The violent riots that erupted in Minneapolis and St. Paul this week in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd during his arrest by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department on Monday add another element of unpredictability to the 2020 presidential election that has already been characterized by dramatic and unanticipated twists and turns.
With barely five months remaining until Election Day in a national campaign where the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic have eliminated the traditional elements of in-person electioneering for the past two months, the impact of this week’s events in the Twin Cities on public opinion–and subsequent voting behavior–has yet to be fully revealed and is still quite fluid.
While the death of George Floyd and the subsequent riots in Minneapolis-St. Paul and several other cities, including Denver, Colorado, Louisville, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio, will likely influence voter attitudes around the country, it is in Minnesota, a key battleground state that Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by only 44,000 votes in 2016, where those attitudes are likely to be most heavily influenced by the week’s events in that state.
As has been widely reported, it was President Trump’s narrow victories in three key battleground states–Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania–that powered his easy electoral college victory in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, despite her two percentage point edge in the popular vote, 48 percent to 46 percent.
National polling on the 2020 presidential contest between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democrat nominee, appears to mirror the final 2016 popular vote results in the contest between Trump and Clinton. As of Friday, the Real Clear Politics Average of Polls gives Biden a 5.3 percent lead over Trump in the 2020 presidential general election, 47.5 percent to 42.2 percent.
As with the 2016 presidential election, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election will hinge on results in a handful of key battleground states President Trump narrowly won. Those states polls currently reflect the president’s standing in those states before his surge in the last few months of the 2016 campaign.
Biden currently has single digit leads over Trump in five of the key battleground states the president won in 2016: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona, while Trump leads in just one key battleground state he won in 2016, North Carolina, according to the Real Clear Politics Average of Polls for those states.
If Joe Biden wins all the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and the five battleground states in which he currently holds single digit leads over President Trump, he would secure an easy electoral college victory in 2020, with 318 electoral college votes to Trump’s 220 electoral college votes.
But electoral college predictions based on polls five months out are essentially worthless. Five months before the 2016 election, virtually every poll predicted an electoral college landslide for Hillary Clinton in a matchup with Donald Trump. Several major pollsters were equally wrong just days before the 2016 presidential election, as Breitbart News noted back in 2017:
The pre-election polls were in general accurate in their estimates of the national vote totals. The final Real Clear Politics average of polls gave Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a 2.1 percent national vote advantage over Trump. On election day, Clinton won 48.2 percent of the vote, while Trump won 46.1 percent, giving her a 2.1 percent advantage. (The final vote count, according to the Cook Political Report’s compilation of the certified results from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, was 65.8 million for Clinton and 62.9 million for Trump.)
But the President is elected based upon electoral college results at the state level, not by the national vote total, and that is where most who predicted a Hillary Clinton landslide missed so badly.
Real Clear Politics, for instance, predicted a 272 to 266 electoral college victory for Hillary Clinton when no states were left as “toss-ups.”
Larry Sabato, the dean of mainstream media electoral pundits, predicted a 322 to 216 electoral college landslide victory for Clinton over Trump at the University of Virginia Center for Politics Sabato’s Crystal Ball twenty-four hours before the election results were known.
The Trump campaign has decided to extend the field of play to Minnesota in 2020.
Given the narrowness of the president’s loss in Minnesota in 2016, and the expected closeness of the race in battleground states the president won in 2016, the Trump campaign has decided to put Minnesota in play this time around. As a result, far more financial and organizational resources will be devoted to Minnesota in 2020 by the campaign than was the case in 2020.
Even before the riots this week, that investment of resources appeared to be well advised.
A Star Tribune–Mason Dixon Poll of registered voters conducted in Minnesota from May 18 to May 20 –just a few days before the death of George Floyd–showed that Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump is now just five percent, 49 percent to 44 percent. The poll has a margin of error of four points.
The latest results show a dramatic seven point drop in Biden’s lead over Trump, which the same poll found was 12 points back in October.
In Hennepin County (Minneapolis) and Ramsey County (St. Paul), Biden’s lead over Trump is more than 30 points–62 percent to 29 percent.
In the rest the metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Biden’s lead over Trump is within the margin of error, 48 percent to 44 percent.
But Trump has a significant lead over Biden in the state’s rural areas, 56 percent to 38 percent in Northern Minnesota and 57 percent to 39 percent in Southern Minnesota.
While the left and the mainstream media have attempted to blame President Trump for George Floyd’s death, the president’s swift reaction by announcing a Department of Justice investigation belies those characterizations and emphasizes his commitment to the rule of law.
In contrast, the violence and destruction caused by the rioters highlights their disdain for the rule of law.
As Minnesotans begin to process the death of George Floyd, the subsequent riots, and the arrest and likely trial of the police officer seen with his knee on the neck of Floyd prior to his death, some attitudes towards President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden may harden. But other attitudes could well change, and that is an important reason to now consider Minnesota a battleground state that is in play for the 2020 presidential election.