A handful of states in the US, no more than 10 or 12 – depending on who does the math – will decide on November 3 the name of the next occupant of the White House. It sounds strange, when you consider that there are 50 states that make up the country (plus the District of Columbia) and that all go to the polls.
Yet that’s how the American electoral system works. One that has been in force for more than 200 years, and under which the president is not elected through the “direct vote”, as is the case in most democracies in the world.
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In other words, it is not whoever accumulates the most votes at the national level, but the one who adds a majority of seats to the Electoral College, the body in charge of anointing the new president. In total, the College is made up of 538 seats distributed among all the states depending on their size and population. California, for example, has 55, while a small one, like New Hampshire, participates with only 4.
Whoever wins the elections in a state – even by one vote – takes the total of seats pre-assigned to it. Except for Nebraska and Maine, which distribute their seats based on the percentage each candidate obtained. In the end, the one who adds to his column at least 270 seats, the simple majority, is declared the winner. In other words, the fight for the presidency in the United States is being fought state by state.
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Over the years, a large number of states have become bastions of one party. Alabama, for example, always votes for a Republican, while New York leans for a Democrat. Therefore, the margin to make a difference is quite narrow and is usually reduced to a group of ‘competitive’ states or swing states, which in each election are debated between supporting one party or another.
According to the polls, Joe Biden, the candidate of the Democrats, would already have 19 states insured plus the District of Columbia: Washington, Óregon, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Hawaii , Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire. To that would be added three of the four seats offered by Maine, one of only two states (the other is Nebraska), which do not give all of their seats to the winner of the direct vote in the state.
Together they add 226 votes to the Electoral College for Biden practically assured. These are states that have a long tradition of voting for the Democratic Party and / or that at this time show a difference between the two candidates in the polls of more than 8 percent, outside the margin of error that is usually 5 percent. or less.
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In Trump’s case, they would also be 19: Alaska, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana , West Virginia. Plus three of the four seats Nebraska offers. Which in their totality represent 125 guaranteed votes for the president. That is, there are 11 states that would still be in play. And that’s where candidates have been investing the most time and resources: Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia and Texas.
Plus the two pending entries in Maine and Nebraska. In this group of states, the difference between Biden and Trump is below or very close to the margin of error. And as a whole they contribute 187 votes to the Electoral College. But the situation is not the same in all. In Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Biden’s lead, according to the average Real Clear Politics polls, is between 3.7 and 6.5 points, respectively.
In other words, they are states that at this point in the race are leaning in favor of the Democratic candidate. If that trend continues and Biden wins them, he would add 52 more seats to his column, bringing his total number to 278, 8 more than he needs to win. To put it another way, if Biden succeeds in these 4, he may lose the other 7 undecided, just like in Maine and Nebraska and win the White House anyway. And you can even afford to lose Nevada and still succeed.
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The situation in these last 7 is more complex. In five of them (Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio and Georgia) the polls show a technical tie, while Texas leans towards Trump and Arizona towards Biden. But the simple fact that Texas, Georgia and Arizona are considered swing states in this election cycle says a lot about the race.
These are states with a marked Republican tendency that have been electing candidates from this party for decades. If Trump were to lose in any of them it would be a near fatal blow to his aspirations. And although no one believes that this will happen, the only possibility shows how unpredictable these elections are, since there Trump won comfortably in 2016.
29 votes to the Electoral College
The Sunshine State, with its high population of Hispanics, has been vital for more than two decades in defining presidential elections. And if something has shown is that it is a true swing state: the victories, for one game or another, have been defined by only 1 or 2 points of difference. And this time it will be the same. In the polls Biden is ahead, but by less than two points and if he wins, he would practically secure the White House.
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20 votes to the Electoral College
It is part of the so-called “blue wall” of the Democrats, which refers to a group of states in the center east and the west coast that had been voting for candidates of this party for three decades. Until the last elections, when Trump prevailed by 44,000 votes. Since 2018, polls favor Democrats and this year Biden has emerged as the winner. But your lead is no more than 4 percent, all eyes are on the results here.
15 votes to the Electoral College
While it used to be a relatively Republican state, in the last 15 years it has become a veritable Pandora’s box. Only between 2016 and 2020 have more than 1,300,000 new voters registered, which makes the outcome somewhat unpredictable. According to polls, Biden outscores Trump less than half a point.
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18 votes to the Electoral College
Also made up mostly of white (81 percent), it has been characterized by the fact that since the 1960s in this state the candidate who becomes president has usually won. The latest polls give a tie, but 7 percent say it has not been decided. Its high number of polling stations makes it attractive, but Biden is not required to win in this state as long as he can win in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
6 votes to the Electoral College
It is a very rural state that does not weigh much in terms of the Electoral College. But when elections are tight, as this might be the case, it ends up being important. He resembles Ohio in his political affiliation, having been stumbling between party and party. Currently the polls also give a technical tie.
16 votes to the electoral college
Since Clinton in 1992, no Democrat has been able to win in this southern state that clearly leans toward the Republicans. The simple fact that he’s in the undecided column this time around is surprising. And it speaks volumes about demographic changes in the state over the past decade, especially in Atlanta.
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38 votes to the Electoral College
Things have started to change in this state, especially due to the weight of the Hispanic vote, which favors the Democrats. Few believe Biden will win this year. In the future, however, Democrats believe he will become much more competitive and will move on to their column if they have a good candidate, which would be disastrous for Republicans given the weight of Texas.
11 votes to the Electoral College
In Arizona, a Democrat has not won for more than 24 years. But migration from the state of California and a growing population of Hispanics have transformed this border state into a new battlefront between both parties. And this time it is Biden who is leading by a significant number.
6 votes to the Electoral College
A state that has already three consecutive electoral cycles preferring the Democratic candidate and that Hillary won by a narrow margin in 2016 (2.4 points). In polls, Biden scores 4.6 points from Trump and has led him all year. But being a state that casts few votes, pollsters have not paid much attention to it and it is not known how reliable the results are.
10 votes to the Electoral College
Comprised of a predominantly white working class, Wisconsin had been leaning toward the Democrats for nearly three decades until 2016, when Trump won it by 23,000 votes. But the violent social protests that have erupted in the state and the message of law and order that Trump sells make it impossible to predict the end result. Biden is ahead by 6.4 points, but his gap with Trump has been narrowing.
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16 votes to the Electoral College
Its demographic profile is very similar to that of Wisconsin, with which it shares a border. It used to be very democratic until Trump won by 10,000 votes in the last election. A minimum margin if you take into account that almost 5 million people voted. This time Biden is seen as a favorite with an 8.2 point lead. It is one of those states that the former vice president must recover if he wants to have a chance.
SERGIO GÓMEZ MASERI
EL TIEMPO correspondent
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