US Election: a guide to the shifting states

Many are anxiously awaiting US Election Day. As a political junkie, It was a day I used to look forward to – the culmination of a drama that adds another layer onto America’s democracy. But now, like many others, I am anxious. Will Joe Biden win? The polls seem to think so, but I needed to get a better sense of the map before I jump on the emotional roller coaster Tuesday night.

For a refresher, the 2016 presidential map shows the falling dominoes of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – states that had loyally voted Democrat in at least six consecutive elections. These three states alone total 46 electoral college votes, enough to swing the election to Trump.

All electoral college maps are at

I took a deeper historical look at the states that Hilary Clinton lost, but were won by the Democrats at least once since 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected the first time. If you add these states to Hilary’s effort, they account for 437 electoral college votes.

Since 1992, Ohio is the true swing state, going with the winner every time. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hilary Clinton lost Ohio and look what happened. Bill Clinton lost Florida in 1992, but since then, it has also gone with the winner.

Bill Clinton’s winning maps in 1992 and 1996 were very different than the Democrats road to victory today. Bubba won Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Montana – these states are not in play today. Clinton’s ’92 campaign was the last time the Democrats won Georgia – they actually might win it this time.

Obama’s 2008 campaign rivalled Bill Clinton’s in terms of electoral college votes. Unlike Clinton ’92, Obama won Florida, North Carolina, and Indiana. He would lose the latter two in 2012, despite winning the general election.

Maine and Nebraska are oddities. Electoral college votes are apportioned by congressional district, whereas every other state awards them on a state-wide winner-take-all basis. Trump took 1 electoral college vote from Maine in 2016 – the first time that happened. The only time the Democrats took a vote out of Nebraska since 1992 was with President Obama in 2008.

Hilary Clinton did win states that had gone with the GOP in previous elections.

While President Obama had also won Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado in both of his victories, Kerry and Gore had each lost 4 out 5 of this set. Bill Clinton never won Virginia in either of his elections.

Looking at all 50 states and Washington D.C., the Democrats have a higher base of electoral college votes compared to the GOP when looking at the history of results since 1992. The Democrats have won 16 states (and D.C.) each time, totally 194 electoral college votes. The GOP have won 13 states each time, totalling 101 electoral college votes.

Here are the results of the 2016 presidential election in the states settled by a margin of about 10% or less. Any flips will happen here.

Trump won close races in 10 states and 2 districts, totalling 179 electoral college votes. He won with 306 votes – a buffer of 36 above ‘270 to win’.

Without picking up any blue states, Trump can only afford to lose 36 electoral college votes, with Pennsylvania (20) and Florida (29) the largest prize available for the Democrats of those states settled by less than 2%.

Clinton won 8 battleground states in 2016, totalling 55 electoral college votes. Trump has fewer juicy targets than Biden when it comes to flipping states. If you’re wondering about Maine, the state awards two electoral college votes for winning the state-wide result, in addition to one per district.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to visit the JFK presidential library in Boston. A display had the electoral college map from 1960, which illustrated how much has changed in US politics over the years.

Nixon won the west coast, including California. While Nixon was from the state, California usually voted Republican then. Not now.

JFK won Texas, as the Democrats usually did then. With LBJ on the ticket, JFK cemented support in the South. There were still echoes from the Civil War in the 1960 map.

The GOP was nowhere in the South back then, losing everything from New Mexico to North Carolina (but winning Florida). A segregationist candidate, Democrat Senator Harry Byrd received 15 electoral college votes spread across Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

The point is that voter coalitions change over time. The Democrats’ support was eroded in the South as the civil rights era took hold. Wikipedia has an entry for Reagan Democrats, which refers to white, working-class Democrat voters that defected to the GOP under Reagan (pre-cursor to Trump’s win). The Democrats solidified their base on the east and west coasts.

On Tuesday night, we will see if coalitions shift again – Democrat breakthroughs in Georgia or Texas? Whither Ohio? GOP resiliency in Florida? According to the New York Times:

The president remains in contention in Florida on the strength of his support from working-class whites and his gains among Hispanic voters. He’s running more competitively with Florida Latinos than he did in 2016…


But, look, if Biden wins that one electoral college vote in Nebraska’s swing district, it will likely have been a good night for the Democrats. Keep an eye on the Cornhusker state.

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