The biggest development in the 2020 elections since our last forecast update on April 1st was Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race, making Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Biden’s nomination surely has some pluses for Democrats: he can help some with African-American turnout and he has a pretty decent path to winning the electoral college. We have some rating changes because of these reasons, but we also have some rating changes down ballot because Biden does have a major liability as a general election candidate: he performs terribly with young voters, particularly college students. Bernie Sanders trounced Biden with the demographic during the primaries. It is hard to see how Biden can college students to vote for him, since he is not running on a progressive agenda like Sanders was. This liability especially hurts Democrats in state legislative districts where college student turnout is a key factor for winning.
In the electoral college, we are moving Pennsylvania from Toss-Up to Tilt Democrat. Biden has a favorite son advantage in the state and is polling pretty decently against President Trump in the state, with RealClearPolitics having him at a +3.8 advantage at the moment. If polling consistently goes the other way and gets tighter though, we may move the state back to the Toss-Up category. At the moment though we would say Biden is a very slight favorite in the state. North Carolina is also being moved from Tilt Republican to Toss-Up. Biden’s advantage with turning out African-Americans is the predominant reason for this, but Biden’s also got a narrow lead over Trump in the state, and the college-educated suburbs in the state continue to drift left. It’s hard to say that anyone is a favorite there right now, though. The state did swing rightward in 2016, after all.
We have 19 state legislative rating changes because of Biden’s presumptive nominee status. Just 3 of them are leftward, the remaining 16 are all in the rightward direction. This is largely because there aren’t many state legislative districts where rural African-Americans make up a large part of the population that are competitive. There are far more competitive districts where college student turnout is an essential factor in a Democratic victory, though.
Of the 3 districts we are moving leftward for Biden’s nomination, 2 are in North Carolina and 1 is in Georgia. While Georgia does not have any competitive state legislative chambers, both of North Carolina’s are, so Democrats’ odds of flipping both the North Carolina State Senate and North Carolina State House have slightly gone up, as we have a leftward rating change in one of each.
- GA HD-151 | Tilt R → Toss-Up
- NC HD-24 | Tilt D → Lean D
- NC SD-3 | Lean D → Likely D
The 16 state legislative rating districts we’re moving rightward due to Biden’s nomination are all around the country. College student turnout is a key factor in all of these districts, with college students making up large chunks of the total district population in each.
- CA AD-35 | Lean R → Likely R
- FL HD-21 | Toss-Up → Tilt R
- GA HD-117 | Lean R → Likely R
- GA HD-119 | Lean R → Likely R
- ID HD-29A | Tilt D → Toss-Up
- MI HD-99 | Lean R → Likely R
- MN SD-14 | Tilt D → Toss-Up
- MN SD-28 | Likely R → Safe R
- MT HD-28 | Lean D → Tilt D
- ND SD-42 | Tilt R → Lean R
- OK HD-34 | Likely D → Lean D
- OK HD-04 | Toss-Up → Tilt R
- RI HD-53 | Lean D → Tilt D
- TX HD-14 | Likely R → Safe R
- TX HD-64 | Lean R → Likely R
- UT HD-10 | Lean D → Tilt D
6 of these districts are in competitive state legislative chambers, with the most consequential changes being in Minnesota. As a result of the rating changes there, Democrats’ odds have worsened in flipping the chamber, which they were slightly favored in before this update. Because of this we will be moving the Minnesota State Senate from Tilt D to Toss-Up in our state legislative chamber ratings. This chamber was the only projected flip. At the moment, neither party is projected to flip a state legislative chamber this year in our forecast.
We also have 8 more state legislative rating changes that are not because of Joe Biden’s nomination. 5 of them are seats we’ve recently identified as open. In these open districts, 3 are moving leftward and 2 are moving rightward.
- OK SD-35 | Tilt R → Toss-Up
- SD SD-18 | Toss-Up → Tilt R
- TN HD-18 | Tilt R → Toss-Up
- TN HD-97 | Likely R → Lean R
- WI SD-32 | Tilt D → Toss-Up
The remaining 3 state legislative rating changes are in districts where Democrats recruited strong candidates.
- ND SD-44 | Lean D → Tilt D ; Rematch of 2016 election where the former Republican incumbent lost by just 143 votes (1.95%)
- OK HD-03 | Safe R → Likely R ; Democrats recruited a strong candidate in former State Representative and District Attorney Mike Sullivan (D). Sullivan served in the State House in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
- OK HD-24 | Likely R → Lean R ; Former State Rep. Steve Kouplen (D), who was the incumbent in HD-24 from 2008 to 2018, is running to take back his old seat. Kouplen lost re-election by 3.54%, or 350 votes, in 2018. The current incumbent, Logan J. Phillips, is also facing off against 3 Republican opponents in the district’s Republican primary.
So while Democrats’ odds of beating President Trump have improved since our last update, their status in state legislative races have worsened, in both State House and State Senate seats. Before this update, Republicans were projected to have a net gain of 10 seats in single-member district State House seats, but are now projected to have a net gain of 11. In single-member district State Senate seats, Democrats were projected to have a net gain of 13 seats, but are now projected to have a net gain of 11.