Predicting the 2020 election – what do the numbers say?

Signs outside the Boston Public Library advertise early voting on Oct. 24, 2020. Photo by Caitlin Faulds/BU News Service

By Rhian Lowndes
BU News Service

With one day (well, potentially weeks) left until we know how this tense, competitive election wraps up, every polling site, research group, and news source is placing bets for the 2020 results. We’ve summarized a few for you here, beginning with the Presidential race, and taking you all the way to Massachusetts’ choices for House and Senate.

National Election

There are a lot of states up in the air for 2020, but The Economist sees a 96% chance of Biden winning the electoral college. 

That sounds like a hands-down win, but while most polling and prediction sources are guessing at a Democratic presidency, a few experts caution against a repeat of 2016 polling errors. Fox News asked political analysts who predicted the 2016 election correctly which groups they believe are being left out of the equation.

Matt Towery, chairman of InsiderAdvantage, said that Trump will find support in rural and semi-rural voters because of his campaign visits, while Trafalgar Group Chief Pollster Robert Cahaly said that Trump has lost some older voters, but young voters are responding to his commitment to avoid shutdowns. The Tampa Bay Times’ poll of experts are similarly wary of jumping to conclusions, and they suggest that analysts may also be underestimating first-time Trump voters.

Still, The Washington Post’s “Power Ranking” pundits are calling it a Biden win. The nine experts guess the likelihood of a candidate winning, how much of the popular vote they will receive, and how many electoral college votes they’ll earn. The power rankers’ predictions average out to an 82% likelihood that Biden will win 53% of the popular vote, and the mean electoral college votes come to 330, putting him safely in the Oval Office. 

However, polling also shows it may be a very tight race. Of the six A-graded pollsters that updated their Likely Voters predictions since Oct. 23, FiveThirtyEight shows all of them predicting a Biden win, with a median eight-point lead. The average popular voting numbers are similar for the ten Real Clear Politics pollsters reporting under the same factors. Both sites average out to Biden winning about 51% of votes. Likely voters seem to be leaning blue, but there are no guarantees.

Swing States

Georgia and Ohio are proving especially difficult to predict this election, and Pennsylvania and Florida are causing their usual fuss. With PA playing a key role in both candidates’ success, Cahaly pointed to Biden’s intention to “transition” away from the oil industry as a blow to his votes in the Keystone state, but the Post’s pundits generally agree that Biden will take it home. 

Of the six power rankers’ opinions that named swing state wins, four of them call PA for Biden-Harris. FiveThirtyEight has three updated pollsters’ predictions since last week, and they all show Likely Voters giving Pennsylvania to Biden, with just six points in between him and Trump.

Florida is a little tighter. The Tampa Bay Times asked political experts from all around Florida what their predictions were for 2020, and two-thirds believe Biden will win the election—but that doesn’t mean he’ll win Florida. 54% said Trump will take the Sunshine state, and most don’t expect a recount. FiveThirtyEight has four grade A pollsters reporting Likely Voter updated in the past week that show a very close race in Florida.

The ABC News/The Washington Post poll shows a Trump win, but the other three pollsters are reporting expectations for Biden’s success. Still, either candidate is only leading by two to four points in each poll, and there’s really no way to call it. 

The Economist isn’t calling any of the swing states “safe,” but expects Biden to walk away with Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, while Trump is likely to take Nebraska and Texas.


Massachusetts is seeing blue this year, with The Economist saying that Biden has over a 99% chance of winning the state, and predicting that he’ll receive between 63 and 72% of the popular vote. In the Senate, Warren is not up for reelection, and Markey has had a secure hold on his seat since the beginning of October. The House is not as sure of a call, but three out of the nine districts do not have republican candidates, and every district is leaning significantly left, according to FiveThirtyEight.


Based on the numbers, it’s looking like a Biden presidency, a probable Democratic House, and an 80% chance Democratic Senate. It’s still early, and there’s plenty of play left in the game – in 2016, “shy Trumpers” were an unseen force on election day, and while many poll analysts are preparing to ring in a Biden-Harris White House, we won’t know until the ballots are counted. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. 

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