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A scorecard for Election Day | Column
Here is how to track if it’s a wave election — or a ripple.
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Jim Bourg/Pool via AP)
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Jim Bourg/Pool via AP) [ JIM BOURG | AP ]
Published Oct. 24, 2020

The polls are showing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with a consistent lead against President Donald Trump. But the presidential race is not the only one on the ballot in 2020.

Will Biden’s candidacy produce a sizable Democratic wave up and down the ballot? Or will Trump pull out an upset — or at least keep the race close enough to minimize the impact of Biden’s coattails? In this piece, we’ll set out a guide for judging how big a partisan wave the 2020 election produces.

For the sixth straight campaign cycle, the Tampa Bay Times is offering a list of factors to measure how broad-based a potential Democratic wave turns out to be on a national scale — in the presidential race, in U.S. Senate and House races, in state-level contests, and in ballot measures. (We have typically used gubernatorial, state attorney general and secretary of state races in these analyses, but there are relatively few of these races being held this year, and the vast majority of them are not competitive between the parties, which undermines their usefulness for this purpose.)

After settling on eight key questions, we set a baseline for what’s “expected” — based on current analysis by independent electoral handicappers including the Cook Political Report and U.S. News & World Report — and established a sliding scale that awards increasing credit to the surging party for exceeding the conventional wisdom once the ballots are counted.

The higher the Democrats score on our rating scales, the stronger the Democratic wave. After Election Day, we’ll report back on how the results stand.

1. How many of these 15 battleground states or congressional districts does Joe Biden win?

Battleground states are, in alphabetical order: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine 2nd district, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska 2nd District, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin. For comparison, Hillary Clinton won only three of the states in 2016.

Scale:

0-3: Very weak night for the Democrats

4-5: Weak night for the Democrats

6-8: good night for the Democrats

9-11: very good night for the Democrats

12-14: extremely good night for the Democrats

15: exceptional night for the Democrats

2. How many of the following 13 battleground counties flip from supporting Trump in 2016 to supporting Biden in 2020?

Each county on this list supported Trump by a single-digit margin in 2020: Maricopa County, Ariz.; Duval, Monroe, Pinellas, St. Lucie, and Seminole counties, Fla.; Kent and Saginaw counties, Mich.; Robeson County, N.C.; Erie and Northampton counties, Pa.; and Kenosha and Winnebago counties, Wis.

Scale:

0-2: Weak night for the Democrats

3-5: good night for the Democrats

6-9: very good night for the Democrats

9-13: extremely good night for the Democrats

3. How many of these 14 U.S. Senate races do the Democrats win?

Senate seats are in: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia (regular election), Georgia (special election), Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas. All but the seats in Alabama and Michigan are currently held by a Republican.

Scale:

0-3: weak night for the Democrats

4-5: good night for the Democrats

6-7: very good night for the Democrats

8-10: extremely good night for the Democrats

11+: exceptional night for the Democrats

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4. How many net seats in the U.S. House do the Democrats gain or lose?

Currently, the Democrats control 232 seats, Republicans control 197 seats, one seat is held by a Libertarian, and five seats are vacant.

Scale:

Lose any seats on net: very weak night for the Democrats

Gain 0-4 seats on net: weak night for the Democrats

Gain 5-10 seats on net: good night for the Democrats

Gain 11-15 seats on net: very good night for the Democrats

Gain 16+ seats on net: extremely good night for the Democrats

5. How large is the net partisan shift in the control of state legislative chambers?

Currently, the GOP controls 58 legislative chambers while the Democrats control 40 chambers.

Scale:

Democrats have a net loss in chambers: very weak night for Democrats

Net gain of 0-1 chambers: weak night for Democrats

Net gain of 2-5 chambers: good night for Democrats

Net gain of 6-9 chambers: very good night for Democrats

Net gain of 10 or more chambers: extremely good night for Democrats

6. In how many states does the “liberal” side prevail in the following ballot measures: taxes for education (Arizona), tobacco tax for health care (Oregon), introducing a graduated income tax (Illinois), creating a family and medical leave program (Colorado), raising the minimum wage (Florida), curbing payday loans (Nebraska), and ending cash bail (California).

Scale:

0-2: Weak night for liberals;

3-5: Decent night for liberals;

6-7: Strong night for liberals.

7. In how many of the following five states do voters enact ballot measures expanding access to marijuana? Recreational marijuana is on the ballot in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey, while medical marijuana is on the ballot in Mississippi and South Dakota.

Scale:

0-1: Weak night for liberals;

2-3: Decent night for liberals;

4-5: Strong night for liberals.

8. How many more Democratic-leaning candidates win compared to Republican-leaning candidates in contested judicial races or retention elections in these states?

The races are in Illinois (one Democratic incumbent in a retention election); Michigan (one Democratic-backed incumbent and one Republican open seat are up); North Carolina (two Democratic incumbents and one Republican open seat are up); Ohio (two Republican-backed incumbents are up); and Texas (seven Republican incumbents are up).

Scale:

0-3: Weak night for Democrats;

4-5: Decent night for Democrats;

6-9: Strong night for Democrats;

10+: Very strong night for Democrats.

Louis Jacobson is a senior correspondent at PolitiFact.com.