The third largest democratic machinery in the world will be in full swing tonight, with 50 states deciding whether to continue the Trump presidency or begin the Biden administration. Coverage and analysis will of course be omnipresent across all media globally this evening, so for now we’ll skip that part. There follows a brief overview of the rather convoluted voting system and – for those tuning in on GMT – a short guide on when and how to watch events unfold.
The Electoral College
The presidency isn’t won by simply getting more votes than the other guy. In fact, both Hilary Clinton and Al Gore won more votes but lost the election in 2016 and 2000 respectively. This is because each state has a number of Electoral College votes, ensuring that big city states don’t entirely dominate the wishes of the more rural, less populous states. The advantage here is that all states have a greater voice. The disadvantage? Well, it means that the loser can win. In recent decades this has tended to favour republican candidates as their traditional support bases come from the over-represented states in the midlands. As the total number of EC votes is 538, the first candidate to win 270 is the president. Almost all states award all of their EC votes to whichever candidate gets the most votes in that state, meaning that – for example – whichever candidate performs the best in New York gets all 29 of that states votes. The exceptions to this system are Maine and Nebraska which allow splitting of EC votes between candidates. For a better idea of how this works and to see the system in simulated action, head over to the excellent https://www.270towin.com/ , where you can play with the electoral map and see the results.
Where to watch
Literally anywhere that covers news. RTE, BBC, CNN, all online outlets….there’s no lack of coverage from traditional media outlets. If you’d like to see more informal analysis , Arbury Road will feature an array of policy experts as well as your humble author from 10pm GMT on Facebook live before the results come pouring in.
When do we find out?
Well, this one’s a bit tricky. Traditionally the major news outlets announce projected winners before the votes are counted. Long before, in fact. Generally around the minute polling closes in each state. This year, with nearly 100 million ballots cast by post, and several states counting these in different ways and under different criteria, it is worth remembering that the results are always announced based only on guesswork. Exceptionally good, scientifically crafted guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. Below is a list of states with the time they were “called” by the media in 2016, as well as their electoral college votes. The ones to keep an eye on? Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio are big and tend to move. If it’s a great day for Biden, South Carolina and Georgia will be early (ish) indicators. If it’s looking like a big win for Trump, anything from New England will be a sure sign. And if this is a close one we may just be up all night…and beyond.
The below table shows time of call in 2016 for each state. Based on most recent polling, states coloured in Blue will vote for Biden, Red will be for Trump, and Grey are as yet too close to call. The number beside each state denotes their Electoral College votes.