The 2020 presidential election promises to be a real nail-biter. Americans may not know who will be the next president until later in the week, and there is a realistic chance of a contested court battle drawing out the election for multiple weeks, a month, or more. Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads in the polls, but President Donald Trump is catching up, and recent events will likely boost his chances.
This race is still anyone’s game, and it will likely come down to six states. (This post references the RealClearPolitics battleground averages, and The New York Times‘ breakdown of key counties to watch, and the FiveThirtyEight election results timeline.
Most presidential elections come down to Florida. As of Monday morning, Biden still has a 1 point lead in the Sunshine State, but Trump has unique advantages there. Trump may not do well with Latinos overall, but his campaign has a winning message in Florida, where many Latinos are immigrants from socialist or formerly socialist countries. As the Democratic Party rushes to the Left, it is alienating the victims of socialism.
Trump won Florida with 49 percent of the vote in 2016 to Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent. Fewer Americans are expected to vote for third-party candidates this year, which makes Florida difficult to predict.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Sunshine State’s election results are expected to come in very fast. “Florida is accustomed to handling a heavy volume of mail ballots and has laws (like letting counties process absentee ballots weeks in advance and not accepting most ballots that arrive after Election Day) that encourage an early count.” The first batch of results from mail-in votes will likely skew Democratic, but the race will shift as Election Day results pour in.
If Trump loses Florida’s 29 electoral votes, he will likely lose reelection. The early results from Florida will also indicate whether or not independents and late-deciders have broken toward the president.
The New York Times zeroed in on three counties in Florida: Democratic-leaning Miami-Dade County (58 percent for Obama in 2008, 62 percent Obama in 2012, and 63 percent for Clinton in 2016), Tampa-area swing Pinellas County (53 percent Obama in 2008, 52 percent Obama in 2012, and 48 percent for Trump in 2016), and Orlando-area Osceola County (59 percent Obama in 2008, 62 percent Obama in 2012, 60 percent Clinton in 2016). The turnout in blue cities will indicate whether Democrats will be able to outvote Republicans in more rural areas.
2. North Carolina
Trump has a small lead in North Carolina (0.6 points), well within the margin of error. The state’s growing big cities and its large black population make it extremely close. Barack Obama pulled a close win (50 percent) there in 2008, while Mitt Romney actually defeated him there (also with 50 percent) in 2012. Trump also won 50 percent of the vote, leaving Hillary Clinton with 46 percent.
Most of North Carolina’s results will come in quickly. Officials estimate that up to 80 percent of the total vote could be announced right after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. Officials will report in-person early votes and all mail ballots received by November 2 extremely quickly, while Election Day results will trickle in over the next few hours. However, North Carolina counts absentee ballots that arrive as late as November 12, so unless there’s a big blow-out on Election Day, America may not know who won the state’s 15 electoral votes.
North Carolina, like Florida, should be a strong indicator of where the electorate fell on Election Day. If Trump has a strong lead in North Carolina, it will bode well for his chances in other swing states.
The New York Times zeroed in on three counties: Union County (63 percent for McCain in 2008, 65 percent Romney in 2012, 63 percent Trump in 2016), Wake County (57 percent for Obama in 2008, 55 percent for Obama in 2012, 57 percent for Clinton in 2016), and Robeson County (56 percent Obama in 2008, 58 percent Obama in 2012, and 51 percent Trump in 2016).
Biden narrowly leads in Arizona by 1 point, well within the margin of error. While McCain and Romney dominated the state in 2008 and 2012, Trump won a close race there in 2016, and Martha McSally lost the Senate race in 2018. Arizona’s 11 electoral votes are likely up for grabs.
Most votes should be counted on election night, but full results may take a few days. Officials plan to release early and absentee vote totals shortly after 10 p.m. Eastern and Election Day votes are also expected on election night. Absentee ballots received at the last minute may delay full results until Thursday or Friday, in the case of a close race.
