Some states, it seems, get all the attention in presidential elections. You probably know most of them by now: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, etc.
But beyond the big prizes lie the smallest prizes in the competitive races: Maine’s 2nd Congressional District (one electoral vote), Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District (one electoral vote), Nevada (six electoral votes) and New Hampshire (four electoral votes).
All of these races look to be ones where there is a realistic chance for the result to flip from 2016, and the polling suggests likewise. One or both candidates are advertising in all of them.
The little polling we have from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District also indicate the potential for these votes to flip from Trump to Biden. Remember Maine and Nebraska are the only states where the winner of each congressional district is awarded an electoral vote.
If you don’t think one of these contests can make the difference, just remember that New Hampshire was the only state besides Florida in 2000 that George W. Bush won and his margin was less than the vote share Ralph Nader received. Had Al Gore won New Hampshire, he would have won the election.
An examination of the polling averages shows how that could happen again. If you were to add up the states Biden is ahead in right now, starting with the state he has the largest advantage in, the state at which he reaches 270 electoral votes is probably Arizona. That’s only, however, if he wins either in Maine or Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. If Biden lost in the second congressional district in both states, we’d have a 269 to 269 tie.
Another way to get at the importance of these small contests is to look at forecasting models from sites like FiveThirtyEight or Jack Kersting. You’ll find that combined Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, Nevada and New Hampshire have somewhere around a 7% or 8% chance of being the contest that tips the balance of the Electoral College and therefore the election.
That 7% to 8% of being decisive is only slightly less of a chance than Wisconsin, roughly the same as Michigan and actually slightly more than Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina individually.
The only states that have a significantly better chance than one of the small core four we’ve been speaking about at being the contest that tips the scales of the election are Florida and Pennsylvania.
Indeed, it’s fairly easy to draw maps where one of these contests makes the difference.
There’s the aforementioned map where we just look at the polling averages in each state and congressional district. In that map where the only contests that flip from 2016 are Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska’s 2nd district and Wisconsin, Biden wins by an electoral vote.
Another way Biden could win under a similar map would be to flip Maine’s 2nd district, Michigan, Nebraska’s 2nd district and Pennsylvania. Remember Michigan and Pennsylvania were decided by less than a point in 2016, so it wouldn’t seem crazy at all that these contests would go for Biden.
Here’s the thing, though: these are razor thin margins. You could flip both of these maps back no matter what happens in Maine and Nebraska. Just give New Hampshire to Trump, which he lost by less than a point in 2016.
Likewise, you can do the same by giving Trump Nevada.
The point here isn’t to say you should show all your attention to these contests with minimal electoral prizes. Rather, it’s that combined the states and congressional districts containing only a few electoral votes can pack a punch.
That’s why you should be keeping an eye on them.