Battleground states to watch

FAN Editor

The 2020 presidential election could be decided by just a handful of states, and, if anything like 2016, only a small margin of votes in those states could determine the outcome of the election. Early voting has shattered records, with over 90 million having cast ballots as of Saturday. 

The CBS News Battleground Tracker takes a state-by-state approach to emphasize the importance of individual states in the electoral college, rather than the national popular vote — and the two don’t always match. Regardless of the popular vote, the next president will come down to which candidate, President Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden, can gather at least 270 votes in the electoral college

This year, CBS News polling has identified six “toss up” states, and seven more that are leaning toward one candidate, but could still swing either way.  

These are the 13 states to keep an eye on as Election Day looms: 

Toss ups:


The latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll has Joe Biden leading 51% to Mr. Trump’s 46%, with a 6 point margin of error, in Arizona.

Mr.  Trump won the state by roughly 3.5 percentage points in 2016. Phoenix’s Maricopa County — which accounts for about 60% of the state’s votes — was the largest county that went for Mr. Trump in 2016. No Democratic presidential nominee has won Arizona in 24 years, since Bill Clinton took the state, and the state has gone red in every presidential election since 1952 with the exception of 1996.

Dylan Smith, the editor and publisher of, told CBSN’s Elaine Quijano that Biden’s current lead in the state is “even more unprecedented” than Mr. Clinton’s was 24 years ago. “If you consider the fact that Ross Perot was on the ballot then and it was a three-way race, not a two-way race. So this is something we have not seen in decades and decades in Arizona. Being this close, this much of a toss up state, and the Democrat actually having such an edge.”

Biden has gained on Mr. Trump with support from the state’s large senior population. Early voting data analyzed by Arizona data firm OH Predictive Insights ranks 65 and older voters as by far the largest return rate of all age groups in Maricopa County since early voting kicked off. 

Nearly 1 in 5 Arizona residents are 65 or older. 

“Having seniors be very much disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak here has really shifted some of them who are ordinarily somewhat conservative voters to the Democratic column,” Smith said.

Almost half of Arizona seniors say Mr. Trump’s response to the outbreak has put seniors and older voters at risk for coronavirus, and 95% of seniors who feel that way are backing Biden. 

Democrats are also hoping to capture the Senate seat. Incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally lost in 2018 to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and then was appointed to the late Senator John McCain’s seat. McSally has been consistently trailing Democrat Mark Kelly in polls. 


Biden and Mr. Trump are even in Iowa — a state the president won handily four years ago. 

The state voted for former President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, Mr. Trump won Iowa by 10 points in 2016. Trump appears to have lost his hold on the state’s college-educated voters, who Biden now has a double-digit advantage with. Biden is also cutting into Mr. Trump’s margins with men, a group that Mr. Trump won by 28 points four years ago. 

Despite gaining ground lost by the Democrats in 2016, Biden has been unable to pull ahead in Iowa, as Mr. Trump still has a large advantage among voters without a college degree and White evangelicals, a group that made up a third of Iowa’s electorate in 2016. 

A Des Moines Register poll released on the Saturday before Election Day had some hope for Mr. Trump, showing him opening up a 7 point advantage over Biden, 48% to 41%. Mr. Trump will be in Dubuque. Iowa, on Sunday to campaign, and the campaign announced shortly after the poll was released that Ivanka Trump will visit Des Moines on Monday. 


Biden and Mr. Trump are in a near-dead heat in Ohio. According to the Battleground Tracker, Mr. Trump and Biden each have 49% with a 5.9 point margin of error. 

Whoever wins the state could take the whole race. The winner of Ohio has also taken the White House for the last 14 presidential elections, including when it turned red in 2016. 

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown has predicted that Joe Biden will win his state. “It’s clear Trump is afraid he’s going to lose Ohio this time,” Brown told CBSN anchor Elaine Quijano.

University of Dayton political science professor Nancy Martorano Miller told “CBS This Morning” co-host Tony Dokoupil that she’s surprised Mr. Trump has not been able to secure a lead in the state.

“There’s an increasingly growing gap with suburban women,” Miller said. “And, you know, it is so much harder to run as the incumbent. It’s very easy to run as, ‘I am something different, I see you. I’m going to help you.'” 

