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October 25, 2020

The battle for 270

Opinion

October 25, 2020

The November 3 American presidential elections are just 10 days away. Early voting is underway in many states. A record number of voters are opting for early in person voting or voting by mail.

According to a survey conducted by CNN, Edison Research, and Catalist, more than 40 million had voted early so far, either in person or by mail. The ballots cast so far represent almost 30 percent of the more than 136 million total ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way the people used to vote. More people wanted to avoid the long queues on Election Day so they are voting early.

All the opinion polls are predicting a close election between Democratic candidate Joe Biden and Republican President Trump. In two weeks, elections can swing either way. Like Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden is expected to win the popular vote. But the real question is whether he will be able to win 270 electoral votes needed to become a president. Because in the American presidential elections, winning the popular vote is important but even more important is securing the 270 electoral votes. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote against Trump but still lost the presidency.

The system to elect the US president is complicated. The system is a combination of popular votes and electoral votes. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election despite winning the popular vote against Trump. Clinton got 232 electoral votes while Trump got 306 Electoral College votes and won the 2016 presidential election.

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than any other losing presidential candidate in US history. Hilary Clinton outpaced President Donald Trump by almost 2.9 million votes. The swing states play a crucial role in the victory of a presidential candidate. Biden is leading in four out of seven crucial swing states. He is leading with a clear margin in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Trump won five states in the 2016 elections with narrow margins including Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. These swing states actually handed Trump the victory against Hillary Clinton. Biden has widened the margin of lead in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the last two weeks. In Arizona and Ohio, he has a narrow lead over Trump with one percent or less point. In Florida and North Carolina, both Trump and Biden are tied and can go either way.

Thirty-eight states in America have a history of solidly supporting either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. For example, New York, California, Illinois and Massachusetts are solid Democratic states, while Texas, Mississippi, Missouri and Wyoming are solid Republican states. There are exceptions when solidly Democratic or Republican states change loyalty after voting for a certain party for decades. But these are rare and few.

Twelve states are considered swing states which change political loyalty after every few years. The presidential candidates focus on these swing states to win the presidency.

One American commentator has explained the situation in the following words: “in the swing states that matter, it is trench warfare: Biden’s advantage, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, is within the margin of error in half of the eight states. And Trump is a president whose support has been notoriously difficult for pollsters to survey.

“Within each of these swing states, the roadmap ahead for President Donald Trump and Joe Biden is clear. The president must max out his performance with rural voters. Biden needs a robust turnout in the big cities, particularly among African-American voters. Trump must halt his erosion in the suburbs, and turn out white working-class voters who didn’t vote in 2016. Biden has to increase his current share among Latino voters and recapture some of the places that flipped to Trump after twice voting for President Barack Obama.”

Why these swing states are crucial is because together these states represent 127 electoral votes. There is one factor in favour of Biden in this election – Bernie Sanders is campaigning for Biden. His support is crucial to win states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. His supporters are mostly young workers and students. Their turnout is crucial for Biden. Many voters backed Bernie Sanders in Democratic primaries. Many of them opted to stay away from voting and some went over to Trump. But now the situation is different. Bernie Sanders is actively campaigning for Biden and rallying his supporters behind Biden. He did not back Hillary actively and she lost in the Rust Belt states against Trump narrowly.

The other factor favouring Biden is the fact that Trump failed to fulfill his promises made with working class people in these states. He failed to bring back lost jobs and industries.

It becomes very difficult to predict the winner in a close race. Opinion polls can only provide the general feelings and trends. One county or small city can influence the final outcome of election results in a state. The big turnout of a certain group of population like the African-American community or the Hispanic community can change the final result. Florida, North Carolina and Ohio are too close to call at this moment. The situation might change in the next two weeks. These three states have 67 electoral votes which can change the result.

If Biden wins the four states he is leading, then he will need just one state of out of three tied states. That will be enough for Biden to win the presidency. He has to maintain his lead in four states and flip one out of three tied states leading up to Election Day.

For Trump, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are the key states to win to retain the presidency. Without winning these states, it will be difficult to achieve the magic figure of 270 Electoral College votes.

The writer is a freelance journalist.