‘Swing states’ — the most decisive in US presidential race

These states account for more than half of the total number of electoral college votes needed to win, and provide Trump or Biden with a path to victory

White House
Large banners, including one reading 'Trump lies all the time' were unfurled during the protest | File

They are the more competitive states, prone to swinging between Republican and Democrat. They provide the true contest in any US presidential election. And, with 270 electoral college votes required to secure the White House, these swing states account for more than half of the total number of EC votes needed to win, and provide Donald Trump or Joe Biden with a path to victory following election day.

These were the states where Trump and Biden spent the most time. While Biden was seen campaigning in Ohio, Trump held five rallies in North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin. Both the candidates dashed to the finish with a final showdown at Pennsylvania, a state considered most crucial this electoral season. In the past few years, increasingly, elections in America have boiled down to a matter of a dozen or so states.

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The ‘swing states’ have historically voted for different parties in presidential elections. Electoral data reveals that between 2000 and 2016, 38 states voted for the same political party in five presidential elections. It is the remaining 12 that have changed loyalties.


Analysts have identified a dozen swing states in the current presidential election — six of these are believed to be crucial. The Cook Political Report identifies Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pensylvannia, Wisconsin and North Carolina as most important in determining who wins the presidential race.

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A candidate is required to win 270 out of 538 electoral college votes to be declared winner. Each of the states was given a number of electors, equivalent to their representation in the senate and House of Representatives. Popular vote in each of the states goes to the electors, and since 48 out of the 50 states follow the ‘winner takes all’ system, it is relatively easy to predict the outcome in the 38 states that have consistently voted for the same president. The swing states carry within them the power to decide a winner and thereby sees the maximum amount of campaigning.

The term ‘swing state’ first appeared in the New York Times in 1936 when the incumbent Democrat president Franklin Roosevelt won against Republican Alf Landon. “Each believes he has won by swing through the most doubtful states,” said the caption of the cartoon representing the election.

Some of the swing states are:

Arizona: It could prove to be Joe Biden’s alternative path to the White House without states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, with 11 electoral college votes in contention. And, indeed, the Grand Canyon state appeared to be leaning toward the former vice president, early on election night. Although Arizona last voted a Democrat in 1996, a large Latino population has propelled the state towards Biden, who has been tied with Trump in state polls. The 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, lost the state by as little as 3.55 points.

Pennsylvania: It is among three Rust Belt states which rebelled against Hillary Clinton and backed Trump, but it could land Joe Biden with an election victory. And with 20 electoral votes in play, there’s no doubt that Pennsylvania could again decide who takes White House. Trump won the state with a 0.72 margin in 2016.

Biden has polled around five points ahead, and could take Pennsylvania thanks to the turnout in Philadelphia’s suburbs. Trump, in comparison, will depend on his rural base.

Michigan: One of the biggest surprises of the 2016 election was Michigan being won by Trump, although by a very narrow margin of less than one percentage point. It was won by Democrats in every election since 1992.

Wisconsin: Before Donald Trump won the state in 2016, Wisconsin had never voted Republican since 1984. The 2016 elections showed Trump leading in rural areas of the state that consists of a large number of working-class whites. However, parts of the state like Madison’s Dane County and the city of Milwaukee has a large Democrat supporter base.

North Carolina: The state of North Carolina is sharply split between cities with large populations of moderate professionals, Black voters and college students on one hand, and big stretches of the state that are more rural and conservative.