2020 Presidential Election: Why early returns for 4 Pennsylvania counties will answer serious questions

By Lee Cleveland, Polls and Trends - November 3, 2020

The 2020 Presidential Election is upon us and there will be few surprises. Of 51 states (including Washington DC), only eight remain in the balance heading into Election Day.

Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Arizona, and Texas.

And of those states, Iowa, Ohio are Texas are expected to go Republican. Hence, there are five states to watch closely. And of those states, Pennsylvania will tell us the most.


Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, will likely win all the states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 as well as Wisconsin and Michigan, two states President Trump won by less than a percentage point four years ago. Biden is also poised to win the second district in Nebraska which also went Trump’s way.

But, even if Biden failed to win the second district in Nebraska as well as Arizona, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, a victory in Pennsylvania would give Biden 278 electoral votes, eight more than the number required to win the election.

In the below scenario:
– Biden wins Michigan and Wisconsin, as expected
– Biden wins Pennsylvania
– Biden losses the remaining swing states

If Biden is underperforming early in Pennsylvania… Look for a close race overall, and turn your attention to Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona. Keep in mind, a loss for Biden in Pennsylvania wouldn’t be the end for the former vice president but would give Trump the slight upperhand.

“If Biden loses Pennsylvania, he would no longer be a favorite in states such as Florida and Georgia — where he’s narrowly ahead now — because it would be a sign that Trump had outperformed his polls again.”

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight.com

If Biden’s early numbers are closer to President Obama’s in 2012 than Hillary Clinton’s in 2016…. He’ll carry the state and the election.

A Biden win in moderate Pennsylvania would – or should – guarantee wins for the former vice president in more liberal Wisconsin and Michigan. As a result, Trump would have to flip a state previously won by Clinton in 2016 in order to retain the presidency – And the president is in no position to do that.

A winner might not be announced on Election Night but an early glimpse into the probable outcome can be attained by monitoring the results of several Pennsylvania swing counties.


Voting patterns are all about trends so a candidate’s performances in few key swing counties are likely to tell us about the direction of that state and, possibly, other states with similar demographics. Pennsylvania’s early results, for example, should tell us a lot about Ohio.

Recent Pennsylvania Presidential Election Results

2012 – Obama won by 5.38 percentage points
2016 – Trump won by 0.72 percentage points

In 2016, results from four swing counties were not a direct indicator of who won the state but were certainly red flags for Hillary Clinton and good news for Donald Trump.

In the Keystone State, here are a few hotly contested counties to watch. Compare Tuesday’s returns with the below results and look for a trend.

Northampton County
Votes cast in 2012/2016 – 130,735 / 143, 519

2012: President Obama won by 4.7 percentage points
2016: President Trump won by 3.8 percentage points

Erie County
Votes cast in 2012/2016 – 118,619 / 123,679

2012: President Obama won by 16 percentage points
2016: President Trump won by 1.6 percentage points

Monroe County
Votes cast in 2012/2016 – 62,917 / 69,752

2012: President Obama won by 13.3 percentage points
2016: Secretary Clinton won by 0.8 percentage points

Although Trump lost Monroe County, notice how poorly Clinton performed versus Obama.

Luzerne County
Votes cast in 2012/2016 – 124,439 / 134,983

2012: President Obama won by 4.9 percentage points
2016: President Trump won by 19.4 percentage points

As of November 2 at 11:10PM ET, Biden’s lead is 2.6 percentage points based on an aggregate of top pollsters on RealClearPolitics.com.

Ironically, on Election Day 2016, Trump outperformed the polls by 2.6 percentage points, winning by 0.7 percent after Clinton was projected to win by 1.9 percent.

If Pennsylvania polling was as inaccurate in 2020 as they were in 2016, the state is going to be awfully close. But, again, watch the early results from Monroe, Luzerne, Erie and Northampton Counties very closely.

They will offer answers to serious questions early on.

Tags: U.S. Presidential Race 2020

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