US Election 2020: The states to watch

President Trump and former Vice President Biden have their eyes set on surpassing the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the race to the White House.

But what states will decide who governs America?

Here is The Gower Street Journal’s state-by-state guide as we enter the last hours of one of the most consequential presidential races in American political history.

Key swing states:

We have identified a total of seven states as too close to predict this evening. 

They equate to 105 electoral college votes.

Many expect that it will take weeks for either Biden or Trump to be proclaimed the victor. In the 2000 contest between George W Bush and Al Gore, the narrow win for Republicans in Florida – of 537 votes – was disputed for some time. Eventually, the result of the entire election was taken out of the hands of the voters and given to the Supreme Court.

This time around, it is the coronavirus that has created speculation of a delayed declaration. Some political commentators wonder if either candidate will challenge whether the election was free and fair; however, it would seem that the leading cause for the setback in results in an unprecedented amount of mail-in voting. 

Florida is also important because of how tightly contested it has been. The state represents a large portion of the nation’s electoral college votes. In 2008 and 2012, the sunshine state’s 29 electoral college votes sided with Barack Obama, however, in 2016, this flipped and supported Donald Trump. 

In recent days, the polls have narrowed in Florida and whilst Real Clear Politics’ poll-of-polls puts Biden 0.9 per cent ahead, the President has led in three of the last five polls in his home state.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvania is now considered as the state that will decide who governs America. 

Former Vice President, Joe Biden, was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1942. Usually, this bodes well for presidential hopefuls in their race for the White House.

Even CNN’s political commentators have suggested that the Keystone state will be decisive to tonight. If Trump can carry Pennsylvania he has a clearer path to 270.

But if he is defeated, Biden has blocked his most straight-forward path to re-election and therefore the former Vice President would be expected to replace him in the White House in January.

The President won this two-time Obama state by less than one per cent back in 2016. The polls suggested that Biden would win this time with some ease but since being challenged on oil and fracking support for the Democratic contended has wavered.

Real Clear Politics puts Biden as 1.2 points ahead of the President. Nonetheless, Trump led in three of the last five polls. Earlier in October, Biden’s lead was a staggering 7 per cent.

In 2008, Arizona defied the national trend to support their local presidential candidate, John McCain. However, unlike the other states in this list, Arizona is not a traditional swing state. Between 1952 and 2016 the Republican candidate won in all elections excluding Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996.

In 2016, Arizona was essential to the President’s election bid. He won Arizona’s 11 electoral college votes by less than four per cent. This time around it is again of great significance to the Republican nominee. As of today, opinion polls put the former Vice President ahead by less than a per cent and therefore it is margin of error stuff.

Unlike Arizona, Real Clear Politics has stated that recent polls placing Trump ahead by 0.2 per cent mean that North Carolina has tilted to the Republican column. The state’s fifteen electoral college votes, again, will prove decisive if the President is to close in on re-election. 

The state switched from blue to red in the election of 1968 and since then has only made exceptions for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008. Nonetheless, the race between Biden and Trump in North Carolina is expected to come down to the very last set of ballots.

In Georgia, a state that has voted for the Republican candidate in eight of the last ten elections, the President is projected to hold on narrowly.

The Democratic Party has recently considered Georgia fair game and hopes to challenge the Republicans again in future elections. 

After a few weeks of Biden leading, the President has managed to rescue his polling in the state. He averages a one point lead and in four of the last six polls Trump has been ahead by between one and five percentage points.

Having previously only been up for grabs when the Democrats put forward southern candidates, including Bill Clinton and the former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, it is now being argued that irrespective of whether the President can hold on tonight, the state will become a real swing state in 2024.

Ohio has also been a historic barometer for what America decides. Only two President’s have succeeded in winning the race to 270 without the Buckeye State since 1900. But for the Republicans it is of even greater significance. The only two men to have not needed the support of Ohioans are the icons on Democratic presidential history, Franklin D Roosevelt and John F Kennedy.

President Trump exceeded polling expectations in 2016 to win the state by around eight per cent. In this cycle, it is expected to be even tighter. Real Clear Politics place Donald Trump as just one point ahead of Joe Biden.

In the last week, momentum has seemed to swing behind the President in the state of Iowa. As another Obama-Trump state it is of great significance for the President in his bid for re-election. 

Trump won the state’s six electoral college votes in 2016 by 10 per cent, but his average lead this year has fallen to just 2 per cent.  

Less in play:

There are an additional six states that may tell us a lot about the national swing and, if one candidate overperforms, may become very competitive. 

The President path to 270 in 2016 was in part thanks to his performance in the Rust Belt. Nonetheless, the states on either side of Lake Michigan – Wisconsin and Michigan – have seemed to veer away from Trump.

Having won the two states by less than one per cent, the President is currently down by little over four points. 

