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Today's the day as America decides between Trump and Biden - Here's everything you need to know

TheJournal.ie will be providing all the updates, insights and analysis for election night tonight.

Image: PA Images

TODAY IS A momentous day across the Atlantic as the American public (well, the ones who haven’t voted already) go to the polls in the US Presidential Election. 

Over 90 million Americans have already cast their vote in the race between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and his Democrat rival Joe Biden with turnout expected to exceed the 136 million who voted in 2016.

The opinion polls have consistently pointed to a Biden win, but Trump will be hoping he can retain those key states he won over four years ago when he beat Hillary Clinton to the presidency.

TheJournal.ie will be with you overnight this evening as our team brings you all the latest updates, insights and analysis from the US Presidential Election.

The battlegrounds

Tens of millions of people are voting across the 50 states, but who the actual winner is will come down to the results in a small number of states. 

Each state has a number of electoral college votes allocated. In almost all cases, if you win the state, you win all of those electoral college votes. 

election-2020-trump Trump at a rally in Georgia on Sunday Source: Brynn Anderson AP/PA Images

To win the election, either Trump or Biden will need to reach 270 electoral votes. 

And it’s those states that frequently switch between Republican and Democrat that will decide the election. 

There are two states, in particular, where all eyes will be focused – Florida and Pennsylvania.

Florida has 29 electoral college votes and Pennyslvania has 20. 

Based on the current projections, it appears that Trump absolutely must win Florida if he is to have any chance of retaining the presidency. 

Early on election night 2016, news of a win for Trump in Florida set the tone as he began to beat Hillary in all the vital states. 

Between them, those 49 electoral college votes would go some way towards winning the White House, but Biden could afford to lose Florida if he was to win back the so-called Blue Wall – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Other important places to watch are Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia.

It’s important to note that the way the counting may go for all these states may not be giving the most accurate picture during election night.

The counting is done differently depending on the state so the mail-in ballots that are expected to favour Biden may not be factored into initial counting. This could happen in the likes of Pennyslvania.

Axios reported on Sunday that Trump has told confidants he’ll declare victory if it looks like he’s “ahead” in a number of the important swing states, even if all of the votes haven’t yet been counted.

It’s important to note that Trump has denied that he would do this, but also told reporters at the weekend that it’s a “terrible thing” that we “can’t know the results of an election the night of the election”. 

The polls

Nationally, Joe Biden has consistently led Donald Trump for months.

According to an average of polls collated by FiveThirtyEight.com, Biden has an 8.5 point lead on 52% to Trump’s 43.5%. 

However, this national lead will count for little on election day. As indicated above, it’s those crucial swing states where the election will be decided.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton received more votes than Trump did, but the latter won the key states needed to win the election. 

shutterstock_1842180040 Source: Shutterstock/Dimitrios Karamitros

Biden leads the way in many of these states, but Trump has been making some gains and, of course, it is entirely possible the polls are wrong. 

Here’s what way the polls in those swing states currently look heading into election day:

  • Florida (29 electoral college votes) – Biden (48.8%), Trump (46.6%)
  • Pennsylvania (20) – Biden (50.2%), Trump (45.1%)
  • Michigan (16) – Biden (51.2%), Trump (43.0%)
  • Iowa (6) – Trump (47.4%), Biden (45.8%)
  • Ohio (18) – Trump (47.4%), Biden (47.2%)
  • Wisconsin (10) – Biden (51.9%), Trump (44%)
  • North Carolina (15) – Biden (48.7%), Trump (46.8%)
  • Arizona (11) – Biden (48.8%), Trump (45.8%)
  • Georgia (16) – Biden (48.1%), Trump (47.2%)

If – and this is a big if – these polls were correct, Biden would easily win the election. If Trump was to take Florida and at least six of the remaining eight states on the above list, that’d be his route to victory. 

The timings

The first main thing to look out for is what times the polls close in the individual states. 

A large number of states – including Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan – close their polls between 1am and 2am Irish time. 

As mentioned, different states have different methods of counting postal ballots so we can expect to see a sharp divergence in when we begin to see initial results from states. 

Florida will be the one to watch early in the night as, along with Arizona, it has already been processing the mail-in ballots that have been sent in. 

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania could take quite a while – perhaps even days – to give us results as they don’t start counting the mail-ints until election day. Such a deluge of mail-ins due to the Covid-19 pandemic brings an unprecedented situation so it’s difficult to be sure of timings here. 

It’ll be important not to be duped into thinking a state – or even the entire race – is going a certain way based on early tallies – particularly in states that are slower to count their mail-in ballots.

As opposed to the kinds of national exit polls we would see in elections here and in the UK, networks and news outlets in the US make projections on who they believe the winner is. 

election-2020-biden Source: Andrew Harnik/PA Images

They do this using sophisticated models to estimate who is winning based on all the available data. When enough data becomes available, an outlet will then declare a winner in that state. 

In 2016, for example, the Associated Press called Pennysylvania for Trump at around 6.30am Irish time meaning that he was about to pass the 270 electoral votes needed. 

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Given the uncertainty, networks may be conservative in calling states and the overall race – unless it becomes clear early on it’s a landslide.

What happens next

Counting may take days – or even weeks – to definitively give us a winner. But we could also have a winner by tomorrow morning. 

A US presidential election during a pandemic – with all the complexities involved – has no parallel in living memory.

And this has been a presidential race unlike any in living memory given – unlike in 2016 – we’ve actually had four years to see what a Donald Trump presidency is like. 

Given how Trump has repeatedly sought to cast doubt on the validity of mail-in ballots, the possibility remains that he may dispute the result if it doesn’t go his way.

This would lead to a completely unprecedented situation which would leave the US in a constitutional crisis and potentially cause significant civil unrest.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that a tumultuous few days and weeks are ahead in America.

After the months of lead up, the day is finally here.

And the whole world is watching. 

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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