Two counties to watch, days before election

Dante Chinni
·4 min read

WASHINGTON — As the 2020 campaign nears the final turn, journalists and analysts will be watching some places, like those that seem more likely to swing or hold important demographic groups, more closely than others for clues on how the vote may be unfolding. This week the Data Download takes a deep dive into two of our County-to-County locales that tell important stories about the 2020 election: Miami-Dade in Florida and Beaver in Pennsylvania.

First, a check-in with Florida, because America’s perpetual battleground state is, again, a battleground. The FiveThiryEight.com polling average in the state gives Democrat Joe Biden a narrow lead, but the outcome is still pretty unclear — and a big question is what Miami’s Latino population will do.

More than two-thirds of the population of the county is Hispanic and that’s one reason why Hillary Clinton carried county by such a large margin in 2016. But even with Clinton’s large 29-point win in Miami-Dade, Trump still managed to narrowly carry Florida four years ago.

Why? Because Trump did not bottom out with Hispanic voters that way many forecasted. He won 28 percent of the group nationally. And in Florida he did well-enough with those voters to prevent Clinton from completely running away with one of the state’s biggest Democratic strongholds. The more conservative aspects of Miami’s Latino population, Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans, helped keep Trump in the game.

So far, anyway, Trump seems to be in a similar place with Hispanic voters. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds Trump winning 26 percent of the Hispanic vote, giving Biden a 36-point lead with those voters — essentially unchanged from Clinton’s 38-point margin with Hispanics in a Pew Research Center analysis of the 2016 vote. Those margins were good enough for Trump four years ago.

And Trump will likely need to at least hold the line with Hispanic voters in Miami if other trends in the data continue. For instance, as we discussed last week, the president’s numbers with 65-and-older voters (another big constituency in Florida) do not look good currently, compared to where they were in 2016.

Up in Pennsylvania, Beaver County may present a different kind of challenge for the president. Trump won the county handily in 2016 and will likely win it again in 2020. The question is one of margins and one key voter group will be critical: White voters without a college education. About two-thirds of Beaver’s population falls into that voter group that was so critical in Trump in 2016.

But in the current polling, Trump is having trouble replicating the massive margins he got from those voters four years ago. In the latest NBC/WSJ poll Trump leads with those voters by 21 points. That’s a solid margin, but it is a far cry from the 44-point edge he had with those same voters back in 2016, according to the Pew Research post-2016 analysis.

And in Beaver, and counties like it, the size of the victory matters to Trump — a lot. There were more than 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania in 2016 and the president won the state by less than 45,000 votes. Winning Beaver by only 10 points would actually be a big warning sign for Trump. He needs to run up the score there as much as he can.

Those are just two counties, of course, but they tell a much bigger story about the election. The Data Download team will be watching Miami-Dade and Beaver closely in the next few weeks — as well as the other County-to-County locales: Kent County, Michigan; Maricopa County, Arizona and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. The voters in those places will tell us more about so-called chamber of commerce Republicans, Hispanics in the Southwest and the African-American vote.

In the end, all of those pieces of the electorate are important. The blue and red maps that have become so familiar to political observers are ultimately a scoreboard — a way of knowing who won. But the attitudes and votes in among all these groups and counties will tell the larger story of what happened in one of the most memorable political campaigns of our lifetimes.