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The 8 states where 2020 will be won or lost: A POLITICO deep dive

POLITICO Staff

The selection of these swing states is based on a variety of factors — polling, demography, past and recent election history, voter registration, interviews with state and local party officials, strategists and pollsters. The individual campaigns have also revealed the places they are prioritizing through staffing, resource allocation, TV and radio advertising and candidate visits.

Within each of these swing states, the roadmap ahead for President Donald Trump and Joe Biden is clear. The president must max out his performance with rural voters. Biden needs a robust turnout in the big cities, particularly among African-American voters. Trump must halt his erosion in the suburbs, and turn out white working-class voters who didn’t vote in 2016. Biden has to increase his current share among Latino voters and recapture some of the places that flipped to Trump after twice voting for President Barack Obama.

Together, these eight states represent 127 electoral votes — and a departure from the fairly static map of the pre-Trump era. Missing from this swing state list are familiar presidential battlegrounds like Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. In their stead are states like Arizona and Georgia — which haven’t voted for a Democratic nominee since the 1990s — and Minnesota, which hasn’t voted for a Republican in nearly a half-century.

The contours of the 2020 map reflect the disruptive political forces unleashed by Trump. His path to victory in 2016 revealed the limits of the Obama coalition, and drew sharp lines of demarcation around what’s been called the diploma divide: the gap between white voters with a college degree and those without one.

Race, class and educational attainment have always played pivotal roles in presidential voting. But, as with everything else, Trump has accelerated and amplified existing differences — while harnessing them to his political advantage.

The question is whether his brand of smash-mouth, feed-the-base politics has gone too far — or whether there is still room to grow his base. His campaign is convinced there is.

Still, while national polls have generated a portrait of Biden holding a commanding lead, it’s something of a mirage. In the swing states that matter, it is trench warfare: Biden’s advantage, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, is within the margin of error in half of the eight states. And Trump is a president whose support has been notoriously difficult for pollsters to survey.

Consider this fact: From July 2016 until Election Day in the three Rust Belt states that Trump unexpectedly picked off — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — 94 public polls were released. Trump led in just three of them.

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Here’s a look at the eight swing states that will decide the 2020 election:

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Polling data courtesy FiveThirtyEight.

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