Shortcuts / 02 November 2020

The US Elections: Navigating Election Day

In Part 4 of our Squiz Shortcut series in the lead up to the US election, we arm you with handy information that’ll help as you tune into the see the results. We take a look at the important numbers, how demographics play a part, what the key battleground states are, when you can expect a results and finally, what’s being predicted.

Just to recap, what are the numbers?

In total there are 538 electoral college votes that the candidates are chasing down. To be elected president of the United States, the Republican candidate President Donald Trump or Democratic candidate Joe Biden needs to secure at least 270 electoral college votes to win.

How does the electoral college system work?

We have a whole Shortcut on that… but each state gets a certain number of electoral college votes based on the size of its population. And when American citizens vote, it’s counted within their state. And in most states, it’s a winner takes all system. What that means is whoever wins the state in a first past the post count gets all that state’s electoral college votes. And the first to 270 electoral college votes wins.

But last election, when it came to the popular vote, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump. But she didn’t win the election. It was one of the few occasions that’s happened in US electoral history. But in the end, Trump won more electoral college vote by winning more smaller states. The final result was Clinton ended up with 227 electoral college votes and Trump got 304.

Looking to the demographics… who voted for Trump in 2016?

When Trump won the last election, there was a significant split in voting intention between educated and uneducated white people.

So white people make up about 70% of total registered voters in the US. And according to the data collected from exit polls and other surveys, 55% of white people with a college degree or higher said they voted for Clinton and 38% said they voted for Trump. They make up almost 30% of total voters. ‘Uneducated’ white people – so they have a high school diploma or below – making up about 40% of voters – supported Trump by more than two-votes-to-one.

In fact, Trump won more support from uneducated white voters than any recent Republican presidential nominee. Also, of interest last time around was that more white women voted for Trump in 2016 than Clinton. Which many people were surprised by given Hillary Clinton was the first woman to run for president….

According to the numbers, 47% of white women voted for Trump and 45% voted for Clinton. But looking at women overall, more voted for Clinton than Trump. And for the men, they preferred Trump.

What about people of colour?

The research says there’s more black and hispanic voters registered at this election – and those groups have traditionally preferred the Democrats. And in some battleground states like Florida, the proportion of registered white voters has fallen to make up about 60% of the roll – that’s down on the national average of 70%….Meanwhile, if we look at other key states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, white voters make up more than 80% of those eligible to go to the polls. So it’s swings about roundabouts.

And there’s also some polling that suggests Trump is losing ground with white women while he’s gained some ground with black and hispanic voters. To be clear, he still trails Biden considerably with non-white voters, but he might have picked up some votes that could help him out in some tight races.

And what about the other demographics?

Gender, race, age, education levels, religion and geographic factors all play a role in the final result. But one trend to look out for is more young people voting. In 2016, a Harvard poll found 47% of people under 30s said they would vote – this year it’s 63%. That will likely favour Biden. But it’s important to note that it’s conventional wisdom is that no one group can swing the US election alone…. so its going to be a combination of the voting trends of all of these demographics that is the story of 2020.

What are the key ‘battleground’ states?

The 2020 presidential race will be decided by voters in 15 or so states that are known as swing states, or battleground states. As for the other 35 states, pundits have already put them against the candidates they are expected to vote for. And that sees Biden starting with 212 electoral college votes, and Trump 125. Just to reiterate – they’re aiming for 270 electoral college votes to win. But on that basis, there are still 201 electoral college votes up for grabs, and Trump is very competitive in many of those races.

As for the specifics… Ohio – in the Midwest – is a good one to watch. It’s known as the bellwether state of US presidential elections – it has backed the winner at every presidential contest bar one since World War II. Ohio backed Donald Trump last election when he got 51% of the vote. This time around the experts say it’s lineball, and at the moment Trump has a slight edge. For Biden to win Ohio, he needs a big turnout from black voters in the cities to have a chance. So it’s one to watch closely.

