US Election 2020

Electoral College map: what are swing states and how do they swing?

Which states are too close to call between Republicans and Democrats this 2020 election? And what is it historically that's made them battleground states?

Electoral College map: what are swing states and how do they swing?
JOE RAEDLE AFP

What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College was created in 1787 as a compromise between members of Congress choosing a president and qualified citizens voting. According to the Brennan Center for Justice  in part because the Founding Fathers were uncomfortable with giving power to the people.

The system was engineered to empower the white south in times of slavery. Today, it is still seen as a flawed system; contrary to the ‘one person, one vote’ principle of democracy.

How does the voting system work?

The Electoral College has 538 members. To be elected president, the candidate must win at least half plus one; or 270 electoral votes.

Each state has the same number of electors as it has representatives in Congress (the House and the Senate combined). Every state has two votes for its Senators plus a number of votes equal to the number of its Congressional districts.

Following an election, the electors vote for the presidential candidate; guided by the winning popular vote across the state. This year the vote will take place on December 14. When you vote in a general election you are in fact voting for your candidate’s electors.

How does the Electoral College affect presidential elections?

In the 2016 election Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes nationally than Donald Trump, but because Trump secured 77 more electors than Clinton, in part due to narrow Trump victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (in total 77,744 votes), he still won the presidency.

The reason this was possible is that the number of Electoral College members match the number of state’s members of congress, and these aren't representative. The number of congressmen assigned to each state in the House of Representatives hasn’t changed for over a century, so that today there are is one voting member for every 747,000 Americans more than triple the original ratio.

However, this elector-to-voter ratio is an average. The real flaw in the system is that it varies wildly from state to state. Meaning that individual voters in some states hold a huge amount more real power than others. Voters in Wyoming have nearly four times as much influence as Californians do, for instance.

An example; Montana’s 1,050,493 people have just one House member but Rhode Island, a state with only 9,000 more residents is tipped into the bracket of having two House representatives, which is one for every 529,820 citizen. Suddenly every resident in Rhode Island has almost double the power compared to someone living in Montana.

Electoral College in the 2020 US election

In 2020, as always, the Electoral College system has been wholeheartedly shaping the nature of the campaigns. In the first four weeks of campaigning, candidates focused attention on only 10 closely divided battleground states during while ignoring 40 states, according to Fair Vote analysis.

What are the battlegrounds for the 2020 Election?

Swing States 2020

It’s widely agreed that the key swing states are as follows; but there is some variation between commentators and pollsters.

Florida

  • Electoral College votes: 29
  • Latest poll: 3.3pp (percentage points) in favour of Democrats

Florida could go either way this year, in 2008 and 2012 it voted Obama and the Democrats in, but in 2016 Trump won Florida by 1.2pp. It has a diverse population with a conservative stronghold, and is difficult to predict but possibly the most important barometer of the whole country.

Pennsylvania

  • Electoral College votes: 20
  • Latest poll: 6.4pp in favour of Democrats

In 2016 Trump won by 0.7pp, and it has been a key pawn this year relating to the argument on fracking in particular. If Biden can boost turnout in the liberal cities to balance Trump’s rural base, he could swing the state this year.

Ohio

  • Electoral College votes: 18
  • Latest poll: 2.0pp in favour of Republicans

Trump won Ohio in 2016 by a landslide of 8.1pp, and Biden’s only chance this year is to seriously motivate black voters.

Michigan

  • Electoral College votes: 16
  • Latest poll: 7.9pp in favour of Democrats

In 2016 Trump won Michigan by the thinnest hairs’ breadth. But, having voted for Obama twice, Biden is hopeful he can claw the rust belt state back to blue.

North Carolina

  • Electoral College votes: 15
  • Latest poll: 4.1pp in favour of Democrats

In 2016, as in all but one of the last four elections, North Carolina voted Republican. Turnout of rural white Republicans or professional and black Democrats in the cities will dictate the victor in 2020.

Arizona

  • Electoral College votes: 11
  • Latest poll: 3.3pp in favour of Democrats

Arizona hasn’t voted Democrat since 1952 (barring one victorious blue blip for Bill Clinton in 1996). In 2016 Trump won here by 3.5pp but its not a sure fire win this year. If Biden can engage and motivate the state’s Hispanic population, he could take a historic win.

Wisconsin

  • Electoral College votes: 10
  • Latest poll: 7.3pp in favour of Democrats

In 2016 Wisconsin flipped Republican by a narrow margin 0.7pp for the first time since 1988. Again if Biden can motivate turnout in the liberal cities he could reverse the trend.

Iowa

  • Electoral College votes: 6
  • Latest poll: 0.4pp in favour of Republicans

In 2016 Trump spoke to working-class rural white voters in Iowa and won by a landslide 15pp, but this year it's far to close to call.

Georgia

  • Electoral College votes: 16
  • Latest poll: 7pp in favour of Democrats

In 2016 Trump won Georgia by a comfortable 5.1pp, unsurprising really since it hasn’t voted Democrat since 1992. 2020 could mark a change of tide here with the growth of fiercely liberal cities like Atlanta and its suburbs.

Is there an alternative to the Electoral College voting system?

An idea that’s gaining traction is the Popular Vote system. Read our article to find out more.