Opinion | Why Biden Has a Narrower Path to the Presidency Than Trump, in 11 Maps (2024)


Guest Essay

Opinion | Why Biden Has a Narrower Path to the Presidency Than Trump, in 11 Maps (1)

Illustration by Aksh*ta Chandra/The New York Times; Images by PhotoObjects.net, Yuji Sakai, and THEPALMER/Getty Images

By Doug Sosnik
Graphics by Quoctrung Bui

Mr. Sosnik was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000 and has advised over 50 governors and U.S. senators.

While polls show the race for president is tightening, Joe Biden still has a narrower and more challenging path to winning the election than Donald Trump. The reason is the Electoral College: My analysis of voter history and polling shows a map that currently favors Mr. Trump, even though recent developments in Arizona improve Mr. Biden’s chances. The Biden campaign will need to decide this summer which states to contest hardest. Our Electoral College maps below lay out the best scenarios for him and Mr. Trump.

Seven states with close results determined who won both the 2020 and the 2016 presidential elections, and those same seven states will most likely play the same battleground role this fall: three industrial states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and four Sun Belt states – Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.

The seven states that will most likely decide the 2024 presidential election

Mr. Biden’s declining popularity in the Sun Belt states is the main reason Mr. Trump has an edge right now. He is especially struggling with young and nonwhite voters there. Let’s take a closer look:

According to 2020 exit polls, Mr. Biden won 65 percent of Latino voters, who comprised roughly a fifth of voters in Arizona and Nevada. And Mr. Biden won 87 percent of Black voters, who made up 29 percent of the Georgia vote and 23 percent of the North Carolina vote. He also won 60 percent of voters aged 18 to 29. Now look at this year: A New York Times/Siena College poll released last weekend showed support for Mr. Biden had dropped 18 points with Black voters, 15 points with Latinos and 14 points with younger voters nationally.

Abortion could be a decisive issue in Mr. Biden stemming this erosion of support in Arizona and Nevada. The Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling last week that largely bans abortions raises the stakes of a likely ballot initiative on the issue there in November. It also appears likely that there will be a similar ballot measure in Nevada.

Nevertheless, the key to Mr. Biden’s victory is to perform well in the three industrial states. If Mr. Trump is able to win one or more of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Mr. Biden’s path to 270 electoral votes becomes even narrower.

If Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump remain ahead in the states where they are currently running strongest, the outcome of the election could come down to who wins Michigan and the two Sun Belt states where abortion will very likely be on the ballot, Arizona and Nevada.

Based on past voting, Mr. Trump will start out the general election with 219 electoral votes, compared to 226 votes for Mr. Biden, with 93 votes up for grabs.

Voter history and recent polling suggest that Mr. Trump is in a strong position to win North Carolina. Republicans have carried the state in every presidential election since 1976 except in 2008. In a Wall Street Journal battleground poll taken in March, Mr. Biden had only 37 percent job approval in the state.

By winning North Carolina, Mr. Trump would have 235 electoral votes and two strong paths to 270.

The first path involves carrying Georgia, a state he lost by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020. Before then, Republicans won Georgia in every election since 1992. If Mr. Trump carries North Carolina and Georgia, he would have a base of 251 electoral votes with four scenarios that get him to 270.

Scenario 1

Then all Mr. Trump needs is Pennsylvania

Scenario 2

… or Michigan and Nevada

Scenario 3

… or Michigan and Arizona

Scenario 4

… or Arizona and Wisconsin.

The second and harder path for Mr. Trump would be if he carried only one Southern swing state – most likely North Carolina. He would have only 235 electoral votes and would need to win three of the six remaining battleground states.

Scenario 5

Then he would need to win Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin

Scenario 6

… or Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

How Biden Can Win

It is difficult to see how Mr. Biden gets re-elected without doing well in the industrial battleground states – the so-called “Blue Wall” for Democrats. This is particularly true of Pennsylvania, given the state’s 19 electoral votes and Mr. Biden’s ties there and appeal to middle-class and blue-collar voters. That’s why he’s spending three days in Pennsylvania this week.

Mr. Biden will most likely need to win at least one other industrial battleground – with Wisconsin the most probable, since his polling numbers there are stronger than in the other battleground states.

A combination of factors have made winning Michigan much more challenging for Mr. Biden. Hamas’s attack on Israel and the war in Gaza have ripped apart the coalitions that enabled Democrats to do so well in the state since 2018. There are over 300,000 Arab Americans there, as well as a large Jewish population. Both groups were crucial to Mr. Biden’s success there in 2020.

In addition, Michigan voters’ perception of the economy is more negative compared with the other battleground states. In the Journal battleground poll, two-thirds of Michigan voters described the national economy negatively; more than half had a negative opinion of the state’s economy.

Now let’s look at Mr. Biden’s map.

Mr. Biden’s best strategy is based on winning Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which would give him 255 electoral votes (assuming that he carries the 2nd Congressional District in Nebraska).

By carrying these states, Mr. Biden has several paths to 270, but the first three scenarios are his most viable.

Scenario 1

He just needs to win Michigan

Scenario 2

… or Arizona and Nevada

Scenario 3

... or Georgia.

There are two other scenarios where Mr. Biden loses Wisconsin and keeps Pennsylvania. But that would mean winning states where Mr. Biden is polling much worse.

Scenario 4

They involve Mr. Biden winning Georgia and Arizona

Scenario 5

… or Michigan and Georgia.

A Look Ahead

With over six months to go until Election Day, given the volatility in the world and the weaknesses of Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, it would be foolish to make firm predictions about specific results. And other electoral map scenarios are possible: Recent polling shows Mr. Biden with a narrow lead in Minnesota, a state that usually votes for Democrats for president. While it is mathematically possible for Mr. Biden to win without carrying Minnesota, it is unlikely he will be elected if he cannot carry this traditionally Democratic state.

For the third election cycle in a row, a small number of voters in a handful of states could determine the next president of the United States.

If the election remains close but Mr. Biden is unable to regain support from the core group of voters who propelled him to victory in 2020 — young and nonwhite voters — then we could be headed to a repeat of the 2016 election. The outcome of that election was decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Last week’s abortion ruling in Arizona, and the likely abortion ballot initiatives in that state and Nevada, give Mr. Biden the possibility of being re-elected even if he loses Michigan. That’s why, if we have another close presidential election, I think Arizona, Michigan and Nevada will likely determine the outcome for Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump.

Based on my experience as Bill Clinton’s White House political director in his 1996 re-election campaign, I would take immediate advantage of Mr. Biden’s significant fund-raising advantage over Mr. Trump to focus on shoring up the president’s chances in Michigan and the must-win states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, while at the same time trying to keep Georgia and North Carolina in play. Mr. Biden does not need to win either of those Sun Belt states to get re-elected, but draining Mr. Trump’s resources there could help him in other battleground states.

More on the 2024 presidential election

Democrats Need to Stop Playing NiceToo often, Democrats litigate; Republicans fight.By Joe KleinMarch 11, 2024
One Purple State Is ‘Testing the Outer Limits of MAGAism’North Carolina Republicans are “in the running for the most MAGA party in the nation.”By Thomas B. EdsallMarch 27, 2024
2024, Meet 1892, Your DoppelgängerGreat political change can unfold when the political system seems woefully stalled.By Jon GrinspanApril 11, 2024

Doug Sosnik was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000 and has advised over 50 governors and U.S. senators.

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Opinion | Why Biden Has a Narrower Path to the Presidency Than Trump, in 11 Maps (2024)
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