Election Watch 5: The Final Push - Battleground States

Nov 3 vote

The final, supercharged week of the presidential campaign has come to America.

During these last precious days the two candidates will be bouncing around the country like pinballs, spending most of their time and money on a few select states that may decide the winner – the so-called “battleground states” (see below). Since the final presidential debate on October 22, Joe Biden has continued to lead in national polls. That makes President Trump the underdog, an unusual position for a first term president seeking re-election. His response has been fierce, holding a blitz of large face-to-face rallies in key states. Biden, for his part, has held many smaller, more low-key rallies reflecting his concerns about the corona pandemic.

vote 2020

COVID-19 continues to dominate the campaign. As this is written, a new record of over 83,000 cases per day has been registered nationally and more than 230,000 people have died. President Trump insists that the nation has “turned the corner” on the disease (that things will soon be getting better). Biden dismisses this, replying that if Trump thinks the US has turned the corner, he’s “around the bend” (crazy). The latest twist in the story is that Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign manager tested positive for COVID-19, once again making it the focus of campaign news, not least because it has not stopped Pence from continuing to campaign in large, face-to-face rallies.

Finally, going into this last week a record number of Americans have already voted, either by mail or directly at voting stations (this varies from state to state). As this is written, more than 60 million ballots have been cast. If this pace of voting continues, the 2020 election could see the largest voter turnout in a century. That would probably be good news for Joe Biden and the Democrats who outnumber the Republicans nationally. On the other hand, Republicans traditionally show up at the polls on Election Day in greater numbers than Democrats. Though Biden still leads as we head into the final stretch of this horse race, much can still happen. A week is a long time in politics. Only one thing is certain, time is running out for both candidates to put their case before the country. Soon it will be time for all the people of America to make up their minds.


Battleground states

An American president is not elected directly by the popular vote nationally. Rather, the winner is elected indirectly by the states in the Electoral College, where a candidate needs at least 270 of a total of 538 votes to win. For this reason, a presidential election can be won by a candidate who does not have a majority of the popular vote. This was the case in 2016 when Donald Trump won the Presidency with a majority of 306 votes in the Electoral College, but received 3 million fewer popular votes than his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. (For further information see “What is the Electoral College?” under Helpful Links below.)

In 2016, the blue states voted for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. The red states voted for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Even though Clinton received more popular votes, Trump won the election because he gained the electoral votes of more states (he needed 270 such votes to win, and he got 306). In 2016, the blue states voted for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. The red states voted for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Even though Clinton received more popular votes, Trump won the election because he gained the electoral votes of more states (he needed 270 such votes to win, and he got 306).

This underscores how important it is to keep a close watch on the individual states in which neither candidate has a strong lead. They may decide the winner no matter who gets the most votes nationwide. These states are called “battleground” or “swing” states (also known as “toss-ups”). At the time of writing, the most interesting battleground states for the presidential election of 2020 are Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Arizona. Others of interest are Texas, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Georgia.



Find a partner to work with. Choose two battleground states to examine more closely. Then use Helpful Links below to work with the following questions.  

  1. Did your chosen states vote for the Democratic or the Republican candidate in 2016? Which candidate do the latest polls in these states indicate they will vote for in 2020?
  1. Do your chosen states have Republican or Democratic governors? What about senators? How will this affect the way your states vote in the 2020 presidential election, do you think?
  1. Choose one of the maps from the links under Electoral Vote Maps – Battleground States and note the total number of Electoral votes each candidate is predicted to get at this point in the race. 
    - If the Electoral votes of the two swing states you have chosen are won by Donald Trump, will that give him the 270 electoral votes needed to make him president? If not, how many more votes will he need?
    - How about Biden? Would it be enough for him? If not, how many more votes will he need?
  1. On the basis of the work you have done above, who do you think is going to win? By how many Electoral votes?
  1. Who do most of the media predict is going to win?


Helpful Links



What is the Electoral College?


What are Battleground/Swing/Toss-Up States?



2016 Election Results



Electoral Vote Maps - Battleground States

The following websites give both up-to-date electoral vote maps and varying degrees of further information about the individual states:



BBC (scroll down to “Where are the battleground states?)


America 2020 (scroll down to “Battleground States”)


270 to Win


CNN Interactive Electoral Map – Road to 270


National Public Radio (NPR) Electoral Map



Polls - Battleground States


National average for battleground states (for detailed state information, click on one of the selected states)


Individual states (click on “Battleground states” on top left and select a state)



State Governors and Senators







CNN – America’s Choice 2020


BBC – US Election


US News – America 2020


Washington Post – Election 2020


New York Times – Election 2020


Fox News – Democracy 2020


National Public Radio – 2020 Election


Gallup’s 2020 Presidential Election Center