Ahead of 2020 Election, Path to Democratic Victory Emerges

With nearly two dozen candidates competing for the Democratic nomination and a clear divide over impeachment of Donald Trump, the Democratic presidential primary election is looking to be a tumultuous affair. Despite this, a national path to victory is already taking shape. Benchmark data indicate that Democrats can repeat the success they achieved in 2018, when total turnout increased by 30 million votes compared to 2014. We expect this trend to hold and anticipate a turnout approaching 150 million in 2020.

The extreme partisanship gripping the country is unhealthy for national unity and suggests that less than 10 percent of voters may split their tickets in the 2020 election—that is, to support both Democratic and Republican candidates on the same ballot. Further, this president’s 42 percent approval rating means he will have difficulty expanding beyond a base of older white men and women without a college degree, given the lack of traction with independents and a collapse of support in suburban areas.

For the first time in history, demographic trends indicate that people of color will make up almost 30 percent of the electorate in 2020. Polling data projects that Democrats might win 80 percent or more of the non-white vote. Under such a scenario, they would win the popular vote with 36 percent of the white vote. Suburban women, voters under 40, and high turnout in urban areas would blaze a path to victory for Democrats.

Bar chart showing change in non-white share of electorate...

The state-by-state Democratic game plan is emerging as well. After Trump’s surprise 2016 wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania, current voter sentiment in both states casts doubt on his chances for a repeat in 2020.  The 2018 results in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas have also given Democrats renewed optimism for their chances in the Sun Belt. Together with Democrats’ improving prospects in toss-up states Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, the possibility of a popular vote majority negated by an electoral college loss is less likely.

After the 2018 blue wave that netted 40 Democratic House seats there are several freshman Democrats holding vulnerable districts. Fortunately, more than 15 of them are located in suburban areas of California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania—states unlikely to vote for Trump.

Conversely, several suburban and exurban Republican seats are in real jeopardy—incumbent Rob Woodall in Georgia has already declined to run in 2020. There are 24 districts that Republicans won by 5 points or less in 2018, including the only two remaining Republican districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Among them are four to six vulnerable Republican seats in Texas, plus districts in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and New York, where at least 50 percent of the projected electorate appears hostile to Trump. The table below is a list of these top House targets.

District Rep. Incumbent US House 2018
Margin of Victory
CA-50 Duncan Hunter +3.4%
GA-07 Rob Woodall (retiring) +0.2%
IA-04 Steve King +3.4%
IL-13 Rodney Davis +0.8%
KS-02 Steve Watkins +0.9%
KY-06 Andy Barr +3.3%
MI-06 Fred Upton +4.7%
MN-01 Jim Hagedorn +0.5%
MO-02 Ann Wagner +4.0%
MT-01 Greg Gianforte +4.8%
NC-09 Vacant – Special Election Sept. 10, 2019 +0.3%
NE-02 Don Bacon +2.0%
NY-01 Lee M. Zeldin +4.1%
NY-27 Chris Collins +0.4%
OH-01 Steve Chabot +4.5%
OH-12 Troy Balderson +4.3%
PA-01 Brian K. Fitzpatrick +2.5%
PA-10 Scott Perry +2.6%
PA-16 Mike Kelly +4.3%
TX-10 Michael T. McCaul +4.4%
TX-21 Chip Roy +2.7%
TX-23 Will Hurd +0.5%
TX-24 Kenny Marchant +3.1%
TX-31 John R. Carter +3.0%

Success is harder to formulate in the battle for control of the US Senate. Arizona, Colorado and Maine are winnable for Democrats. But to win a majority, they would need one or two additional seats from Georgia, Iowa, or North Carolina.

As we enter the next decade, the imminent redistricting process starts factoring more heavily in electoral strategy. Victories in the Minnesota Senate, Michigan House, Texas House, Florida Senate, and both chambers in Pennsylvania are critical if Democrats want a voice in the process.

The NCEC will continue to analyze these factors in more depth leading up to the 2020 election.