As we approach this year’s election, excitement is at fever pitch. Nobody can be sure which way it will go. What we do know is that when it comes down to it, the result will depend on the choices made by just a few thousand voters in key states. Most of them are red just now, but could they turn blue? On the night, these will be the ones to watch.
Donald Trump took Florida in 2016 by just 1.2% (112.911 votes), but the state’s turbulent political history suggests that there’s no guarantee he can hang onto that majority. As the biggest hitter of all the swing states – only twice in its history has the candidate it voted for lost – it’s currently getting a lot of political attention. It has traditionally favored Republicans or Southerners (Trump was born in New York and Biden in Pennsylvania). Still, if Joe Biden can win over its growing Hispanic population, he may have the edge. It’s also possible that the Democrats will benefit from changes in the law that allow most convicted felons, provided they have served their sentences, to recover their voting rights.
Florida has 29 votes in the Electoral College.
One of the big stories of the 2016 election, and the moment when Democrats began to realize that they might have lost, was Donald Trump taking Pennsylvania by 0.7% (44,292 votes). This time around, however, native-born Joe Biden could have the advantage. He enjoys personal popularity in the state, and although it has historically shown a slight preference for red over blue, its favored brand of Republicanism is a moderate one. Trump’s tendency toward divisiveness has not gone down well in a community with strong leanings toward the sort of consensus-building politics advocated by No Labels, which seeks to connect people cross-party on issues where much-needed progress would otherwise be slow.
Pennsylvania has 20 votes in the Electoral College.
Ohio, which Donald Trump won by 8.1% (446,841 votes) in 2016, may look pretty secure, but appearances can be deceptive. It has significantly more registered Republicans than Democrats and the former also tend to be older, which any psephologist will tell you means, overall, that they’re more likely to make an effort to cast their votes. There’s a flip side to that, however – once those older voters reach their twilight years, physical or mental decline often means that they stop voting, so the state could swing back the other way. Polling currently shows the two main parties are neck and neck. With Ohio picking the winning candidate every year since 1964, it’s a state where nobody wants to come second.
Ohio has 18 votes in the Electoral College.
An extremely narrow victory of just 0.3% (10,704 votes) by Donald Trump in 2016 means that it’s difficult to predict which way Michigan would jump, but at present, Joe Biden has a healthy lead in the polls. Its socially liberal tendencies may skew it against Trump’s particular brand of Republicanism. In 2016 he benefited from strong support from people working in manufacturing, but uncertainties about the post-pandemic economic recovery mean those votes are now uncertain. Manufacturing excepted, the state’s large urban population would tend to weigh against him, and likewise its large population of people of color. There are also strong indications that liberal voters who stayed away last time because they didn’t like Hillary Clinton are more likely to turn out this time.
Michigan has 16 votes in the Electoral College.
Although Donald Trump took Georgia by a reasonably comfortable 5.1% (211, 141 votes) margin in 2016, the major parties there are currently polling 50% each, making the peach state too close to call. Though its old Southern values have shifted somewhat in recent years due to an influx of new industries and new ideas, it remains socially conservative, and most of its congressional districts went Republican in the midterms. The result, however, could come down to something simpler: studies show that Democrat voters are much more likely to engage with postal voting than Republican supporters. If pandemic-related concerns disrupt traditional voting arrangements, Democrats seem more likely to cast their ballots so that an extended blue shift could swing it. With campaign advisors from both parties keenly aware of this, you can be sure that they have Georgia on their minds.
Georgia has 16 votes in the Electoral College.
If all this looks like bad news for the incumbent, bear this in mind: not only do the above states remain uncertain, but states like Colorado, which turned blue last time, might yet shift in the other direction. The only thing we can say with any certainty is that it’s going to be a dramatic night – or, if it goes to the wire, a dramatic week.