US Election

Founding father: George Washington won the first ever presidential election in 1788.

With three weeks until the presidential election on 3 November, many are carefully following the situation in the battleground states. But which states are they – and why do they matter?

  • How does a candidate win the election?

    In the US, winning an election is technically down to “electors” – people who are the delegates to the electoral college. Selected by each state, they formally appoint the president and vice-president of the United States .

    There are 538 electors allowed in each presidential election. The Democratic and Republican candidates are each trying to gain at least 270 electors — just over half of the 538 available — and win the presidency.

  • Does every state have an equal number of electors?

    No. Each state is appointed a precise number of electors based on population size. With 55, California is the state with the most votes. Since the winner “takes all”, when a candidate wins the majority of the popular vote in California, they receive all 55 votes. Six small states, plus Washington DC, each have the minimum 3 votes.

    This is why many candidates want to win states like Texas, Florida and New York. Put together, these three states add up to 96 electoral votes. Even if the opposing candidate won both Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and West Virginia, they would only receive 31 votes.

  • Are larger states the only important ones?

    No. Winning larger states like California and Texas is important because they provide such a high number of votes. But candidates cannot afford to ignore smaller states – especially in a close election. This is because every electoral vote counts. As a result, candidates still have to pay attention to tiny states like Rhode Island and New Hampshire, as well as large states with smaller populations such as Alaska or Wyoming.

    In this year’s election, both candidates are focusing on gaining votes in every state possible, as it is set to be a close race.

  • What are battleground states?

    There are certain states that have a long history of voting for the same party. These are called “safe states”.

    However, there are some states that are unpredictable and can swing either way. These are known as “battleground” or “swing” states. Candidates focus on these states because they often become the deciders in the battle for election. Pollsters suggest that the most important battleground states for the 2020 election will be the six that “flipped” to support Trump in 2016 after backing Obama in 2012: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.

  • Does the candidate with the most individual votes win?

    Not always. Sometimes, someone can win the popular vote but fail to win 270 electoral votes. This means that the winning candidate will have won fewer actual votes — but that they won enough from states with enough electoral votes to secure a win.

    This happened in 2016 when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won 48.2% of the ballots cast nationally against Donald Trump’s 46.1%. However, because of particular states that Trump won, he ended up with 304 electoral college votes.

  • Does the system need to change?

    Some say that the electoral college gives too much power to “swing” states and has allowed presidential elections to be decided by a handful of states with more electoral votes. They argue that means that millions of Americans’ votes do not count because the result is not always representative of the popular vote.

    Others argue that in 227 years, the winner of the popular vote has lost the electoral vote only five times, proving that the system is not broken. It was enshrined by the Founding Fathers to ensure that all parts of the country are involved in selecting the president. The system also guarantees a definite outcome – meaning that once electoral college votes have been awarded, further recounts are not needed.

You Decide

  1. Is democracy the greatest invention of all time?


  1. Imagine you are running for election as the leader of your own country. Write down a list of the qualities you have that make you perfect for the job.

Word Watch

This is equal to the total voting membership of Congress: 435 representatives, 100 senators and 3 electors from the District of Columbia ( Washington DC).
The party is represented by a donkey. The story of the mascot is that Andrew Jackson, a candidate for the 1828 election, used it in on posters after opponents called him “jackass”.
Represented by an elephant. The symbol was first used in an Illinois paper during Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election campaign. It is assumed that the animal represents strength.
Washington DC
Formally called The District of Columbia, Washington DC is the capital city, but not a formal state.
The collective term for North Dakota and South Dakota.
People who conduct or analyse opinion polls — assessments of public opinion based around questioning.
Popular vote
The number of individual votes cast by the electorate, as opposed to the vote ultimately cast by the electoral college.
To cast a ballot is to vote in an election, describing the action of submitting the piece of paper — or ballot — that has your vote.
Five times
One famous recent occasion was the 2000 election. George W Bush won 271 of the electoral votes, winning the election. However, his opponent, Al Gore, won the popular vote by 543,895.
Founding Fathers
The eight men who revolted against King George III and wrote the Declaration of Independence, freed themselves from British rule and founding the United States of America as an independent country.

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