The Battleground States That Will Shape the Election

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

New polling shows Joe Biden trailing Donald Trump in five out of six key swing states. Voters there say they want change—which presents a challenge for the candidate who won in 2020 on the promise of normalcy.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:


The Battleground States

Michigan and Nevada are two very different places. As are Pennsylvania and Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia. Still, these six states share a quality of enormous consequence: They wield massive electoral influence because their voters tend to waffle on their political preferences. In swing states, a suburb here, a county there—totaling perhaps a few hundred thousand votes—may be enough to decide who will become the next president.

Earlier this week, a new set of polls from The New York Times, Siena College, and The Philadelphia Inquirer found that, among registered voters, Donald Trump leads Joe Biden in five swing states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania), and Biden is ahead only in Wisconsin. In 2020, Biden carried all six of those battleground states, which helped him clinch the election. Though he doesn’t need every single one this time—wins in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, for example, could help get him to 270 electoral votes—the polling signals some glaring challenges for his campaign in the months to come.

Americans are divided on policy issues—especially when it comes to the economy and Israel’s war in Gaza. But abortion is an issue that will resonate across the country at every level of the ballot, my colleague David Graham told me. And it’s one area where Democrats clearly “have an edge.”

The polling also gestured at a sweeping sense of dissatisfaction among 70 percent of respondents, who said that they want major changes in America’s political and economic system, or for it to be torn down entirely. And they don’t seem to think that Biden—who promised in 2020 a presidency steeped in normalcy—can bring that. Voters are divided on whether Trump would bring good or bad changes, but an overwhelming majority of them believe that he would indeed shake up (or tear down) our country’s political and economic system.

“If the election is a referendum on Biden, he’s clearly in trouble,” David told me. Here’s a look at the swing states and some of the issues that matter most to their voters.

Arizona

Arizona has voted Republican in all but a few presidential elections in recent decades, and its MAGA presence—though diminished in the 2022 midterms—is strong. Biden won the state by just 10,000 votes in 2020, and Trump has used this slim margin of victory to push his disproven claim that the election was stolen. Recent polling shows that the state is leaning heavily toward Trump, and Republicans are banking on people voting red in response to the rising cost of living and immigration. But abortion will be another significant concern; some Arizonans were up in arms last month after the state’s supreme court reinstated a Civil War–era law that banned most abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest. The governor has since signed a repeal of the ban—but abortion access will likely remain top of mind for some voters.

Michigan

Biden won Michigan by a smaller margin than expected in 2020, and a new confluence of factors is making his prospects there shaky. Times/Siena polling found that Biden was trending slightly ahead of Trump among likely voters, but trailing behind among registered voters. Voters in the state are worried about inflation and the economy. And as my colleague Ronald Brownstein wrote earlier this month, Biden has been “whipsawed by defections among multiple groups Democrats rely on, including Arab Americans, auto workers, young people, and Black Americans” in Michigan. About 13 percent of voters (some 100,000 people) in the state’s February Democratic primary voted “uncommitted” in protest of Biden’s handling of Gaza, signaling that Gaza is on the minds of voters in the state, which has the largest percentage of Arab Americans in the country. Adding to the mix is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has managed to get on the state ballot and could inject uncertainty into the race and siphon votes from the major candidates.

Georgia

This bedrock of modern suburban conservatism delivered a victory for Biden in 2020, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992. The triumph was a surprise in some ways. But it was also the culmination of a years-long crusade championed by Stacey Abrams, a former state representative, to turn the state blue. In 2020, Biden won over a coalition of voters in Georgia that included Black and Hispanic voters, suburban moderates, and young people—and he will need to try to retain their support even as their enthusiasm falters.

In a state with a restrictive six-week abortion ban, more than half of polled voters said that they thought abortion should be mostly or always legal, and issues including the economy and immigration were among their top concerns. Currently, Trump and his associates are also charged in Georgia with conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election, though it isn’t clear whether their trial will take place before the election is over.

Nevada

A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won Nevada in 20 years, but voters in the state, which has a large Latino population, are favoring Trump in recent polling. Although Biden had managed to garner support in the Sun Belt in 2020, Nevada’s economy relies on tourism and hospitality, meaning that issues such as high inflation and unemployment are on voters’ minds. The Times/Siena polls found that a large share of registered voters in the state said they trusted Trump to “do a better job” on the economy than Biden. (Though the state is notoriously difficult to survey, in part because many people there are transient and work unusual hours.)

Wisconsin

Trump won this Rust Belt state in 2016—before losing ground in the traditionally conservative areas such as Green Bay and the Milwaukee suburbs that helped deliver a win to Biden in 2020. The economy is a key issue for Wisconsin voters. And abortion may be pivotal, too: Republican lawmakers approved a controversial bill in January that would ban the procedure after 14 weeks, with exceptions for rape and incest. As Ronald noted in The Atlantic, the election of a liberal state-supreme-court judge in last November’s closely watched race could signal that broader voter support for legalized abortion “has accelerated the recoil from the Trump-era GOP.” That could bode well for Biden, but it will be a tight race: He eked ahead there among polled registered voters in the Times/Siena surveys, though he trailed slightly behind Trump among likely voters.

Pennsylvania

In the 2020 election, Biden’s win in his home state pushed him over the 270 mark. Pennsylvania has 19 electoral votes, making it important to capture this time around. On his recent visits, Biden has tried to drill down on kitchen-table issues and burnish his blue-collar, all-American “Scranton Joe” image, my colleague John Hendrickson reported last month. To target working-class voters, Biden is focusing on taxes and attempting to draw a contrast with his opponent, whom he portrays as a friend to the rich. Registered voters in the state said that the economy was a top issue, along with abortion and immigration. It’s unclear whether they will coalesce around their hometown politician after going for Trump in 2016 and now showing RFK-curiosity in some areas. Among registered voters, Biden currently trails Trump by a small margin.

Related:


Today’s News

  1. House Speaker Mike Johnson visited Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York and lambasted Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who was on his second day of testimony.
  2. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on an unannounced visit to affirm U.S. support for Ukraine and promise more weapons shipments, as Russia ramps up its attacks on Ukraine’s northeastern border.
  3. A bus carrying farm workers crashed on a Florida highway, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens more, according to officials.

Evening Read

An illustration featuring a broken framed photo of a youth ice hockey team.
Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Russell Bull / Star Tribune / Getty.

The Sad Fate of the Sports Parent

By Rich Cohen

A true sports parent dies twice. There’s the death that awaits us all at the end of a long or short life, the result of illness, misadventure, fire, falling object, hydroplaning car, or derailing train. But there is also the death that comes in the midst of life, the purgatorial purposelessness that follows the final season on the sidelines or in the bleachers, when your sports kid hangs up their skates, cleats, or spikes after that last game.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic


Culture Break

A crumpled up piece of yellow paper that reads "The Atlantic Good on Paper"
The Atlantic

Listen. The trailer for Good on Paper, a new Atlantic podcast (out on June 4) hosted by Jerusalem Demsas, who questions what we really know about the narratives driving public conversation.

Discover. American Bloods: The Untamed Dynasty That Shaped a Nation, by the philosophy professor John Kaag, traces the little-known Blood dynasty and what it reveals about the nation’s wild spirit.

Play our daily crossword.


Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

Explore all of our newsletters here.

When you buy a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

The Atlantic

Leave a Reply