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US election results 2020: When might we get a winner?

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You might have reasonably expected to have some kind of clue about the results of the US presidential election by now.

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Okay, so who is going to be the next president?

We don’t know, because not enough votes have been counted yet for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden to have secured victory.

image copyrightReuters

In fact, because of the time it will take to count the huge number of postal votes cast during this pandemic election, it could take days.

Several key states, including Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, are expected to project a winner at some point on Wednesday or Thursday. With results from these critical states – plus the others who projected winners late on Tuesday – we should have a clearer picture of the likely outcome.

But that’s not all. If there are legal challenges to the results – already threatened by Mr Trump – it might take weeks before a candidate can officially declare victory. This could get tricky.

It’s down to these states

A reminder – to become president you don’t actually need to win the popular vote. Instead, a candidate has to win the majority in a system called the electoral college, where each state gets a certain number of votes or “electors” roughly in proportion to its population. If you win a state, you win its votes (except Nebraska and Maine, but that’s complicated).

There are 538 of these state votes in total – the person who gets 270 will become president. So for both candidates, the road to the White House means a carefully plotted path through states that will get you to this magic number.

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And, as per usual, it will all come down to a handful of key battleground states.

Right now, Mr Biden holds narrow – very narrow – leads in Michigan, Nevada and Arizona. And CNN, CBS, Fox and the Associated Press have just projected a win for him in Wisconsin.

If he’s able to hang on in all these states as final votes are counted, their combined 43 electoral votes from these states will get him to exactly 270. Additional wins in Pennsylvania or Georgia would give some cushion to the Democrat, and leave some room for error.

For Mr Trump, a path to the presidency will likely pass through Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes. If he pulls off a win here, a win in at least three other remaining states – most likely in Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada or Arizona – could put him back in the White House.

But with voters left to count, and margins on a razor’s edge, this could all change.

Why is it so close?

For starters, it looks like polling data going into this week gave an incomplete picture.

Robert Cuffe, BBC’s head of statistics, says it’s still too early to say whether this election has been a pollster’s nightmare. But we do know that the national poll average did not appear to forecast the nail-biter we find ourselves in now. Final national polls showed Mr Biden leading Mr Trump by about eight points. In battleground states Mr Biden also polled in the lead, but by a much slimmer margin.

Voters’ priorities may have also been slightly misjudged. While the coronavirus pandemic has dominated headlines for most of this year, a survey conducted by Edison Research found that only one in five voters considered the virus the top issue influencing their vote. But many more – more than one third of all voters – said the economy was their key issue.

This view may have favoured Mr Trump – those who put the economy and jobs first leaned heavily toward the president.

image copyrightReuters
image captionTrump’s win in Florida was put down to a good turnout from the Cuban-American community there

The story in one line?

Donald Trump is doing better than expected and Joe Biden has failed to win those battleground states which count votes quickly, which means more uncertainty as we wait for a few key states.

And in their own words…

Joe Biden addressed supporters saying: “We’re going to win this” but also urged patience. Donald Trump said Republicans had won and falsely claimed fraud – as we know, votes are still being counted and there is no evidence of fraud.

The other stories you might have missed

With the presidency still hanging in the balance, we’re all on the edge of our seats. But while we wait, here are some other stories you may have missed:

  • A man who died of coronavirus in October has been elected to the North Dakota state legislature. Republican David Andahl, 55, ran a successful primary challenge against a powerful Republican, before waging his campaign in the general. It’s not the first time a dead person has won a US election. In 2018, a brothel owner in Nevada won an election to statewide office after he died.
  • Sarah McBride is set to become the first transgender state senator in the US after winning her race in Delaware. “I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too,” she wrote on Twitter after her win. Ms McBride, 30, joins a new class of LGBTQ lawmakers to make history this election. Oklahoma has elected its first ever non-binary candidate, and Kansas has elected its first trans person of colour.
  • For marijuana users, last night was a clean sweep. State ballot measures in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota all approved recreational marijuana legalisation, and all by roomy margins.
  • Looking for some good news? The US is already on course for the highest electoral turnout in a century.

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