Nevertheless, the polls for the Rust Belt states in 2016 were amongst the most inaccurate and given that the President has spent many hours in Michigan over the last few days one could conclude that his internal polls may be a lot tighter in the race to win the state’s 16 electoral college votes than the public ones. 

The final Rust Belt state is Minnesota. Having not voted Republican since 1972 it was no surprise that it was the least likely state in the north to back Trump. That said Trump was able to narrow the Democratic lead from over 10 per cent in 2008 to less than 2 points in 2016.

Excluding 2016 and 1976 Nevada has voted for the candidate that has won the race to 270. The President lost to Secretary Clinton by less than 3 per cent. This time around, polls place Biden 2.4 per cent ahead. 

This may have narrowed in recent weeks because of Trump’s opposition to a lockdown and the state’s, especially Las Vegas’, need for an open economy.

The President made a voting day stop off in the state of Virginia. After forty consecutive years of the state supporting the Republican-candidate, the election of 2008 sparked a change for the state. 

Since then Democrats have come out on top. In 2016, Clinton won the state by 5 points; however, the state remains extremely divided. 

In the counties neighbouring the ultra-conservative state of West Virginia, support for the President reached highs of 80 per cent. 

Nonetheless, in the more densely populated city and suburbs, the Democratic candidate tends to fare much better. 

Current polling expects Biden to extend Clinton’s lead from 2016 to anywhere between 5 and 17 per cent.

Finally, we have the state of Texas. The idea of the Lone Star state going blue has been discussed throughout 2020. 

Trump is currently ahead, albeit narrowly, in all of the poll-of-polls. 

Nonetheless, the state may be up for grabs in 2024, which is little over fifty years since the state last voted for a Democratic hopeful. That time it was the southern governor, Jimmy Carter.

Going, going, gone?

Traditionally, the New England states of New Hampshire and Maine have been considered bellwether states in election years gone by. 

In 2020, this seems to have ended. Polling in both states, however, is far less narrow. The President is expected to lose Maine and New Hampshire by around 10 per cent. 

Clinton narrowly edged Maine by around 20,000 votes in 2016. However, the state has been moving away from the Republicans in presidential races for some time, and the state has not turned red since George H W Bush defeated Micheal Dukakis in 1988.

In the neighbouring state of New Hampshire, the story is similar. Trump lost out on the additional four electoral college votes by less than 3,000. Nonetheless, the President sufficiently narrowed the gap for the Republicans who had not won the state since George Bush’s first success in 2000.

For the fine margins:

In the unlikely, but not impossible scenario, that both candidates are edging closer and closer to 269 electoral college votes, the singular votes from Maine and Nebraska’s second congressional districts may be enough to tip one candidate past the number of votes required. 

The President won both in 2016. 

In Maine’s second district, Trump won by double-digits. However, recent polling has put the race on a knife-edge.

In Nebraska’s second congressional district, a race that the President won by little more than 2 per cent in 2016, there have only been two opinion polls. The Emerson and Siena polls put Biden ahead by between three and seven points.

Trump’s road to re-election:

The President will look to re-establish his 2016 route to 270 electoral college votes. 

In an election that shocked the world, Trump was able to foster a coalition of voters that stretched from the Republican-leaning Sun Belt states to the historically Democratic Rust Belt.

He won 306 electoral college votes. 

Real Clear Politics have shown that since the second debate in Nashville, Tennessee polling across the swing states has narrowed drastically. 

And while Biden’s national lead, of around 7.2 per cent, is more than double the polling lead Hillary Clinton had the day before the American people went to the polls in 2016, the polling aggregates in swing states are not too dissimilar to those in the last election.

In fact, in the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, three states that narrowly voted Trump in 2016, the polling averages are almost identical to those in 2016.

However, Real Clear Politics is also predicting that Joe Biden will win the race to the White House by 319 electoral college votes to 219. 

Their prediction has suggested that Trump will lose the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and Nebraska’s second district.

Therefore, for the President to win, he would need to ensure, at a minimum, that he retains Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania. The “Sun Belt plus Pennsylvania” strategy has been touted by many commentators, including Frank Luntz, as Trump’s most evident and possible path to power. 

Biden’s multiple paths to 270:

As they did in 2016, almost all polling companies are putting the Democratic nominee as the clear front-runner. 

And the former Vice President, in a repeat of Hillary Clinton’s predicted paths, has several roads to power. 

Whereas the President cannot afford to lose key swing states, Biden can, as Bill Clinton did in 1992, lose a state like Florida and still win the race to 270.

If Biden is, as expected, able to eke out results in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada then he will only need to flip a state like North Carolina or Georgia to replace President Trump at the White House. 

However, with Biden leading in Arizona and Florida, and only trailing narrowly in states like Ohio and Texas, the former Vice President has multiple roads to the White House.

Who will win?

No idea. 

All I do know is that we are in for a very long night.

By J Walters

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