2020 US Presidential Election and the Swing States


The 59th United States presidential election will take place on 3 November, as well as for the House of Representatives, Senate, and numerous other state and local elections. Although many political positions are at stake, the most decisive and famous electoral battle is the presidential one, which this year will oppose Donald Trump to Joe Biden. In the month preceding them, these elections are subject to much speculation and numerous polls, although in 2016 they did not correspond to the subsequent results. For that reason, and seeking to better understand its electorate, this article attempts to clarify some of the decisive aspects of the election, first presenting some statistical data at the national level, followed by the main topics under discussion, this year’s list of 6 probable swing states and, finally, a forecast for its results in each state.


At the national level:

Similarly to the Brexit referendum, perhaps the most decisive demographic distinction, when it comes to the US Presidential election of the same year, was in terms of population density: rural areas favored Trump, with about 62% against 34% of the votes for Hillary Clinton; as well as the suburbs, 50% against 45%; while the urban areas favored Clinton, with 59% against 35%, including the majority of the big cities and metropolitan areas. In addition, the rural vote was the one that changed the most along the last three elections, and this year, the Republican presidential campaign prioritized the improvement of its results in the suburbs.

The choice of voters of different ethnicities/races also reveals stark political contrasts: white voters voted 58% for Trump, against 37% for Clinton (identical value to 2012 and similar since 2000, between parties); 65% against 29% of Asian and Hispanic voters favored Clinton (similar to the 2012 and 2008 elections), as well as 88% against 8% of black voters (the latter figure has not exceeded 12% since 1980 and 6% in elections against Obama). Also similarly to previous elections, women preferred the Democrat candidate (54% against 42%), and men the Republican (53% against 41%); the younger population (18 to 44 years old) preferred Clinton and older voters (over 44 years old) Trump.

In fact, the Biden campaign also identified seniors, who were the most affected by the SARS-Cov2 pandemic, as a potential key factor in the electorate to win. Finally, voters without a college degree and married voters preferred Trump; graduates and unmarried, Clinton. In conclusion, it is possible to verify that the division in the 2016 elections was mainly ideological and partisan, since the choice of different demographic subgroups has barely changed compared to previous elections, despite the inevitable demographic changes in the electorate.


Debates topics:

These are some of the topics related to proposals from both candidates, that split the 2020 electorate: the appointment of a new judge for the Supreme Court and “court-packing” (increasing the number of the court judges); the SARS-Cov2 virus pandemic, the respective government response and its effect on the population health; the “lockdown” and its effect on the economy; the economic stimulus bill; the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against police violence and the worsening of social tensions; the increase in crime in some cities and suburbs in 2020; fracking and climate change; and in foreign policy, the relationship with China and Russia, as well as the geostrategic importance of US traditional international alliances and their deterioration or consolidation. Other topics, such as illegal immigration and accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 election – subject of an investigation for two years – were left out of the media sphere.

Finally, between the attempt to suppress misinformation and a political bias in media, the censorship of information on social networks and internet communication platforms was discussed recently in a senate hearing on Twitter and Facebook, for having blocked information from New York Post, one of the most widely circulated news outlets in the US, weeks before the election. Indeed, as in 2016, both media – which are concentrated in large cities – and celebrities, officially and strongly support the Democratic candidate. In the contemporary context of the information war and political polarization associated with new technologies, the growing concern about the weight of large communication technology companies in society and the interference of foreign governments in the country’s democratic elections calls for a bipartisan consensus.


The swing states:

The result of US presidential elections are determined by the votes of the electoral college, divided by elections in each state, not by the sum of the national popular votes. Florida was the most disputed state in the last two elections altogether, remaining close to the 1% difference between Democrats and Republicans in both, followed by states like New Hampshire, or Minnesota. However, we will only focus on the most decisive ones this year (Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina), which contain some of the most populous cities in the country. Two of these swing states, Florida and Pennsylvania, are among the six states with the highest number of electoral college votes.

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Image 1: Table with the percentage of votes for the Democratic and Republican candidates in both the 2016 and 2012 US presidential elections (Our illustration, based on data from the New York Times)
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In Florida, Hispanic and Latino voters (about 23% of its population), including about 7% of Cuban origin, can be decisive in the election result, which motivated the Republican candidate’s campaign to emphasize his aversion to communist and socialist regimes, accusing, at the same time, Biden of allying himself with the most radical elements of the left. Political and social problems in Venezuela and Brazil may also have some impact in the respective communities in the US, as an extension of the ideological line of US foreign policy, and the consequence of political polarization on the other side of the Caribbean Sea. Biden, on the other hand, expects massive support of those communities, as well as elderly citizens, also accusing his opponent of being linked with the far right.

