This is it. Tomorrow, the most powerful country in the world will choose its next president. Either incumbent President Donald Trump will win a second term, or former Vice-President Joe Biden will become the forty-sixth President. Although there is unlikely to be a clear result on the night itself, this is how 3 November 2020 should unfold.
Their Roads to Two-Seventy
In many ways, the national popular vote in American elections is largely irrelevant. But, bar a biblical polling error, Biden will win the popular vote by a significantly larger margin than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. The final polls are averaging out at a Biden lead of 8.5%, a 1.2% fall from last week. This is why Biden’s path to the White House is still so much easier than Trump’s is. Trump must win every state and district currently in play, plus Pennsylvania. If Trump does not win one of the smaller swing states like Iowa, six votes, or Arizona, eleven votes, then he must pull off upsets in New Hampshire, four votes, Nevada, six votes, or Maine State-Wide, two votes.
The Swing States
Final polling has Biden holding fairly steady at 3.1%. The Grand Canyon State, eleven votes, has only gone blue twice since the end of WW2: 1948 and 1996. In 2016, Trump carried Arizona on plurality-only. But the scale of the shift towards blue this time around is surprising. Strong turnouts in rural areas, the city of Tucson and in the deeply-Catholic border regions might well cause an upset. But polling has been consistent: Biden has a small but steady lead.
The mother of all swing states, Florida, twenty-nine votes, is normally extremely tight. This might well be why neither Team Trump nor Team Biden believed polling that stated that Biden was on course for a strong finish in the Sunshine State. This week, Biden’s lead fell by 1.1%, down to 2.2%. This close to an election, this is still a healthy lead by Floridian standards, but it is within the margin of error. A stronger-than-expected turnout by elderly voters and a good showing by Republican Hispanic voters could easily tip Florida. As all postal ballots must be received no later than Election Day, Florida is one of the few swing states where a result can be expected on the night. In 2016, Trump won Florida on plurality-only. This could well happen again for whomever is the final victor.
One of the more unexpected battlegrounds in this election, Biden’s lead in the once-ruby-red Peach State, sixteen votes, increased by 0.4% this week, up to 1.7%. Many voters in the Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta suburbs and spillover towns are lending their votes to the Democrats. The drive to encourage voters to do this has been quite incredible. Biden has been in the lead there throughout early voting. As his lead is now only increasing going into 3 November, it is likely that Georgia could turn blue.
The Hawkeye State, six votes, is now too close to call. Biden’s lead in the state is gone. This week, Iowa had another massive swing, this time to a Trump lead of 1.6%. Trump led when postal ballots were being distributed. Biden went into the lead as early voting got underway. Now, Trump is once again leading going into Election Day. With the Iowan sands shifting this rapidly, it is tough to call the state one way or the other. As such, Iowa is now a toss-up. It is unclear who, if anyone, has an advantage there.
The Pine Tree State splits its four votes. Maine First, one vote, is likely to strongly back Biden, so strongly, in fact, that he is also on course to win Maine’s two state-wide votes. As for Maine Second, one vote, it has been under-polled. The district has seen some massive swings in both directions, to the point where it is somewhat unclear what is actually happening on the ground there. Currently, Biden leads by 3% in the district, a fall of 1% from last week. Maine Second is one to watch as almost anything could happen there. After all, Trump very unexpectedly carried the district in 2016.
The Cornhusker State also splits its five votes. In 2016, Trump won all five. Now, Nebraska is a hotchpotch of colours. Nebraska Third is on track to be the reddest district in the country. Nebraska Second looks set to strongly back Biden. Nebraska First is leaning towards Trump; his 2% lead in the district held steady this week. As such, Nebraska’s two state-wide votes are in play. Whoever prevails in Nebraska First will likely pick up those two extra votes. Come what may, Nebraska will probably be one of the more complicated states to call.
The Old North State, fifteen votes, has been hotly contested in this election. Ever since Obama unexpectedly carried it in 2008, North Carolina has been a swing state. Last time, Trump kept the state red. This time around, this is unlikely to happen. No polling average has put Trump in the lead there since March. This week, Biden’s lead fell by 1.1%, down to 1.9%. Despite this, Biden is still heading into Election Day with a healthy lead. Crucially, Biden has led in North Carolina throughout early voting and the distribution of postal votes. As such, he goes into 3 November in a good position in the Old North State. But his lead is well within the margin of error and the state could still go either way.
In 2016, the Buckeye State went strongly Republican – Trump won an outright majority in the state. This time around, that is unlikely to be replicated. Currently, Ohio and its eighteen votes cannot be called one way or the other, even though Trump has increased his advantage. The state swung to Biden as early voting opened, but has now shifted back more towards Trump. Ohio is a toss-up, one that could well be the tightest race this year. Keep an eye on it. If the result of this election ends up in court, then Ohio might well find itself at the centre of litigation.
Pennsylvania – the Probable Tipping-Point
The Keystone State, twenty votes, looks set to be the national tipping-point state – the state that gets either candidate over the line. In 2016, Pennsylvania unexpectedly backed Trump. Biden’s current lead there is 5.1%, a 1% drop from last week. That puts it just outside of the margin of error. However, a stronger-than-expected Republican showing combined with a bad polling error and a late swing towards Trump could change the race up. There are a lot of swing voters in Pennsylvania, so this is well within the realm of possibility. Like in Ohio, it could all go down to the wire in Pennsylvania – and that could end up being contested in court.
If Georgia is a surprising swing state, then Texas is a jaw-dropping one. With thirty-eight votes, the Lone Star State is the largest red prize – and one that Team Trump is doing its level-best to hold on to. The result there will probably hinge on Dallas. If the city backs Biden, then Trump might well be unable to catch up through votes from elsewhere in the state. Texas might be tight, but Trump has maintained a small but consistent lead there. His current lead is 1.1%, a 0.6% increase from last week. As such, the President is still favoured to hold on to Texas. But a strong blue turnout could see this flip. In some ways, 2016 predicated the current situation in Texas. With 43.2% of the vote, Hillary Clinton put in the best showing for a Democrat in decades. Team Biden has been able to build on that in this campaign.
In every election, there is the potential for upsets. In 2016, Trump pulled off upset wins in the Rust Belt and carried the majority of swing states. This time around, five states could be the scenes of possible upsets: New Hampshire, four votes, South Carolina, nine votes, Oregon, seven votes, Montana, three votes, and Nevada, six votes. Currently, New Hampshire, Oregon and Nevada are expected to back Biden. South Carolina and Montana are expected to back Trump. However, all five states have been somewhat under-polled and Biden and Trump’s respective leads are dropping in all five. Upsets breed uncertainty. Between them, these five states could end up shaping the race if it turns out to be tight.
The Strongest States
In 2016, Wyoming, three votes, maintained its position as the reddest state. This time around, West Virginia, five votes, and Oklahoma, seven votes, are putting up strong challenges for this title. In 2016, Trump won every county in these two states. It might well be close, but one of these three states will probably emerge as the reddest in the nation. Similarly, Hawaii, four votes, could well lose its bluest-state crown. Massachusetts, eleven votes, could reclaim it. But Vermont, three votes, and Maryland, ten votes, are also putting in good showings. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won every county in both Hawaii and Massachusetts. As such, it is more likely that one of these two will emerge as the bluest in the nation, come what may.
The Predicted Map
2020 has been an election with circumstances like no other. Now, whatever happens, the American people will make their decision.
Note: The darker the colour, the safer that state or district is. States marked in yellow are too close to call.