The Electoral Ladder: The political leaning of every state, to scale

Another four-year cycle is coming to a close, and that means it’s time for me to get way too obsessed about election polls and demographic projections and the like. The idea of trying to use data and statistical samples to predict what will happen while having few prior cases for such an important event is extremely fascinating to me. Does that poll herald a sign of long-term change, or was it an outlier? How much should we trust our gut versus the data we see today versus what actually happened several years ago? There’s an incredible amount of data one can dive into, though it’s surprisingly easy to get lost in the woods and miss the big picture.

One thing I’ve seen a lot this year is the relative ranking of states based on how Biden-friendly or Trump-friendly they are. There will be blurbs about how Ohio is to the right of Pennsylvania, which is more conservative than Michigan, which is in turn less liberal than Virginia. But what those tend to miss is how far apart these states actually are and what it means in the context of this or previous elections.

In order to give myself (and hopefully others) a better sense of where everything stands, I created a chart of where all the states lie, to scale. On the left side are all the states from most Democratic to most Republican. The midpoint is the hypothetical scenario where there is a tie in the national popular vote. At the moment, California is about 22.7 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole, while if Biden were to win nationally by 10%, he’d expect to take the state by 32.7 points instead.

On the right side are a bunch of real and hypothetical scenarios, and a bit more context. As you go further down, you get into more and more favorable outcomes for the Democrats as states continue to flip from red to blue. Right now Biden leads Trump by about 9.1 percentage points nationally, so at the moment every state more left-leaning (and therefore higher on the chart) than R+9.1 would more likely than not go to the Democrat, while everything to the right (and lower) would be taken by the Republican.

Obviously polls aren’t perfect, and things will change in the three weeks before election day. I don’t think there would be too many extreme shifts in the ordering of the states in the middle, though it should be no surprise if some of them ultimately swap a few places. The more extremely partisan states will naturally be less reliable, since no one has any need to poll them, and it doesn’t really matter if Trump wins Wyoming by 30 or 60.

Anyway, without further ado, the chart:






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