North Carolina

Biden narrowly leads 50% to Mr. Trump’s 48%, well within the 5.9 margin of error. In 2016, Mr. Trump won North Carolina by nearly 4 points over Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Trump has visited the state a dozen times, including a rally on the Sunday before Election Day in Hickory, North Carolina. He is still trying to lock down normally reliable Republican voters, holding a recent rally in Gastonia, a predominantly white suburb of Charlotte. 

The Biden campaign is also targeting the state, with Harris campaigning there on the Sunday before Election Day. The Biden campaign is targeting more urban municipalities with more Democratic voters.  

A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that mail-in ballots postmarked by 5 p.m. on Election Day should be accepted until November 12, the News & Observer reports. State Republican leaders and the Trump campaign filed appeals to the decision on Thursday. 


Georgia remains a toss-up. Biden is leading 50% to Mr. Trump’s 47%, with a margin of error of 5.9 points. That’s a gain for Biden, who was only favored by 1 point this summer. 

The president clinched the state by about 5 points in 2016. He maintains his lead there this year with non-college White voters and men in the state, and is seen as better on the economy. Biden’s support remains steady, bolstered by performing well with women and Black voters, and by improving on Democrats’ 2016 performance among White women with college degrees. 

Early in-person voting numbers have already broken records, with close to two million people turning out to the polls. Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger told CBSN that early voting and absentee voting —  a process that Mr. Trump has, without evidence, linked to fraud — is the easiest and most secure way for residents to cast their ballots.

Greg Bluestein, a political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, told CBSN host Elaine Quijano that the surge in early voting appears to favor Democrats, but said nothing is sure until Election Day, when Republicans are expected to turn out. 

“It couldn’t be closer… poll after poll after poll in Georgia show it too close to call,” Bluestein said.

Early voting in Georgia ends on October 30, which is also the last day residents can request an absentee ballot. The ballots must be received or dropped off in person by November 3 at 7 p.m. local time.


For both Mr. Trump and Biden, winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes could signal a path to the White House. Biden narrowly leads Trump 51% to 48%, with a 5.9 point margin of error. 

Almost 2.5 million people have already cast their votes — nearly surpassing the number of votes cast for the entire 2016 election. 

The president appears determined to recapture Florida Democrats who voted for him four years ago. He has been to Florida to campaign more than a dozen at least 13 times this year, compared to Biden who has been three times.

Mr. Trump won the perennial swing state in 2016 by just under 113,000 votes. 

Dozens of voters in Alachua County, Florida, a heavily Democratic county, reported receiving emails purporting to come from the right-wing group the Proud Boys, threatening to “come after” them unless they vote for Mr. Trump

Alachua County is home to the city of Gainesville and the University of Florida, making it a Democratic stronghold in a deep-red part of the state. The county voted for Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump in 2016 by a margin of 58% to 36%.



Biden is up by 9 percentage points in Nevada. Mr. Trump narrowly lost the state in 2016.

Nevada has gone Democratic since 2004, and did so again two years ago during the 2018 midterm’s “blue wave.” Despite recent gains, political strategists and organizers warn that Nevada remains a swing state this year. 

Biden leads Mr. Trump by a wide margin among Hispanic voters, a group that made up nearly one in five Nevada voters in 2016. According to CBS News polling, most Hispanic voters feel the Trump campaign is paying too little attention to the needs and concerns of Hispanic people. 

Nevada voters by and large say their state’s economy is currently suffering, but state polling shows that Mr. Trump still leads Biden by two points on the economy. Trump is seen as a strong leader by nearly all Republicans and independents, giving him an edge in the state. 

The Trump campaign and Republicans in Nevada are threatening the battleground state’s most populous county with legal action over what they argue is a “blatant disregard for accountability and transparency” in the ballot counting process.

GOP attorneys said in a letter this week that Clark County requested to place cameras throughout the ballot counting facility, and complained that counting board members are mishandling ballots in a way that “undermines the American norm of ballot secrecy.” Democrats in the state dismissed the letter as “yet another blatant attempt to suppress voter turnout.” 


Mr. Trump narrowly leads Biden 49% to 48% in the state, with a 5.9 point margin of error, according to CBS News’ Battleground Tracker. Mr. Trump won the state by 807,179 votes in 2016, or about 9 points.

