State Analysis: Michigan and Georgia

State Elasticity Analysis: Michigan

Michigan Elasticity by county (click to expand)


Michigan was a state that Trump won by the barest of margins in 2016. However, a look at the state’s elasticity map shows that Republicans may be in far more trouble than even the conventional wisdom would indicate. 

The state’s most inelastic and populous area is the Detroit metropolitan area, with Oakland (E 27.0) and Wayne (E 23.9) counties making up a key Democratic voting block. Michigan's more elastic areas, like St. Clair (E 54.8) and Shiawassee (E 54.9), are ones that Republicans have tended to win of late. This indicates a high potential for improvement for Democrats in 2020, as they can bank on gaining votes in an environment far more favorable for them, and should prove a major source of worry for Republicans. This is because highly elastic counties, in general, should raise alarm bells for the party holding them in the face of an unfriendly national mood, as a high proportion of voters could break unfavorably and drive down their statewide margin.

2016 represented the absolute nadir of Democratic performance in the Wolverine state, and elasticity must be viewed in this context when assessing the state’s winnability in 2020. Looking at Michigan’s counties, Kent (E 32.9) and Macomb (E 35.3) are the two largest Trump 2016 counties, and both have a slight degree of elasticity, which is excellent news for Democrats as they continue to make gains in suburban counties. With these suburban counties having trends and elasticities that indicate a continued swing since 2016 towards Democrats, simply holding Clinton's margins in the other counties and gaining votes here would be enough to win back the state.

This, however, is not their only path to victory in the state. The upper parts of the Lower Peninsula and the “thumb” of Michigan are reliably Republican but are quite elastic – Obama came close to winning them in 2012, and while Democrats lost a lot of ground in 2016, they clawed a fair amount back in their 2018 races, especially in Gretchen Whitmer's resounding gubernatorial victory; for example, while Clinton lost Lapeer (E 60.4) by 38 points, Whitmer only lost it by 21. A similar gain in the 2016 margins in these areas would be enough to offset Trump's victory margin of 11,000 votes by itself.

Democrats have multiple avenues that they expect to win votes back in, and this leaves a cash-strapped Trump campaign fighting battles on multiple fronts in an attempt to plug the vote holes and tamp down their losses in these areas. Even a slight gain in any individual region would be enough for Biden to win the state back; the sheer number of areas that he has avenues to pull votes back in, however, makes the state incredibly tough for Trump to hold. The combination of increased turnout and the prospect of Democrats being primed to capitalize on the state's elasticity in an incredibly favorable environment for them makes this state a solid pickup bet for them and a near-unwinnable state for Trump.

Rating: Likely D


State Elasticity Analysis: Georgia

Georgia Elasticity by county (click to expand)

Georgia is turning blue faster than any other swing state. This would have happened eventually, but Donald Trump has accelerated its movement up by arguably a decade. For the first time in a generation, the Peach State is a true toss-up and could play a pivotal role in the 2020 election.

The Atlanta metropolitan area is one of the fastest-growing in the state. Fulton and DeKalb have always been reliably Democratic, and Biden will need to invest in heavy get-out-the-vote operations to maximize the vote margins in these areas to offset the anticipated decline in Democratic rural vote totals. If primary trends are any indication, this shouldn't be an issue, as the anti-Trump national environment has resulted in sky-high voter engagement in the state.

More concerning for Republicans, however, is the suburban shift that has occurred in the state of late. Georgia isn't a very elastic state, but the Atlanta suburbs certainly are, and they have seen a sharp shift towards Democrats of late. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the suburban counties of Cobb (E 59.4) by 13 and Gwinnett (E 59.0) by 9. However, the political environment has changed so drastically that Joe Biden should win them both by double digits, thanks to the astounding suburban shifts that have taken place over the years of the Trump presidency.

Biden's key to victory in 2020 will thus likely come from a blowout in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Look for Democrats to run up the margins in the moderately elastic counties of Gwinett (E 59.0), Cobb (E 59.4), Fulton (E 58.7) and DeKalb (E 46.5), and then cut into some of Trump's Atlanta exurb margins in the reliably red and (generally) more inelastic counties of Forsyth (E 51.7), Dawson (E 14.1), and Hall (E 24.8). 

A Biden victory will likely play a significant role in determining just how far down the ballot Democratic gains go, including a possible Senate win for Jon Ossof against incumbent David Perdue, a House pickup for Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux in Georgia's 7th Congressional District, and a possible flip of the Georgia State House. To maximize their gains, Democrats should invest heavily in Atlanta and the surrounding suburban counties to capitalize on the elasticity of the area and the potential to engage new voters.

Rating: Toss-up (Tilt Democratic)

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