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Thursday, April 18
The Indiana Daily Student


These areas of the country could decide the 2020 elections


With Election Day looming next week, eyes will turn to the most competitive states in the country to determine who will win the high-profile races. 

In past elections, such as 2016, those states have been Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The list has expanded this year to include states traditionally thought to be GOP strongholds, including Texas, Georgia and Iowa.

The most competitive counties in these states are an important metric when studying elections. Some counties have seen dramatic changes in demographics since the last presidential election. Coupled with trends to suggest suburban women are favoring Democratic candidates, multiple counties — mainly suburban areas — could shift the election entirely, up and down the ballot.

Maricopa County, Arizona

In what could be considered the most important county in 2020, Maricopa County — which includes Phoenix — more than half the population of Arizona. Arizona was long thought to be a republican state, but over the last two years, it’s shifted to become a competitive state. Maricopa County’s voters made up more than 60% of the entire state’s electorate in 2018. 

Because of the county’s large population and Arizona’s importance, it quickly rose to become the biggest media market of the 2020 general election cycle. 

The county can be considered a bellwether, meaning the county typically votes similarly to the state's eventual results. In every presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial election going back to 2008, Maricopa County has voted for the statewide winner. In those 10 elections, the winner of Maricopa County, on average, outperformed the statewide margin by just .87% of the vote. 

Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., was lifted to victory statewide in 2018 after winning Maricopa County by more than four points. There are two major contests next week in Arizona: another senatorial election and, of course, the presidential race. The winner of Maricopa County in each of those two races could very well go on to win the state. 

Duval County, FL

President Donald Trump narrowly won this county in 2016 by about 6,000 votes — or 1.4%. Duval County includes the city of Jacksonville and some of its suburban areas. The county traditionally votes Republican, though the margin is typically close. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate for president, won it by 3.6 points. John McCain, the GOP’s candidate in 2008, also won this county by nearly two points.

Support for the GOP, however, is dwindling in the county. While the state was moving right, this county saw a two-point leftward shift from 2012 to 2016. On top of that, the GOP lost this county in the 2018 senate election in Florida, despite winning statewide by a narrow margin. 

Trump won Florida by just over 100,000 votes — or 1%. To win his reelection bid, the president essentially needs to win Florida. FiveThirtyEight gives Trump a less than 1% shot at winning the presidency if he loses the Sunshine State. 

The greater Charlotte, North Carolina metro area

North Carolina is no stranger to the idea of splitting tickets, where voters will vote for a candidate of one party for one office and then a candidate of a different party for another down the ballot. In 2016, North Carolina held a trifecta of elections: president, governor, and Senate. 

The state voted for Trump and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., in 2016, each winning by 3.5 points and 5.7 points, respectively. However, the state also elected a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, that year. The 2020 elections feature the same trifecta, with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., up for reelection, in addition to Trump and Cooper. 

The greater Charlotte metro area wields great strength in electing politicians in the state. The eight counties that make up the greater Charlotte area include Mecklenburg and Union counties, two highly populated areas that consistently vote, in large margins, for Democrats and Republicans, respectively. 

Those eight counties, like Maricopa County in Arizona, are bellwether counties. There have been 25 statewide elections in North Carolina going back to 2010. In all but one of them, the candidate who tallied the most votes from those eight counties won statewide. 

North Carolina, while not necessarily a must-win for the president, will become one if he loses the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania. 

With three high-profile elections in North Carolina, both parties are committing large swaths of resources to ensure strong turnout in their Charlotte strongholds. 

The tale of three Pennsylvania counties: Erie, Luzerne, and Chester

Pennsylvania — which seems likely to be the tipping point of the 2020 election according to FiveThirtyEight — shocked Americans when it voted for then-candidate Trump in 2016. Prior to that election, the state had voted for Democratic presidential candidates every cycle going back to 1992. 

Trump only won the state by just over 44,000 votes, which is a margin of less than one percent. Pennsylvania’s political climate is divided across the state. In some parts of the state, you’ll find hardcore Republicans, while other parts, such as Philadelphia, are extremely liberal, voting for Democrats by more than 60 points four years ago.

Three counties could change the political game in Pennsylvania. Erie County, which sits near the northwest corner of the state, was, at one point, considered a Democratic ally. However, when Trump won Pennsylvania, he carried Erie County by 1.6 points, a 17.5 rightward shift from former President Barack Obama’s victory in 2012. 

The county is the 14th most populous of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, but a shift back towards Democrats could mean victory for Biden, who is from Pennsylvania. 

A five hour drive away is Luzerne County, which presents a nearly identical picture. The county voted for Obama by almost five points in 2012, but four years later in 2016, it voted for Trump by almost 20 points.

Luzerne County is more populated than Erie, but Democrats are vying to bring back some Obama-era voters to their side in November. 

Chester County is in the Philadelphia suburbs, and it is the only county in Pennsylvania that flipped from Republican to Democratic from 2012 to 2016. It follows the typical national trend of a suburban county that is moving left. It’s an affluent, wealthy area with the median household income close to $100,000. 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s flip of the county was a nearly 10 point shift. If that margin expands for Biden, Democrats could take back Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, which could be considered a must-win for the President. FiveThirtyEight projects Trump has a 2% chance at winning the electoral college if he loses Pennsylvania. 

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