Swing states: what you need to know

By Theo Burman

No one cares about California. No one cares about Kentucky. No one will be watching the exit polls for Wyoming with baited breath on election night. All that matters are the swing states — the ones that could go either way. 

First, we need to establish where each candidate stands heading into election night. Based on both historical voting behaviour and polling, most states can already be called for either candidate, with only a few actually impacting the road to 270 electoral college votes. 

Most states have already been decided by historical precedent and strong polling. Biden will have locked in 18 states, DC, and Maine’s first district. Trump will have secured 20 states and two of Nebraska’s districts. It would require a cosmic shift in the electorate to move any of these 347 votes. Biden goes into November 3rd with a strong bank of 222 and high polling numbers in the most important swing states. Trump goes in with a not-insignificant 125 and a prayer that the polling is wrong. All that’s left are the ones to watch: Texas, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Ohia, and one district each from Maine and Nebraska, who divide their votes by congressional District. 

Something that is really important to understand is that the states don’t exist in a vacuum. Certain states can be grouped together due to their similarities, and if one of them goes one way, that’s a pretty big indicator for how the other states in the group will go. First and foremost, we have the rust belt states. 

The Rustbelt 

This is a collection of states in the Midwest defined by a drastic industrial decline in the 1970s. The rustbelt encompasses a whole bunch of states, including hper-partisans like Indiana and Maryland, but when it comes to elections, all eyes are on Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. These states are united by a high white working-class population, and together give 46 electoral college votes, enough to take Biden over 270. Even if Ohio, the reddest of the rustbelt, goes to Trump once again, Biden can still win the other three for 268 votes, meaning he only needs two more votes, which could come from the Sunbelt. 

The Sunbelt 

Stretching across the bottom of the US and defined by aging populations, The Sunbelt will also be the earliest indicator of how the night will go. Polls in Florida close at 12GMT, meaning it’ll be the first swing state to have a winner projected. This, more than anything else, will tell us if the polls are correct. Currently, most pollsters predict Biden to win Florida, despite Trump winning it in 2016. If that really happens, we can all go to bed early, because Biden winning Florida means three things. First, it means he won a state dominated by both elderly and minority voters, chipping away at core parts of Trump’s coalition. Secondly, it means Arizona and Nevada, the other sunbelt swingers, will also likely go Blue, bringing Biden to 258 before any others are called. Thirdly, and most importantly, it means the polls are right. It means there is no secret trump voter, there is no polling error, and Biden will get upwards of 400 EC votes.

Texas and Georgia 

These two are weird. They’ve been conservative bastions for quite some time, but demographic change combined with traditional values that Trump doesn’t quite match means they’re in play for the first time. When push comes to shove, they’ll probably vote for Trump again, but it’ll be worth keeping an eye on Georgia. Like Florida, polls close at midnight GMT, and the vote margin in a formerly deep red state will be a strong indicator of how the night will go.

Image: Ian Mulvany via Flickr

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