U.S. election: Dynamics of battleground states

With less than 12 days to the 2020 presidential election in the United States (U.S.), WALE ELEGBEDE, who is part of the Elections 2020: Virtual Reporting Tour of the Foreign Press Centre, writes on the swing states that may eventually decide the outcome of the election


Nigeria practices the presidential system of government like the United States but the process that produces elective officials, especially the President, differs. Unlike Nigeria, where the electorate votes directly for their candidates and select leaders on only a popular vote basis, in the U.S., voters do not vote directly for their president to emerge.



The 2020 US presidential election will take place on Novemebr 3 and the incumbent President, Donald Trump, who is also the Republican candidate is expected to slug it out with the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.



In the U.S., the electorate chooses the party for their state, the party then picks the electors to sit in the 538-strong electoral college, and the electors pick the president and the vice president. Hence, 270 electors are needed to declare a winner.



However, it is imperative to note that what is called the swing states in the U.S. election actually decides where the pendulum will swing in the election. This is due to the fact the there is little competition in other states that are mostly already decided.



Describing what swing states or battleground states are, Jon McHenry, Vice President of the Republican Polling and Strategy Firm in North Star Opinion Research, said they are states that flipped sides in the previous election, as well as those where the victory margin was 5 percentage points or less.



McHenry, who spoke as briefer alongside Margie Omero, a Principal at the Democratic Polling Firm, GBAO, at the Elections 2020: Virtual Reporting Tour of the Foreign Press Center for the November 3 election, said since 2000, only 13 of the 50 US states have voted for both Democratic and Republican parties.



Addressing the over 225 top foreign journalists selected across the globe by the United States government through the Foreign Press Centre (FPC) and partnership with Meridian International, to bring the world closer to its elections next month, McHenry and Omego, Republican and Democratic pollsters respectively, discussed the issues and strategies for 2020 battleground states from both parties’ perspectives.


While stating that a referendum on the President is a key topic influencing the voters in those crucial states, the pollsters listed the more than a dozen swing states based on demography, past and recent election history, voter registration and other related factors.



According to the Republican pollster, the states to consider as a battleground in the 2020 presidential race are the states that flipped in 2016 such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, just as he added in the list Florida and Iowa that had voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 and voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.


He also named any state that has decided by five points or fewer as critical to the tight presidential race, namely, Arizona and Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine, and North Carolina.



McHenry also said President Trump needs to win Florida plus one more of the key battleground states in order to be re-elected, just as he crucially drew attention to the importance of senior voters in the competitive states.


Interestingly, out of all the battleground states, the most important is Florida. The state has the most number of electors among the swing states – 29 – due to its larger population in the 2010 census, which is used to determine how many presidential electors each state has. In 2016, Florida voted for Trump by a slim margin of 1.2 percentage points.



Of significant among the factors that may influence how Florida votes is who the senior voters are disposed to at this period. Senior citizens are integral demographic in the state because Florida is a favoured retirement state for Americans.


Speaking about what to do win some of these battleground states and how do you appeal to voters in the states, the Republican pollster said, “For starters, we’re not going to see a Morning in America campaign or ad this year. This is really a warm, fuzzy, obviously not a high definition shot, but we’re not going to see that this year. That is not the President’s modus operandi.


“And it’s really, at this point with an economy that’s sort of gone in the tank this year with the Coronavirus still raging in some spots in  the country, not one that you could credibly run at this point. So, let’s look at the next slide. So, what does the president do?


“This administration is going to be more focused on what voters would lose under a Biden presidency. He will focus a lot on what the proposed tax increases under Vice President Biden would look like, what the green new deal would look like, and the impact that that would have on the economy. The economy does matter.



“And it matters a lot in some of these battleground states. And President Trump does score better on this issue, if you look at this most recent wall street journal poll. President Trump had a 48,41 advantage there. But you look at the Coronavirus and it matters a lot more to a lot of voters.”

But on her part, Democratic pollster, Omero harped on the surge in early voting, whether voting by mail or in-person, stressing that the method of voting now has become partisan in a way.

While stating that she believes that the gender factor in these upper midwest states could play a bigger part in this election cycle, she noted that, “what is changing in a variety of states is college educated women and how those voters are overwhelmingly now voting Democratic… It started in 2016 and really happened in the 2018 (congressional elections). President Trump has made very little effort to win those voters back.”

“We should continue to monitor that and look at why that gender gap goes, not just overall, but within party lines because women tend to vote more Democratic than men in any election. Even in an election that is more of a Republican climate, women are going to vote more Democratic than do men.



“But look at what happens among independent women versus independent men, and are there Republican women who are moving away from Republicans versus Republican men? So, that’s something to keep in mind as you look through public data and public releases and the way people talk about their public polling.”


Fielding questions on the main factors that would be tipping points in this year’s swing states, McHenry, the Republican pollster said, “If you think about tipping points in terms of states, there’s been a lot of attention on Pennsylvania being that tipping point state.



“That assumes, of course, that the President wins all those States that I put in red earlier. That he does win Florida. And then either Pennsylvania or Michigan typically gets to be the tipping point state.



“So, the economy is going to be very important there. You’ve seen a lot of talk from Republicans about fracking. Fracking’s really important to the economy in Pennsylvania, so you do see a lot of attention on that. You can sort of argue back and forth about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it does create a lot of jobs in Pennsylvania.”


Weighing in on the tipping point issues, Omero, the Democratic pollster said there are a variety issues and everybody is going to approach the election with all kinds of different things that are important to them.


“There are all kinds of issues and there are some people who have a very specific small set of issues.And other people are feeling very threatened by healthcare, the coronavirus, the economic impact… There are small businesses going out of business, worrying about their elderly parents and feel kind of personally connected to the coronavirus impact in a very real way.


“And then there are others who are thinking about the Supreme Court, either Democrats or Republicans, thinking about the Supreme Court. But ultimately, I think people are voting… It’s a referendum on the president. And when you have any incumbents, it’s usually a referendum on the incumbents.”



Clearly, both parties envisaged a similar battleground states and approaching them almost the same way, but the major deciders include changing demographics, finance, and strategic approach to issues.


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