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US Election: Your guide to the key swing states Trump and Biden are targeting

There’s just a few days left until the US Presidential Election.

DUE TO THE way the United States of America votes in presidential elections, the result usually hinges on just a small number of the 50 states across the country.

That’s down two things: the electoral college system and the usual voting demographics in the US.

To put it simply, the electoral college is the system which allocates a candidate votes based on who wins what State. It means that – in most States – whoever wins the most votes in that State gets all the electoral college votes from the State.

Take California. It has 55 “electors” in its electoral college. So even if, say Joe Biden, was to win that state by a solitary vote, he’d get all 55 electoral college votes. 

There are 538 electoral college votes up for grabs so, to win the election, you need to hit the magic number of 270 in the electoral college. 

Let’s go back to California again. Joe Biden will win those 55 electoral college votes. It’s almost inconceivable that he won’t win this state, which has been a safe Democrat state since 1992. Hillary Clinton got almost double the votes that Trump did in California in 2016.

There are states like this across the US that are almost certain to go for Biden or for Trump, based on historical precedent and the opinion polls. But there are also states that frequently switch from Republican to Democrat and vice versa between elections. 

And so – like elections gone by – it’ll be those vital swing states where the election will be decided. 

Here’s a look at a few of the key ones, how the race there is looking and what to look out for on election night.

Florida

Florida has 29 electoral college votes. In the past, such as the tight 2000 race between George W Bush and Al Gore, it has been the state where the election has been decided.

Winning Florida can be absolutely crucial. In two of the last three elections the Democrats have lost, winning this state would have turned the tide.

Trump won Florida in 2016 and has been visiting the state frequently on the campaign trail. He also refers to it as his “home state” because of his Mar-a-Lago property he frequently visits. 

early-voting-in-florida-miami People leave after casting their vote in Miami Source: Miami Herald/ABACA/PA Images

Republicans are mounting a fierce defence here, with Democrats accusing them of suppressing the vote, particularly in communities of colour.

The state’s huge Latino population will be key, and polls show them aligned with the Democratic ticket less than in 2016.

At the same time, polls also show seniors swinging away from Trump because of his handling of the pandemic.

Most experts say Florida is a Trump firewall; if it’s breached, Trump likely loses the White House.

u-s-president-donald-j-trump-campaigns-in-pensacola-florida Trump at a rally in Pensacola, Florida last week Source: Dan Anderson/PA Images

This state is usually quite prompt at delivering its results so this will be one to watch early on election night, with early voting so far signalling an advantage for Biden.

The polls currently have Biden ahead (just) in this state for now on 49.0% compared to Trump’s 47.0%*. It’s still clearly all to play for here. 

Pennsylvania 

Pennsylvania has 20 electoral college votes. 

Like in Florida, Trump has been making numerous appearances in Pennsylvania as he tries to secure support again in a crucial state that he won in 2016. 

Here, there is a large rural-urban divide in terms of the voting, with those in the cities much more likely to vote Biden than Trump. 

Biden is counting on these voters in the big cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to get over the line here.

However, Trump’s campaign has mobilised and are all over the state including city suburbs where they’re canvassing door-to-door. He’s hoping that the poll numbers aren’t including the so-called “hidden voters” that don’t want to admit to supporting him. 

Huge numbers of people have voted early in Pennsylvania, leading to fears there could be delays in counting the ballots in the state on election night.

election-2020-joe-biden Source: Patrick Semansky/PA Images

A legal battle over the deadline for mail in ballots has made things murkier in the Keystone State, and the mail in ballots more favoured by Biden supporters could mean that early results from the state don’t give us the full picture.

Nevertheless, it’s likely that whoever takes this key state will win the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The latest polls have Biden in the lead here, on 50.3% compared with Trump’s 45.0%. 

Michigan

Michigan has 16 electoral college votes.

It narrowly tipped for Trump in 2016 and is being fiercely contested this year.

Trump has visited the Great Lakes state to argue he is ushering in an American comeback, but voters are concerned about the coronavirus’ impact on the economy and the president’s response to the pandemic.

Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has clashed repeatedly with the president and the lockdowns in the state have angered conservatives.

Gun-toting protestors staged demonstrations outside the state capital this summer and members of a right-wing group were arrested recently for plotting to kidnap the governor.

kamala-harris-michigan-likely-to-decide-next-president Gretchen Whitmer was the victim of a recent kidnapping conspiracy plot Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Trump has continued to stoke opposition against the Democrats in Michigan and, despite his successful appeals to blue-collar workers in a state where manufacturing has declined in 2016, he faces an uphill battle this time around.

