The Southern path to a Democratic win in 2020
Published July 24, 2019
The lion’s share of discussion about the states Democrats need to win to take back the White House in 2020 has focused on the trio of Midwestern states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those states do indeed present the clearest path to 270 electoral votes and our early polling has found that Democrats are well positioned in them. But new PPP surveys in a pair of states- Georgia and North Carolina- that combined have only voted Democratic for President once in the last 27 years- show a possible backup plan to victory in the South as well.
Trump is underwater in both Georgia (which he won by 5 points in 2016) and North Carolina (which he won by 4 points in 2016.) In Georgia 45% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 49% who disapprove and in North Carolina 46% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 48% who disapprove. In Georgia Trump trails a generic Democrat for reelection 50-46, and in North Carolina Trump trails a generic Democrat for reelection 49-44. We wouldn’t go so far as to say Trump is an underdog based on these numbers- Democrats may very well end up with a candidate who’s not as strong as Good Old Generic- but we see them as toss ups if Trump remains as unpopular as he is right now.
Even though Georgia hasn’t voted Democratic for President since 1992 and North Carolina has only voted Democratic for President once since 1976 (2008) it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that either of these states is looking competitive for next year.
In 2008 Georgia voted for John McCain by 5 points as Barack Obama won the popular vote nationally by 7 points, thus voting 12 points to the right of the country. In 2016 Georgia voted for Donald Trump by 5 points as Hillary Clinton won the popular vote nationally by 2 points, thus voting only 7 points to the right of the country. That trend of Georgia becoming increasingly purple relative to the rest of the country continued last year when Stacey Abrams lost the Governor’s race by only a point.
Generational change is a big reason why Georgia’s finding itself on the potential battleground state list. This poll found a generic Democrat leading Trump 64-24 among voters under 30, 59-33 when you expand it to voters under 45, and 52-43 when you expand it to voters under 65. Georgia (along with Texas) has one of the biggest age gaps we see in our polling and that makes it almost inevitable that some year- if not 2020- Democrats are going to get a big statewide win in one or both of those states.
Part of generational change in Georgia is the electorate becoming more and more racially diverse and that plays to Democrats’ advantage as well. White Georgians continue to be an incredibly Republican group, giving Trump a 69-27 advantage. But nonwhite voters- who are growing in their share of the electorate- say they will vote Democratic over Trump 84-12 next year.
Democrats having a real shot in North Carolina should come as no surprise either. It was the second closest state in the country for President in both 2008 (behind just Missouri) and 2012 (behind just Florida). Last fall Democrats swept the statewide elections in the state, although Republicans were lucky that it happened to be a ‘blue moon’ election cycle in which only judicial races were on the ballot. North Carolina has the same trend as Georgia where an increasingly diverse electorate creates opportunities for Democrats at the state level- white voters support Trump 57-36, but the growing nonwhite portion of the electorate gives a generic Democrat an 80-11 advantage over Trump next year.
We didn’t do a fresh Florida poll this week but we found last month that Trump has a 45/50 approval spread there and that a generic Democrat leads him 51-44. Democrats have been traumatized by losing the premier statewide race in the state 4 out of 5 cycles this decade- but the reality remains that it was just by a single point each of those times. It wouldn’t take much for those repeated narrow Democratic losses in Florida to flip to a narrow Democratic win next year.
Democrats won big in Michigan and Pennsylvania and to a lesser extent Wisconsin last year and the Midwestern path is the most likely one back to the White House. But as all our recent Southern polls show, there’s a pretty plausible path back to power through that region as well.