The US 2020 Presidential Election: When, Who and How

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On Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020, the United States of America are to decide their President, and, in the same turn, their future.

With the world still facing the repercussions and effects of Covid-19, and the US experiencing tensions between its police force and people because of systemic racial injustices, this upcoming election is considered by many to be one of the most crucial in American history.

But who are the candidates, how does it work, and what are the thoughts of the American people?

In this three-day countdown to the US election, common questions will be answered, updates will be shared, and we watch with bated breath as the US makes its choice.

Who are the Candidates?

On the Republican side, Donald Trump is up for re-election, with Mike Pence standing as his running mate and potential Vice President. Trump is a contentious figure for many but holds strong-standing support from traditionally ‘red’ or Republican states, such as Texas, Mississippi and Wyoming, and his MAGA groups (short for “Make America Great Again”, Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan), as well as significant corporate backing.

For the Democrats, Joe Biden runs for election, along with Kamala Harris as his potential VP. Biden was Obama’s Vice-President during his two terms and stands with the backing of the ‘blue’ or Democrat states, such as New York, California, and Washington, as well as a multitude of activist groups, the political left-wing, and many labour unions.

What are ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states?

The US political map is divided into ‘red’, ‘blue’, and ‘swing’ states, wherein the red and blue states are those which have voted for the same party consistently since 2000- Republican and Democratic respectively. They are often considered to be a certainty for their party, and impossible to turn, or ‘flip’, so frequently these states get less campaign attention from either side in the run-up to the election.

The swing states are, as the name suggests, those which oscillate between the Democratic and Republican parties from election to election, and are thus those which Trump and Biden have been expending much of their campaign trails and focus on- Michigan and Wisconsin are prominent examples.

Often, swing states are referred to as ‘battleground states’, as they can frequently mean the difference between success and defeat for either candidate. The reason for this, and the consequential heavy targeting of swing states by candidates, is because of the electoral college.

What is the electoral college? Swing back here tomorrow and find out, along with an update on mail-in ballots and early voters. See you then!


What is the electoral college?

The actual number of votes a candidate gets in the US is not what truly counts in winning the presidency; instead, the president is decided by whoever gains a majority of 270 out of the 538 pre-selected electors. States vary in numbers of electors, with a minimum of 3, and it is very loosely based on population, with California holding the most at 55 electoral votes. It generally works within states as winner-takes-all, regardless of the margin of difference, explaining much of the heightened focus on ‘swing states’ and why they disproportionately affect the election.

This leads to situations such as in the 2016 presidential election, when saying both that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and Donald Trump won the presidency is true. Despite Clinton winning approximately 2.1% more of the popular vote in total, Trump won many of the key states like Florida, where a 2.2% margin of victory led to Trump gaining all 29 of Florida’s electoral votes.

But what about Mail-in Ballots and Early Voters?

In this election, more Americans than ever have been voting by mail; in large part because of Covid-19 and associated risks with voting in-person. Despite problems this year with vote rejections, delays, and recent suspicions raised by the Republican Party around mail-in vote legitimacy, it remains an attractive option for many voters.

As of November 2nd, 2020, more than a record 97 million Americans have already voted, either by mail-in ballots or early voting. That is more than two-thirds of the total number of votes in the 2016 election.

Tomorrow is election day, when from 6 am until 9pm anyone who hasn’t yet voted but plans to will head to the polls. Regardless of the result, this election has been historic in nature.

Check-in tomorrow for a final update on election day, current numbers, and when we should get the result. Until then!


So, what happens next?

Despite the common practice in the US of announcing the victorious presidential candidate quite soon after polls close, this year is set to be more challenging because of the large number of early voters- an anomaly that many states were not prepared for.

While the last polls will continue to be open well into the morning of the 4th in UK time, calculating the results may take days or even weeks. Even beyond Covid-19, more complications have arisen this year, with both Republicans and Democrats prepared to lawyer-up in response to the increase in mail-in ballots- to delegitimise, and defend, respectively.

Fears of rioting at the polls or after the preliminary results are announced, also abound on both sides; just this morning, an 8,000 ft tall barricade was built surrounding the White House and in recent weeks, many cities and businesses have been preparing for the potential violence.

This interactive Guardian article explains the normal voting process and the possible ways that it could be affected this year, from Covid-19, suspected fraud or civil unrest.

For those who would like to follow these next few crucial hours more closely, Associated Press has long been one of the most trusted sources of updates, information, and, indeed, the results.

That concludes our 3-day run-up to the 2020 US Presidential Election. Thank you for joining us and we hope to bring you the results as soon as we can.


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