With just two weeks left before Election Day, pollsters are beginning to focus on states that are close in both the presidential and Senate races. At the moment, that means Georgia, Iowa, and North Carolina: all states where Biden has a lead of two or less points in the RealClearPolitics polling averages, and where there are Senate contests that will play a large role in determining who controls the upper chamber in 2021.
Georgia, with two Senate races (one a reelection bid by a Republican incumbent, David Perdue, and the other a special election in which an appointed interim Republican senator faces a huge field of rivals from both parties), is obviously getting a lot of attention. The RCP averages show Biden up by 1.2 percent in the state, which hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential election since 1992. In the regular Senate race, Perdue leads Democrat Jon Ossoff in the averages by just under one percent. In the special-election race, where appointed senator Kelly Loeffler is being challenged from the right by Congressman Doug Collins and from the left by Democrat Raphael Warnock, polls are showing Warnock beginning to pull away after consolidating the Democratic vote. But his support is well below the level needed to avoid a January runoff, with Loeffler and her huge bankroll battling Collins for the second runoff spot.
New Georgia polling from the gold-standard New York Times–Siena College outfit shows how the state has become a barn burner at every level. A survey of likely voters taken from October 13 through October 19 shows Biden and Trump tied at 45 percent and Perdue and Ossoff tied at 43 percent (with a Libertarian receiving 4 percent, which could throw this race into a January runoff as well, since Georgia law requires a majority for general-election victories). For the special Senate election, a trial runoff heat shows Warnock leading either Loeffler or Collins by an identical 45-41 margin; Loeffler has a five-point lead over Collins in the first round.
Similarly, another highly regarded polling outfit, ABC–Washington Post, has a new poll of North Carolina likely voters taken from October 12 through October 17 that shows a statistical dead heat in both the presidential and Senate races. In the presidential race, Biden leads Trump 49-48, while Republican senator Thom Tillis trails challenger Cal Cunningham 47-49. Different questions in the Georgia and North Carolina polls provide slightly different perspectives on similar regional characteristics that aren’t quite found in northern battleground states: The Times-Siena poll shows Trump leading by a massive 76-18 margin among white non-college-educated voters in Georgia and among seniors by a solid 51-41 margin, while the ABC-WaPo survey shows Trump leading Biden 67-29 among white non-college-educated voters and also 82-17 among white Evangelicals, who make up nearly a third of the electorate.
In Iowa, Biden leads Trump in the RCP averages by 1.2 percent, while Democrat Theresa Greenfield leads incumbent Republican Joni Ernst by 4.8 percent. The most recent public survey, from CBS’s Battleground Tracker poll, shows Biden and Trump tied at 49 percent among likely voters, while Greenfield leads Ernst 47-42. Earlier this month, a Quinnipiac University poll (an outfit that has been showing stronger Democratic performance than many other pollsters) had Biden and Greenfield leading Trump and Ernst by identical 50-45 margins among likely voters. In sharp contrast to the southern polls, the Quinnipiac survey of Iowa showed Biden and Trump (and, for that matter, Greenfield and Ernst) running even among white voters without college degrees and both Democrats having a big lead among seniors (Biden leading Trump 61-36 and Greenfield leading Ernst 58-38).
If Biden hangs on to win all three of these states, it would likely push his Electoral College margin well above a majority; the presidential race is more likely to be won and lost in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida (the three “tipping point” states most likely to get the winner to 270 electoral votes, according to FiveThirtyEight). But any of these four Senate races could either produce the 50th senator for Democrats or help the Senate GOP narrowly maintain control. And it remains entirely possible that party control will be determined in January, when Georgia voters go back to the polls for one, and perhaps two, Senate runoffs.