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  • Matthew Alexander

How can Biden breach Trump's red wall? Analysing crucial swing states in the US


After 36 years in the Senate, 8 years as Vice President and 4 attempts to become President, Joe Biden seems set to win the Presidency. Though, as many readers learned in 2016, nothing is guaranteed until the votes are counted. To get to the White House Biden needs to flip enough states to total 270 Electoral College Votes. This article examines Biden’s chances in three categories: the states Biden must win, the states Biden should win and the states Biden dreams of winning.

First Line of Defence

A combination of demographic change and narrow victories in 2016 set up these states to be the most enticing races for the Democrats this year. Targeting the white working class voters of the rust belt and amplifying turnout in the sunbelt is the focus here. Winning the following three states will get Biden to 269 - not quite enough for either candidate to clinch control of the White House, throwing the result to a decision made by Congress...


2016 Result: Rep +0.77%, 2020 Election: Lean Democrat, 10 Electoral College Votes

A marginal state that was already likely going Biden’s way has only accelerated leftwards over the course of the campaign. A recent coronavirus surge across Wisconsin has led to some truly shocking polls in Biden’s favour, including a 17 point lead from highly reputable pollster Langer Research Associates. While this seems on the optimistic side for Biden, this state seems in the bag for the Democrats. Only voting complications or a 2016-sized shock can stop Biden returning Wisconsin to the Democrats.


2016 Result: Rep +0.23%, 2020 Election: Lean Democrat, 16 Electoral College Votes

Possibly the shock of the night in 2016 as Trump overturned a 9.5 point deficit to eke out a win by the barest of margins. This time round the campaign has been scattered with hallmarks of a dysfunctional nation: the Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was subject to a kidnapping plot, and rumours swirl of militias intending to intimidate voters at polling stations. Despite the chaos, Biden leads by around 7 points in the polls and can expect a victory here. 


2016 Election: Rep +3.5%, 2020 Election: Leans Democratic, 11 Electoral College Votes

Arizona is turning bluer every cycle as younger Hispanics enter the electorate. The proximity to Mexico’s border meant Clinton targeted this state in 2016 hoping to pick up the large Mexican-American minority in the state. Though she lost the state she did make progress and now pundits view Arizona as low hanging fruit for Biden’s team and they’ve been leading here throughout the campaign. If Biden doesn’t win here the left of the Democractic Party will point to his failings in exciting younger Hispanics to turnout and vote.

Second Line of Defence

Florida and Pennsylvania are Biden’s keys to the White House, picking up just one these states should be enough to land him in the Oval Office.


2016 Election: Rep +1.2%, 2020 Election: Toss-Up, 29 Electoral College Votes

To the surprise of nobody, the perennial swing state has been rated a toss up ahead of Election Day. While Trump is floundering across America he has managed to appeal to Florida’s demographic intelligently across his two campaigns. His tough stance on Cuba and Socialism appeals to the large Cuban-American base, especially compared to Obama-Biden’s conciliatory tone. There are also signs that this purple state is becoming ever so slightly redder over the last ten years. Despite Democratic successes elsewhere in 2018, it was the Republicans who triumphed in Florida winning both a Senate Race and the Governorship. Do not be surprised if 2018 is replicated again this year, Trump may cling on here despite losing the Presidency.


2016 Election: Rep +0.7%, 2020 Election: Lean Democrat, 20 Electoral College Votes

This state is the most crucial on the map. Trump became the first Republican to win here since 1988 and opened up his path to the White House in doing so. Biden hopes his everyman appeal wins back the White voters that shifted towards the Republicans last time. So far this has been successful with Biden polling around 5% ahead but electoral shenanigans should be expected to complicate matters. It is expected that Trump will lead early on before Biden’s votes get counted over subsequent days, if Trump claims victory early before delegitimizing the later counts then a long drawn-out process in Republican controlled courts is likely.  

Third Line of Defence

These states are not necessary for a Biden win but polls certainly have him interested. Wins here can give him breathing space to slip up in the rest of the country. For instance, a strong showing amongst Hispanics in Texas would allow him to slip up in key Rust Belt states.

North Carolina

2016 Election: Rep +3.7%, 2020 Election: Toss-Up, 15 Electoral College Votes

Nine out of the last ten winners in North Carolina were Republican. The exception was Barack Obama in 2008 who rode the wave of a huge Black turnout. Unsurprisingly, Clinton in 2016 could not match this turnout but Biden can be more hopeful this year. A popular Governor, Roy Cooper, leads decisively in the polls, and Cal Cunningham is putting up a valiant effort to flip a Senate seat overcoming a Sexting scandal. Recent court orders have put the brakes on Republican efforts to muddy the electoral waters meaning the North Carolina result could be available on the night. Anything but a Trump victory spells danger for the Republican Party.


2016 Election: Rep +8.1%, 2020 Election: Toss-Up, 18 Electoral CollegeVotes

Traditionally a bellwether state but while America has become more urban and diverse, Ohio has remained more white and rural. This means that it is drifting towards the Republican column however Biden’s main strategy is winning back white working class voters and a win here would be an overwhelming vindication of this strategy. If Trump loses Ohio, the Republican strategy of appealing to disillusioned white voters is in tatters.


2016 Result: Rep +9.4%, 2020 Election: Toss Up, 6 Electoral Votes

Just like Ohio, Iowa was a symbol of Trump’s victory in 2016. Turning white working class voters against the Democrats by painting Clinton as an out-of-touch ‘globalist’. This populist trick is a tougher challenge when you have been President for four years and your opponent is Joe Biden. Polling is neck and neck despite Trump’s 9 point victory in 2016 which exemplifies the state of the race. This state is not part of Biden’s winning strategy hence why it is one of the few states Trump is outspending him. 


2016 Election: Rep +8.99%, 2020 Election: Leans Republican, 38 Electoral College Votes 

The Lone Star State has been a Republican stronghold ever since 1980 with the Bush dynasty dominating its politics for decades. Recently, there have been whispers of a changing electorate, Austin and Houston are attracting younger, more liberal migrants and Hispanics now represent a third of the electorate. Those whispers erupted as Beto O’Rourke challenged Ted Cruz in 2018 for a place in the Senate quickly becoming a classical American drama as each week the Republican lead was chiseled away at. Experts assume that Texas is 5-10 years away from becoming Democratic but Biden is only trailing slightly in the polls. If Biden wins here, 2020 will be a paradigm shifting election and the GOP will have to engage in deep-rooted modernisation to appeal to the new electorate of America.


2016 Election: Rep +5.1%, 2020 Election: Toss-Up, 16 Electoral Votes

Just like Texas, 2018 showed Democrats the potential to swing Georgia. Stacey Abrams just missed out on becoming the first Black female Governor. The race was so tight and the Republican tricks so shady that lawsuits are still ongoing contesting this election - perhaps foretelling the fate of this year’s presidential election. While the race is close here, Biden seems to be edging ahead due to popularity amongst older Black voters. In return, Trump’s team has poured money into the state which may save them here but cost them in more crucial states elsewhere.

A great night for Biden could see a nation-changing landslide but slip ups in key states such as Pennsylvania could deny him the Presidency. Whatever your allegiances, it promises to be a dramatic election.

Image - Flickr (Peter Stevens)


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