Princeton Election Consortium

Innovations in democracy since 2004

Outcome: Biden 306 EV (D+1.2% from toss-up), Senate 50 D (D+1.0%)
Nov 3 polls: Biden 342 EV (D+5.3%), Senate 50-55 D (D+3.9%), House control D+4.6%
Moneyball states: President AZ NE-2 NV, Senate MT ME AK, Legislatures KS TX NC

Alaska, this year’s new swing state?

October 4th, 2020, 9:01am by Zachariah Sippy

CNAlysis ratings of AK House AK House predictions

Alaska is one of the most interesting states this November’s election. Not only is the state competitive in Presidential, Senate, and U.S. House elections, at the state level Democrats are fighting to retain control of the state House and prevent a Republican trifecta.

In 2010, Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska was the first person in more than 50 years to win a Senate election as a write-in candidate. Despite losing the Republican nomination to a Tea Party insurgent candidate, Murkowski managed to win re-election. 

Murkowski is not on the ballot this November, but her story demonstrates the independent, yet engaged nature of Alaskan voters. In fact, Alaska is the state with the highest percentage of unaffiliated voters, more than 58%. 

Since becoming a state in 1959, Alaska has voted for the Republican nominee for president with only one exception (Johnson v. Goldwater in 1964). But with Trump’s disapproval rating in the state consistently north of 50%, it’s just possible that 2020 could break the 14-election streak.

Alaska’s new swingy condition makes its voters unusually valuable. At PEC, we tabulate power of an individual voter to alter the overall probability of an outcome: a Presidential candidate reaching the 270 electoral vote threshold, or a Senate candidate to win the seat.

We currently rank the Last Frontier as the state with the highest voter power for the U.S. Senate. Incumbent Dan Sullivan (R) faces a serious challenge by independent (but Democratic Party-endorsed) Dr. Al Gross. Recent polling has the election essentially tied.

In addition to the closeness of the race, Alaska has very few voters – only around 315,000 in 2016). Consequently, under current conditions a vote in Alaska tends to be about 3 times as powerful as a vote in Maine or South Carolina, and 20 times as powerful as a vote in Colorado, Arizona, or Michigan.

But wait, there’s more: In the U.S. House of Representatives, Alaska’s at-large district has been represented by Don Young since 1973 (he is the longest serving member of Congress). In 2018, Young beat Independent-Democratic challenger Alyse Galvin, but it was his closest race in a decade. Galvin is running against him again, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is investing at least half a million dollars in her campaign. Polling also shows this race as neck and neck.

The U.S. House race also matters for the Presidency. If the Electoral College fails to produce a winner, the House decides. Each state gets one vote. A few key races (Alaska, Montana, and a swing district in Pennsylvania) will decide whether Democrats or Republicans can get 26 out of 50 votes.

But wait, there’s still more! There’s also the state legislature.

On the state level, Alaska has a Republican governor, and state senate, but they do not have unified control. In the House, a combination of 15 Democrats, 2 independents, and 5 disaffected Republicans share the majority in the chamber. In fact, the Speaker of the Alaska State House is an independent, Bryce Edgmon. thinks that the chamber tilts in the Democratic coalition’s favor. Regardless of the result, Alaskans need not worry about gerrymandering, as there is an independent redistricting commission.

Despite the rich array of races, fundraising totals in Alaska have not been especially impressive. A little bit of money can go a long way in a state with extremely small media markets.

Beyond partisan elections, Alaskans voters also face a possibly transformative referendum. Ballot Measure No. 2 would end party primaries, and replace them with a non-partisan process. The top four candidates from the open primary would then advance to a ranked choice election. If the measure passes, Alaska would be the second state (after Maine) to adopt ranked choice voting.

Click to donate to Al Gross or Dan Sullivan‘s campaigns.

Click to donate to Alyse Galvin or Don Young‘s campaigns.

Click to support the Alaska Democratic or Republican parties.

Tags: 2020 Election · House · Moneyball · Politics · President · Senate

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Tom

    Prof. Wang,

    I’m sorry, but I think your Senate recommendations are misleadingly optimistic. Not sure how your calculations work, but they really do diverge from 3 different 538 forecasts.

    It seems clear the 3 close contests, which give Dems their only chance to take the Senate, are ME, NC and IA. Got to take 2 out of 3 of these to get to control. AK,MT,KS are long shots, and likely a waste of money.

    • Sam Wang

      It’s automated and based on polls. I cannot and will not interfere with that process, except in the case where there are no polls.

      The same answer emerges when you look at any polls-only site. For example, see This approach identified the competitive nature of Heidi Heitkamp’s race in 2012.

      The site you mention must weight using an extra factor based on expert evaluations, which can be wrong, especially as the election draws near. I might be more inclined to weight that kind of evaluation more strongly in a midterm year, when polling errors are five times larger than in Presidential years.

      Given where polls are now and the likely amount of movement or polling error, I would expect the November outcome to be anywhere from 50 to 56 Democratic seats.

      50: current, minus Doug Jones (AL), plus NC AZ CO ME. All of those seem pretty likely.

      56: All of the above, plus IA GA KS SC AK MT.

      The second Georgia seat’s tough for Democrats because of the runoff mechanism, when turnout will be lower.

    • grant b

      Tom, I think you are off a bit here. Assuming Doug Jones loses in Ala and Trump is reelected, the Dems would have to flip 5 states:

      Ariz and Colo are two that seems fairly safe for them right now. Maine and NC are very vulnerable as well.

      The fifth state (again only needed if Trump wins) can then from any of Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Alaska, S Carolina (Graham has been begging for money), Georgia, where Ossoff is running neck and neck with Perdue, and Mississippi where Hyde Smith is just a terrible candidate for the GOP and polls show the race statistically tied.

  • ArcticStones

    A huge part of the battle for Alaska’s Senate seat, and every office to be decided by the election, is voter turnout. I have always been stunned at America’s dismal turnout rates.

    I wonder what the 2020 election results might look like if we were to achieve a Scandinavian-level voter participation: 80 % turnout for Democratic voters!


  • tom

    Prof. Wang,

    For Senate races, 538 gives a Lite, polls only, forecast, which also disagrees with your predictions for AK, KS, SC, MT. AZ and CO look good for D’s, ME looks OK, NC is 50/50 and Cunningham’s personal scandal is a negative. Optimistic projections for GA don’t take into account the degree of voter suppression and other forms of GOP cheating that take place routinely. The special election will go to a runoff and Dem voters just don’t come out for those. NC might have similar problems with suppression and cheating. I would encourage people to put money into NC, IA, ME

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