This is one you could categorise as a must-win for Biden, and is one of the so-called Blue Wall which also includes Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that he needs to try win back.

The latest polls give Biden an almost eight-point lead in Michigan, on 50.7% to Trump’s 42.6%.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin has 10 electoral college votes.

To her cost, Hillary Clinton never campaigned in Wisconsin in 2016. And the voters punished her for it. The previously safe Democrat state turned to Trump that time, although by a very small margin. 

This year, the Democrats had their national convention – although moved online due to the pandemic – in Wisconsin.

The city of Kenosha in the state has also been one of the lightning rods for unrest in recent times after police shot black man Jacob Blake in August.

Biden currently has a lead here too according to opinion polls, on around 51.7% compared to Trump’s 43.2%. 

Iowa

Iowa has just six electoral college votes, and is another swing state that appears too close to call. 

Trump won here easily four years ago but it’s looking a lot closer this time. 

He held a a campaign rally in Iowa earlier this month, a sign he is playing defence in a state he had been expected to win.

Going by the polling this defensive strategy may yet be enough, with Trump still in with a chance to narrowly win out over Biden here.

The current opinion polls have Trump on 46.1% to Biden’s 47.6%. 

Ohio

Ohio has 18 electoral college votes.

It frequently switches between the Republicans and Democrats when choosing a president (often picking the eventual winner), and this year it is expected to be close here.

No one has won Ohio but lost the overall election since Richard Nixon in 1960. In the past 60 years, if you win Ohio, you win the White House. A win for Biden here would be a key victory in the race.

Currently polling has Trump just under two points ahead of Biden, on 48.1% to 46.3%.

North Carolina

North Carolina has 15 electoral college votes.

This traditionally conservative state went to Trump by three points four years ago but both parties acknowledge it is now too close to call. 

North Carolina’s governor Roy Cooper is a popular Democrat who has won praise for his balanced response to the pandemic.

donald-trump-campaigning-at-lancaster-airport-in-pennsylvania President Donald Trump campaigning at Lancaster Airport in Pennyslvania Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Republicans based their national convention here, although it ended up being largely online.

This state is seen as an absolutely must-hold for Trump if he is to win the election but the opinion polls suggest he may be in trouble here. 

Biden is currently on 49.1% compared to Trump’s 46.9%.

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Arizona

Arizona has 11 electoral college votes.

It has been a Republican stronghold for decades, but its electorate is changing, with a growing Latino community and an influx of more liberal Californians.

Conservative voters appreciate Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration and build a wall on the border with Mexico.

But Trump has hurt his prospects by repeatedly denigrating the late senator John McCain, who represented Arizona and still looms large over its politics. McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, has endorsed Biden.

The polls have an almost four-point lead for Biden at this stage, and losing this state would do serious harm to Trump’s hopes this year.

Biden stands at 48.9% and Trump is on 45.4%. 

Georgia

Georgia has 16 electoral college votes, and is another state with a rural-urban divide when it comes to voting.

A Democrat has not won a presidential race in Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992 but it has been trending Democratic in recent years.

fl-democratic-vice-presidential-nominee-kamala-harris-campaigns-in-miami Biden supporters in Florida Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Trump has held rallies here in recent weeks, an indication he may be on shaky ground there. It’s one he really can’t afford to lose.

Again, the latest polls has Biden in the lead here – just – 48.2% to 46.8%. It’ll be all to play for when the votes come to be counted. 

What else to look for

Despite Democrat hopes, the opinion polls say that Biden will not win Texas – which has voted Republican in every election since 1980.

It would be have to be a serious defeat for Trump nationally for Texas to flip and, with 38 electoral college votes, would almost guarantee he can’t retain the White House. 

An early result from Florida should give an indication of which way the election has gone. If Biden wins, it could mean he’s on his way to a comfortable victory. If Trump wins Florida, however, it could mean we’ve a very tight race which potentially could be contested. 

However, after a recent Supreme Court decision allowing longer deadlines for absentee ballots in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, it could mean that we don’t have definitive results from some of the most important battlegrounds for a number of days after the election. 

Both candidates will continue to journey around these crucial states in the coming days hoping to secure some last-minute votes. 

*all polling data was obtained from FiveThirtyEight.com

Planning on staying up late on Tuesday to watch the results roll in? TheJournal.ie will be liveblogging through the night to bring you all the developments as they happen. Our team of reporters and columnists will be breaking down what the results mean (and what happens next) from well before dawn on Wednesday morning.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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