Another state that gets a lot of attention is Florida – the southernmost state. It’s a relatively big state with 29 electoral college votes up for grabs. Elections have been won and lost in Florida, and pundits say the same may be true this year. Florida has a diverse but conservative-leaning electorate and last time it just favoured Trump over Clinton. This time, the polls favour Biden but they’ve been a bit volatile. The trick to watching Florida’s result is that it will be one of the first to publish results from early voting – and that’s thought to favour Biden. So wait until a lot of votes are reported before making any assessments about that one.

One state that’s surprising to see on the battleground list is Texas – the second largest state by population and by area. It has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, but some say it’s one to watch because of an increased number of registered Hispanic, Black and Asian-American voters. White suburban voters have also grown more moderate over the last 4 years, pollsters say. Texas has 38 electoral college votes and if Trump loses that one, it’s over for him.

There are so many more fascinating races to watch – so if you’re tuning in pay attention when you hear the about the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Nevada, just to name a few.

How will early and mail-in voting affect the election?

More than 90 million voters have cast their ballot papers early because of the pandemic, and there’ll be more to come. Record numbers of people attending voting centres early and also sent their vote in by mail. In 2016, around 58.3 million pre-election ballots were cast out of a total of 138 million votes. It’s a big increase.

What has Trump been saying about that?

Throughout this election campaign, Trump has taken issue with mail-in voting. Trump says it’s susceptible to fraud, and in an election with more mail-in voting, he’s wondered out loud if the election result will be a true and fair one. His critics say he’s opposed to it because mail-in voting tends to favour Democrats. So when Trump says he may not accept the result, it’s a placeholder for all this legal action that could follow on from those close races that have high numbers of ballots cast by mail. And some elections watchers say the aftermath of the election could be a lawyers picnic because of this mail-in voting issue. If there are tight results in the battleground states, it’s expected that the Trump campaign will zero in very quickly on the legal issues of how and when those ballot papers are counted. And of course, it’s expected the Democrats will go to court if they feel there’s issues for them too. It adds to the uncertainty as to whether we’ll have an official result on election day.

What else might affect when we’ll get a result?

There’s a couple of things going on here. One is mail-in votes take more time to count than those cast in-person.That’s because officials have to open an envelope and verify a signature before counting the ballot paper. So it’s time consuming. Another issue is how individual states treat mail in votes. Some states will include votes that arrive after election day if there’s proof they were cast by 3 November – which means tight races could see a delay in the result. And it’s important to note that some states will discard ballot papers that arrive after 3 November.

Will the early votes that officials receive on 3 November be counted?

In some states they will, in some they won’t. It’s an important question because it will be key to understanding some of the results. But long story short, most pundits say we will have a pretty good idea of where things are headed on election night, even if no candidate is able to claim 270 electoral votes. And the final result should be clear later this week, even if it’s not officially declared.

And if it is close, no one really knows how long it will take to be officially declared – There is a recent precedent from the 2000 election when the result in Florida was disputed by Democrat Al Gore. It took more than a month of dramatic legal wrangling for the election to be declared.

And how will the coronavirus affect all this?

There are concerns that a lengthy delay will make the management of the coronavirus crisis worse at a time when cases are on the rise in the US as they head into winter.

What are the so-called experts saying about who’s going to win?

Pollster Nate Silver runs the website that provides an aggregate poll that takes in all all the data from the big polls across the country. He says he doesn’t know who’s going to win. But by the model, the polls give Biden a 90% chance of success, and Trump a 10% chance of a second term. The polls would have to be significantly more wrong than they were in 2016 for that not to happen, he says. But these aren’t usual times, so it’s going to one for the history books.

What are the logistics of the election?

The polls open at 10pm AEDT on Tuesday, 3 November. The last polling booth in Alaska closes at 4pm our time on Wednesday, 4 November. Every where you look on TV across Wednesday will be election coverage. Prime time will be early afternoon on Wednesday when some inkling of a result – or a strong sense of the drama – will be clearer.

Squiz recommends:

When To Expect Election Results –

The Battleground States Trump and Biden Need to WinNew York Times

Can We Trust the 2020 US Election Polls?Quartz



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