Presidential election prediction 2: still too early, but less misleading

Two trains headed for a head-on collision, with a man standing in front
The two candidates take the stage in front of moderator Chris Wallace

Twelve days ago, I launched my first prediction of the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, far too early, before even a single debate had happened. Last night, we had our first debate (pictured to the right). I have downloaded a transcript of the debate (sixty-five single-spaced pages, so help me God). I’ll have a lot more to say about it over the next few days – but for tonight, it’s time for another premature prediction.

Usual disclaimer for all my election predictions: I know who I am going to vote for and I don’t see any reason to keep that secret – but I’m not a pundit, I’m a scientist, and this isn’t a blog about my opinions, it’s a blog about scientific thinking. So I’m trying my best to stay objective and predict who will win, not who I think should win.

But before I get to the premature predicting, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to visualize these predictions for you. The thing that matters in these predictions is what candidate, if any, reaches the magic threshold of 270 electoral votes to be elected President. Showing the states on a map helps give you a sense of what candidate is likely to win, but ultimately the specific states don’t matter – only the total count matters. And here’s an illustration of that.

Use the slider below to compare two states from my previous prediction map, each of which I cut out and de-labeled. I was careful to show the states on the same scale at exactly the same size.

Think fast – which state is worth more electoral votes, red or blue?

MontanaRhode Island

The states, of course, are Montana and Rhode Island, worth three and four electoral votes respectively. Showing their shapes makes it appear that Montana is far more important – but remember, specific states don’t matter, only electoral votes matter. Even if you know that Montana is worth three and Rhode Island is worth four, it’s hard to look at the map and not feel like Montana must be more important. Look, it’s so much bigger!

A map to tell a clearer story would show the sizes of each state based not on their land area, but on the number of electoral votes they offer to the candidate who receives the most votes from those states. Like this – again, the images are exactly the same size and you can swipe to compare them.

Three connected Hexagons for MontanaFour connected hexagons for Rhode Island

The best map to tell this story, then, would have every state sized according to its number of electoral votes, from the eight with three electoral votes each to California’s fifty-five. And ideally it would do this while preserving the outline and position of each state so that the map is still recognizable as a map of the United States. Many other people have created such maps (examples from Engaging Data and Daily Kos and Medium and FiveThirtyEight), but I wanted one that I could freely use and easily modify. So, armed with my data visualization skills and considerable stubbornness, I made my own.

And behold, my current-as-of-today prediction for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, presented on my shiny new electoral college map. Click on the picture to go to a more traditional view at, which you can then use to build your own prediction.

Electoral vote map of my predictions of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results, as of right now. Predicted final score:
Biden 320
Trump 218

I could go on for pages and pages about how I created the map and the various decisions that went into it, but I’ll save that for another time and just explain the prediction. As usual, states marked in blue are the ones I am predicting will vote for Biden and states marked in red are predicted for Trump – although never forget that those colors are completely arbitrary. Darker shades of either color indicate I am more confident about the prediction for that state. Oh, and the map also includes the malarkey in Maine and Nebraska.

I’ve made a few changes from my last set of predictions, nearly all in Biden’s favor.

  1. I can no longer ignore the latest polls in Arizona that show Biden holding steady with a 2 to 3 percentage point lead. It’s too narrow a lead to be very confident, but I think it’s clear that I have to declare Arizona a tilt for Biden rather than a tilt for Trump. If that prediction is right, adding Arizona’s 11 electoral votes to the ones he has already would give Biden a commanding lead.
  2. The same with the polling for the 3 electoral votes in New Hampshire and the one in Nebraska’s second district, only more so.
  3. I almost can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve moved Virginia from lean Biden up to likely Biden, because he is holding steady with a 5 to 12 percentage point lead in statewide polling. We may be seeing the end of Virginia as a swing state, just as we saw Missouri go from swing to solidly Republican between 2004 and 2016.
  4. The race has tightened considerably for the 15 electoral votes in North Carolina, enough that it’s basically a 50/50 tossup. I still think Trump will do well there, but the race is close enough that I’ve moved North Carolina from Leans Trump to Tilts Trump.
  5. Trump is toast, covered with green chile, in New Mexico. I’ve moved New Mexico from Likely Biden to Safe Biden.
  6. The move in Trump’s direction is in Indiana, which I moved all the way from Leans Trump to Safe Trump. I think I was distracted by Obama winning the state in 2008 and forgot to think about the actual polling data. Given how much the political landscape has changed since then, that might as well be when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

So here are the predictions again, shown on my new electoral college map – which I am damn proud of creating. Click on it to go to a more traditional map from Click on that 270towin map to try it yourself!

Electoral vote map of my predictions of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results, as of right now. Predicted final score:
Biden 320
Trump 218

What do YOU think the final results will be? Let me know in the comments!

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