A Review of Electoral College Forecasts

Love it or hate it, see its value or think it’s a relic of the past, the Electoral College is how the United States picks its president.

That means predictions about the race to 270 electoral votes abound on the web and social media — but not all predictions are created equal.

Below is a brief look at the better online Electoral College forecasts that you’ll likely see cited with increasing frequency as election approaches.

 

Electoral Vote Map

Electoral Vote Map — created by Political Wire‘s Taegan Goddard and the site you’re visiting now — features a consensus electoral map made up of the top electoral college forecasts. This is the best place to see what the experts think will happen in the next election.

The map is completely interactive, allowing you to flip states between Red, Blue and Toss Up. You can even download a copy of the map to share on Facebook, Twitter or your favorite social media platform.

For those with their own websites, you can grab code to embed a version of the map which automatically changes when the forecast changes.

The site also features fully interactive electoral maps of past elections so you can “re-run the elections” to see what would happen if various states flipped the other way.

There are explainers on how electors are chosen, faithless electors, battleground states, which states split their electoral vote and what happens when the electoral college is tied.

Also included are brief histories on the electoral college, the origins of red and blue states and of various electoral college reform efforts.

 

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball is a political analysis site from the University of Virginia Center for Politics that was started by center director Larry Sabato in 2002. The site follows and forecasts elections for president, Congress and state governors and discusses political and electoral trends. Its analyses are thorough and thoughtful, and each article starts with the author’s key takeaways for readers.

The Crystal Ball posted its 2020 Electoral College ratings in November, and maintains a running count of delegates. Race ratings for the U.S. Senate and House were last updated in February and governors’ races in January.

Senate race ratings include maps outlining party control by state, while House ratings include charts showing Republican-represented districts won by Hillary Clinton and Democrat-represented districts won by Donald Trump in 2016. The gubernatorial race ratings also include party control of governorships following the 2019 election.

 

FiveThirtyEight

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight is a data journalism site that “uses statistical analysis — hard numbers — to tell compelling stories about politics, sports, science, economics and culture.” Silver launched it in 2008 as a polling aggregator; it later became part of the New York Times online offerings and now is now owned by ABC News.

Even though Silver started as a sports stats guy, FiveThirtyEight is best known for its polling analytics and politics coverage. (It’s been called “the least wrong” about Donald Trump’s 2016 Electoral College win.) Through their writing, podcasts and videos, Silver and his staff provide detailed projections and cogent analyses, sprinkled with continuously updating charts (right now, they include the latest national primary poll averages in the race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and Trump’s current approval/disapproval ratings).

There’s also a link on the home page to the data and code behind some of the site’s articles and graphics, and visitors are encouraged to “use it to check our work and to create stories and visualizations of your own.” Silver preaches transparency in the work of journalism and data sites, and seems to take his own advice with articles such as one from February 2020 titled, “We Fixed An Issue With How Our Primary Forecast Was Calculating Candidates’ Demographic Strengths.”

 

Inside Elections

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales provides analysis of presidential, congressional and governors’ races. It was founded in 1989 as The Rothenberg Political Report by Stuart Rothenberg, who remains with the organization as a senior editor.

Its presidential election ratings were released in December, while House race ratings are current as of February, Senate races in January and governors’ races in November. Analyses of individual races along with the national presidential campaign provide a more in-depth awareness of the factors at play.

 

Cook Political Report

Founded in 1984 by Charlie Cook, The Cook Political Report analyzes elections and campaigns for president, Congress and governor, along with political trends in the United States.

Its Electoral College ratings were updated in January, its Senate and House ratings within the last few weeks and its gubernatorial ratings in October. The site’s presidential campaign analyses are numerous and comprehensive.

One of the site’s features is the Cook Partisan Voter Index, most recently released in 2017 after the last presidential election, which measures how each congressional district voted in the presidential race compared with the nation as a whole. One of the most striking changes in the 20 years since the PVI was first published is the decline in competitive districts. Just 72 House seats now are considered swing seats, down from 164 in 1997.

 

Electoral-Vote

Electoral-Vote.com was started in 2004 by Andrew Tanenbaum to analyze polls in presidential and U.S. Senate races and project the winners of those elections. The site examines state-level polls rather than national polls to simulate the process of how presidential electors are chosen, and makes all its polling data available for download.

Electoral-Vote also features a breakdown of all Senate races and staff commentary on the political news of the day.

In addition, the site contains quite a bit of historical data on presidential and Senate races, including an interesting assessment of whether prior experience is a valid indicator of a candidate’s success as president. (James Buchanan is identified as the most experienced candidate to be elected president, but is considered by many historians to be one of our worst leaders ever.)

 

Politico

Politico is more of a traditional news site than the others listed here — its stated mission is “to be the dominant source for news on politics and policy” — and it offers digital and print versions of its content. Its site is filled with staff-written news, analysis and opinion pieces, along with audio content from its nine podcasts and lots of video, which has been ingrained in its coverage since its founding by John Harris and Jim VandeHai in 2007.

Politico’s Electoral College forecast has identified several states’ presidential races and key House and Senate seats it will be following. It tracks election results and has a running delegate count for the Democrats, and incorporates lots of analytical stories to complement the results.

 

RealClearPolitics

Founded in 2000 by Tom Bevan and John McIntyre as a political news aggregation site, RealClearPolitics has evolved to provide its own reporting and electoral college forecasts while still offering politics-related content from news outlets around the globe.

If you’re just there for the politics, though, there’s plenty to see. The site is not as visually appealing as some others, but the lists of headlines are categorized and draw your attention nonetheless. Its RCP Poll Averages are comprehensive and well-regarded. Much of what are termed “articles” are analyses and opinion rather than straight news, though the authors come from across the political spectrum.

RealClear Media’s opinion research service, launched less than two years ago, has taken a deeper dive into several political topics. The projects flesh out polls and survey results with informative details that help broaden understanding of certain groups of American voters.

 

270 to Win

Founded in 2004 by Allan Keiter, 270 to Win provides Electoral College maps for presidential elections, along with polls, election results, news and commentary.

While it doesn’t have the kind or quantity of stories and videos that some other sites have, 270toWin is a trove of practical information. You can see your state’s Electoral College votes dating back to 1789 and summaries of its recent voting trends, a map of its congressional districts and contact information for its federal and statewide elected officials. A timeline features U.S. maps showing presidential candidates’ electoral votes and facts about each election, including important issues of the day that may have impacted the election’s outcome.

Interested in the margin of victory of a particular president? It’s there, going back to 1972.

How many years a specific state has gone for the same party in consecutive elections? It’s there, too, back to 1964.

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This is not an exhaustive list of Electoral College forecasting sites, but it’s a start. They all provide nonpartisan forecasts of presidential elections and analysis of candidates, campaigns and political trends. Some, with larger staffs and resources, provide more information than others. Some have a narrower focus, while others aim to be more comprehensive. Each has its strengths and its specialties. As we move closer to the conventions and the general election, we will welcome all the information we can get.