But that margin was less than Mitt Romney’s victory in 2012, a warning sign for Republicans, and Democrats made major gains in the 2018 election.  Early voter turnout in the state surpassed 2016’s total voter turnout. 

This election, the state appears to be divided by voters who prioritize the economy, and those that are disheartened by the president’s performance and racial rhetoric. 

In September, voters in both Florida and Texas said the president would do a better job handling the economy, and many more Texas voters said Mr. Trump’s economic policies would help their family’s financial situation.

However, Hispanic Texas voters’ support for Biden is widespread and cuts across generational lines. Six in 10 Hispanic likely voters in the state, young and old, currently support Biden. 


Biden leads in the state, with 53% support to Mr. Trump’s 44%, according to CBS News’ Battleground Tracker, but the margin of error is 6 points. 

Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a rally in Minnesota on September 30. The president used the platform to go after refugees and Representative Ilhan Omar

Minnesota has not chosen a Republican for president since 1972, but Mr. Trump narrowly lost the state in 2016.


Biden is leading Wisconsin by 5 points, with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Biden appears to have cut into the president’s 2016 support levels with key groups like men, White, non-college voters and seniors.

Wisconsin, like Arizona, has an older electorate who tend to vote Republican. A recent rise in coronavirus cases, however, could sway that key demographic for Mr. Trump. Biden supporters note that the virus as a major reason they’re choosing him over Mr. Trump, believing he would handle the outbreak better.


Biden remains ahead by 6 points in Michigan, with a margin of error of 5.9 points. Mr. Trump narrowly flipped the state red in 2016; the shift, along with other Rust Belt states Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, helped him secure the White House. 

Flipping Michigan is crucial to Democrats to win the White House. Former President Obama joined Biden on the campaign trail in Michigan on the Saturday before Election Day.

CBS polling shows that Mr. Trump’s razor-thin 2016 victory — just 10,704 votes — could be threatened this year by how he’s handled the coronavirus. More Michigan voters say his response made them feel angry, rather than confident, and most said they think the Trump administration’s policies are making the outbreak worse. 

It is unclear if Mr. Trump’s unfavorable coronavirus response is significant enough to determine how the state swings. Michigan voters are divided over which candidate will handle the economy better, and about a third who said they are voting for Trump also say they dislike the way the president handles himself. 

In Western Michigan, long a Republican stronghold, Democrats are optimistic that success in recent elections indicate that the race is tighter than the polls show.


Biden leads in Pennsylvania, 53% to Mr. Trump’s 46%, with a 5.9 point margin of error, according to the CBS News Battleground Tracker.

Pennsylvania holds 20 votes on the electoral college map, making it one of the most valuable election prizes. Mr. Trump carried Pennsylvania by less than 1% in 2016.

The state is home to more than 700,000 union members, a key group that Mr. Trump capitalized on in 2016. Mr. Trump won more union votes nationwide than any Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan; in Pennsylvania, he won White voters without college educations by a margin of more than 2 to 1. 

Winning Pennsylvania may again come down to blue-collar workers — specifically those in the state’s booming fracking industry. Some 32,000 Pennsylvania workers are employed in the fracking and natural gas industry. 

Biden told voters there in July that fracking “is not on the chopping block,” but he took a hit in March when he appeared to say he wanted “no new fracking.” Groups supporting the Trump campaign quickly weaponized the comments in the gas-rich state.

Biden and Harris later doubled down on maintaining the practice. Harris explained at the vice presidential debate that the Biden administration’s climate plan would focus on creating new jobs, and that “part of those jobs… are going to be about clean energy and renewable energy.”

New Hampshire

Biden leads Mr. Trump in the first state. According to the CBS News Battleground Tracker, the former vice president has 54% to Trump’s 43%, with a 6.1 margin of error. Mr. Trump narrowly lost New Hampshire four years ago. 

Vice President Mike Pence held a campaign rally in Portsmouth on October 21as part of an aggressive travel schedule through battleground states. He rallied the crowd by claiming Biden is a socialist who will raise taxes, and promising economic revival under President Trump’s second term. 

One supporter, Marcia Curtis, told CBS Boston that she believed Mr. Trump’s honesty will win him the state: “I don’t always like his mouth sometimes, but he says what’s the truth.”

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