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November 3 marks one of the most important elections of our time, when Joe Biden and Donald Trump will go head-to-head in the race for the US presidency. Following the coronavirus crisis and persistent civil unrest, America may be more divided than ever – but one thing all agree on is how high the stakes are.
The American voting system is very different to ours – even though Americans go out and cast their vote for either Mr Biden or Mr Trump this year, they are actually voting on a state level, not a national level.
Votes are cast for the Electoral College in all 50 states – and the amount of college seats in each state is proportionate to its population.
All but two states – Maine and Nebraska – use a winner-takes-all system, so if you win the most votes in a state, you take its entire haul of electoral college votes.
To become president either candidate needs to win a majority of the 538 electors, so more than 270 electors.
The electoral college system does usually reflect the popular vote – presidents have won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote just five times in US history.
The most recent instance was in 2016, when Mr Trump won the electoral college but Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, won the popular vote.
The founding fathers chose not to elect US presidents by direct popular vote over fears that larger and more populous states could have an outsized role in deciding the winner.
What is a swing state?
Swing states have populations that are finely politically divided between Democrat and Republican.
Most states nearly always vote the same way, meaning that in reality there are just a handful of states where both candidates stand a chance of winning.
Between elections, they swing from one party to another – unlike solid states such as California, which has always voted blue.
There are some permanent swing states, such as Florida – but others change on the run up to an election.
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What are the swing states?
This year North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona could all be decisive in the election’s outcome.
They are all states which Mr Trump won narrowly against Mrs Clinton in 2016, helping him secure his electoral college victory.
Retaining them is crucial to his re-election hopes – but polls in all states are favouring Mr Biden over the president.
Florida is perhaps the most well known swing state, and arguably the most important.
It swings between major parties — the state supported Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and Republican George W Bush in 2000, for instance.
What makes it so special is that the winner in Florida has won the presidency in every presidential race since 1964 – making it the key state to look out for in every election.
With that caveat aside, Joe Biden has been ahead of Donald Trump in national polls for most of the year.
He has hovered around 50 percent in recent weeks and has had a 10-point lead on occasions.
The polls in 2016 were much less clear, with only a few percentage points separating the two candidates.
At the moment, polls in the battleground states look good for Mr Biden, but there’s a long way to go and things can change very quickly.
The polls suggest Mr Biden has big leads in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – three industrial states Mr Trump won by margins of less than one percent to clinch victory in 2016.
The 2020 swing states
If current trends from the 2012 and 2016 elections continue, the closest results in 2020 will occur in:
Nebraska’s second congressional district
Other potential swing states include:
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