.

Further, the margin of victory that Biden has with suburban voters, who voted for Trump in 2016, will be essential in states like Pennsylvania and even Texas. Biden leads by some 11 points with suburban voters in swing states, according to a recent survey of Binder Research. Trump won this group in 2016 by around 4 points, according to exit polls.

If Trump loses seniors, especially by a wide margin, then victory for Biden becomes all the more likely. While Trump won seniors by 9 points in 2016, this reliable group of voters has shifted toward Biden. This is significant in states like Florida and Arizona with high populations of retired voters. The results for these states and with these groups above will be of the utmost importance for determining the outcome of the election.

Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book was “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”