The New York Times zeroed in on three counties: Maricopa County (with 60 percent of the state’s electorate, the county gave 54 percent to McCain and Romney but only 48 percent to Trump, to Clinton’s 45 percent, flipping to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in 2018), Pima County (52 and 53 percent to Obama in 2008 and 2012, 53 percent to Clinton in 2016), Pinal County (56 percent to McCain, 57 percent to Romney, 56 percent to Trump). Biden needs to run up the score in Pima County while Trump needs to do the same in Pinal County.
Historically Democratic, Michigan gave Trump an upset win by an extremely close margin in 2016. According to the RealClearPolitics average, Biden enjoys a 5.1 percent lead in Michigan.
The Wolverine State’s secretary of state estimated that it could take until Friday, Nov. 6, for all ballots to be counted and a winner to be declared. Absentee ballots cannot be processed until Monday, which does not leave enough time to count them by election night. If Michigan’s 16 electoral votes turn out to be critical, the final winner may not be determined until close to the weekend.
The New York Times zeroed in on three counties: heavily unionized Macomb County (which Obama won by 53 percent and 52 percent, and Trump won by 54 percent), Democratic-trending Oakland County (56 percent and 54 percent to Obama, 51 percent to Clinton, gave Gretchen Whitmer her biggest margin), and Republican stronghold Kent County (which Obama won with 49.3 percent in 2008 but Romney won with 53 percent in 2012 and Trump took with 48 percent in 2016).
Biden enjoys a strong lead in Wisconsin (6.6 percent), but the race is narrowing. Trump won Wisconsin with 47.2 percent to Clinton’s 46.5 percent in 2016, while Obama carried the state with 56 percent in 2008 and 53 percent in 2012.
The Badger State’s 10 electoral votes will likely be allocated by Wednesday morning. While officials are not able to process absentee ballots until Election Day, counties have predicted that they will be able to count everything on election night. The latest results from Milwaukee County may be delayed until 4 a.m. or 7 a.m. Eastern, but at least there won’t be a delay until Friday as with Michigan.
The New York Times zeroed in on three counties: Green Bay’s Brown County (54 percent to Obama in 2008, 50 percent to Romney in 2012, and 52 percent for Trump in 2016, the county favored Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin in 2018), deep-red Waukesha County (62 percent for McCain, 67 percent for Romney, 60 percent for Trump), and blue Milwaukee-area Dane County (73 percent and 71 percent for Obama, 70 percent for Clinton).
Most observers expect the 2020 election to come down to Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes. Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania (4.3 percent) has shrunk considerably in recent days and Trump’s large rallies in the state are scaring Democrats. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which had not endorsed a Republican since 1972, endorsed Trump. Obama won the state by 55 percent in 2008 and 52 percent in 2012, while Trump won with 48.2 percent in 2016.
Pennsylvania also promises to be one of the most frustrating states for election results. Around half of its voters are expected to vote absentee, and officials cannot process those ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. Bucks County plans to count ballots 24-hours-a-day and doesn’t expect to be done until the end of the week. Even counties that tally up all ballots on election night will have to wait until Nov. 6, the deadline for most mail ballots to arrive, to consider their results complete. In any event, the result will be clear by November 23, the deadline for counties to stop counting.
The New York Times zeroed in on three counties: Pittsburgh-area Westmoreland County (58 percent to McCain, 61 percent to Romney, 64 percent to Trump), Chester County (54 percent to Obama in 2008, 49.4 percent to Obama in 2012, 52 percent to Clinton), “oracle of Pennsylvania” Erie County (59 percent Obama, 57 percent Obama, 48 percent Trump), and heavily Democratic Philadelphia County (83 percent Obama, 85 percent Obama, 82 percent Clinton).
Trump may not need Wisconsin or Pennsylvania if he wins Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, and Michigan. Conversely, Biden can afford to lose a few states if he wins Florida and Michigan.
If Trump surprises on Election Day, states like Nevada and Minnesota may be in play, while if Biden pulls off an astounding win, states like Iowa and Georgia may go blue. That said, these six states will provide a powerful indicator of where the country is going.
Even if you live in a red state or a blue state, you should still vote to influence the popular vote. If Trump wins, it would help for Biden’s likely popular vote victory to be as small as possible.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.