In Pennsylvania, a state where the decline of the steel industry was a decisive theme in 2016, the use of fracking and its impact on the economy and employment are being discussed, together with the impact of SARS Cov-2 on health. Given that the state produces more than half of the country’s natural gas and oil, Trump was clear about his support for the method, despite the damage it does to the environment; while Biden hesitated between its regulation and prohibition, or between the value of this natural resource in the economy and its unsustainability and impact on the climate. The current pandemic has also sparked a debate: between risking aggravating the pandemic by opening commerce, and aggravating the ensuing economic crisis, affecting mainly small businesses. Protests and looting that happened the week before the election may also influence the outcome of the election.

Wisconsin is also one of the most important states in the electoral race, with distinct voting trends between north and south and a clear segmentation between conservative and progressive counties. The current administration’s trade war against China had an impact on agriculture; on the other hand, the protests over the death of George Floyd and the insecurity of residents due to crime – in Milwaukee suburbs, such as Wauwatosa and Kenosha – following the incident, represent a dilemma that can decide the election and which is portrayed in the episode Law and Disorder from The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth. This insecurity particularly affected the capital of the neighboring state of Minnesota, where the police were absent and local officials were considering withdrawing financial support from them. In this context, Trump and several Democratic governors and mayors accuse each other of being responsible for high levels of crime in some states.

Michigan, another state in the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest affected by NAFTA, due to declining industrial activity and consequent unemployment in that sector, was not visited by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, as well as Wisconsin. The rival campaign, instead, took this problem as a priority, which resulted in the replacement of NAFTA with USMCA. This year, safety and health stand out in the electoral dispute: on the one hand, Joe Biden strongly supports the maintenance of the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care), the protests for minority rights and more restrictive measures during the pandemic, such as the lockdown imposed by Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer, who was also a vice-president candidate in this presidential race and the target of a conspiracy by an extremist group. On the other hand, the economy and the slogan “law and order” dominate the discourse of its opponent.

North Carolina elected the Republican candidate in eight of the last nine elections, but in the last one only by 3.7%, mainly due to the Democratic advantage in the largest cities, which also manifested itself in the election of a Democrat governor. In addition to the national issues already mentioned, local voters also struggle with the fairness of the electoral process, due to accusations of “gerrymandering” (the redrawing of electoral boundaries between states). Another decisive theme will be the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, which will consolidate the conservative leaning of the judicial body in the future. Trump has to win both North Carolina and Arizona to be able to win the presidential election.

Arizona is one of the ten states most affected by SARS-Cov2 (in deaths per inhabitant, seven have Democratic governors). Its impact on health and the economy, as well as the president’s reaction; climate change and its impact on agriculture and water scarcity, have joined border management with Mexico and immigration policy, as some of the divisive themes with the greatest impact on the state. With a high percentage of arid landscape in the north and a large part of its population concentrated in the south, especially around Phoenix, despite Trump’s position on the climate issue, this is the swing state most prone to Republican victory, since it had the electorate preference in 16 of the last 17 presidential elections.


Conclusion and forecast:

In the 2016 election the polls did not reflect the results of the subsequent vote, as an article that the New York Times published the day before the election, which gave 84% probability that Hillary Clinton would win, demonstrates:

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Images 3 and 4: NYT forecast for the 2016 US presidential election, November 8, 2016


Therefore, it would be insufficient to base the forecast below only on the polls, instead taking also in account: trends registered in previous elections, the current state of American political discourse at the national and state levels, as well as recent events. Elections are one of the essential components of democracy and, despite the media polarization they are subjected to, public discussion and voting continue to promote knowledge sharing on topics essential to the complex management of either small or large communities. Reflecting both a globalist, cosmopolitan, scientific and progressive vision; and a nationalist, rural, religious and conservative one, this election is essentially about the identity of a country and about the union or disunity of its states. Most importantly, it should be free and fair.

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Image 4: Population density by geographical area in the US in 2010. Source: Department of Languages, University of Strasbourg.
Image 5: Forecast of the results in terms of electoral votes by state in the 2020 presidential election. Our illustration, using 270toWin website’s interactive map.


Paths to victory through the key swing states:

Joe Biden: FL + PA + WI, or PA + WI + MI, or WI + MI + NH + NC

Donald Trump: AZ + NC + FL + PA/WI/MI, or AZ + NC + PA + WI + MI

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