What to watch out for on election night

There’s a lot going on during an US election night that doesn’t really feature in the UK, but we thought we’d take the opportunity to walk you through the key swing states that will decide this battle.

Time zones. Precincts. Projections. Those are just three things that don’t play a part in UK general elections.  Even similar words such as exit polls don’t really play the same role in US elections that do over on this side of the pond.

Stranger still is that we’re no longer talking about individual constituencies, we’re talking about large states, many of which are large enough to be countries in their own right. Analyzing how a state votes is harder than looking at an individual constituency in the UK, because it covers such a diverse range of areas. So we’re going to dig in deep to the key swing states to see what you need to watch out for.

These are the fourteen states that in 2012 voted the most marginally for Barack Obama (the Democratic candidate) and Mitt Romney (the Republican candidate). All together they control 168 electoral votes out of the 270 you need to win the election.:

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Some of these we can dismiss now as being really quite far up the list. Oregon, for example, would be a great catch for Donald Trump but we can probably discount it as really too far for the Republicans to reach this time round.

On the other hand, Georgia and Arizona are just off this list, even though it has been suggested at different stages that they are winnable for Hillary Clinton. However, both voted for Mitt Romney by pretty sizeable margins in 2012, so they just fail to make the cut here. Our focus is on the four key states of Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Ohio.

Virginia

Virginia voted almost exactly the way the whole country did last time round, with 51% voting for Barack Obama and 47% voting for Mitt Romney. The Republicans have their strength in the counties which are predominantly white, but the Democrats’ strength lies in the urban areas which are more diverse.

It’s become more Democratic over time. Bill Clinton didn’t even take it in 1996. However, Obama turned a 9-point lead for Bush in 2004 to a 7-point lead for himself in his first election in 2008.  

Key counties and cities: Radford city is the country to watch out for here. It voted exactly the way the state (and hence the country did) last time. Also watch out for which of Clinton or Trump has a lead in Loudoun, Staunton, Nelson and Buckingham as indicators of a Democratic or Republican win here.

Florida

The Sunshine State is now infamous in electoral history after the debacle in 2000. However, not only does it sit incredibly near the middle of the battleground states (even if it does lean Republican) but the swing in the past few elections has been in line with the national swing, making it incredibly useful.

The main split here is between homeowners and renters, with the former voting Republican and the latter for the Democrats.

Key counties and cities: Jefferson in the Tallahassee suburbs and Monroe on the Florida keys are the two key counties to watch out for.

Colorado

Colorado used to be a pretty solid Republican state, even opting for Bob Dole in 1996. The 2004 and 2008 elections saw the Centennial State move from a pro-Republican to narrowly more Democratic than the country as a whole.

Colorado is a relatively comfortable state. The majority of the counties earn more than the national average, with a larger number of managerial and professional jobs. Only one in ten counties have more than the average proportion of minorities. It’s many of these qualities that have led to it being more Democratic.

Key counties and cities: Broomfield, Larimer, Ouray, Jefferson are the counties that voted as the whole state did last time round.

Ohio

Just like Florida, Ohio has moved with the country over the past twenty years, which makes it another good state to see which way the wind is blowing.

The urban areas in Ohio, with more renters and a smaller proportion of white voters are the Democratic heartland here. The Republicans have a base in the smaller number of areas with an income above the national average.

Key counties and cities: Wood, Ottawa and Sandusky near the lakes are key counties. But Montgomery, near Cincinnati, should also be looked at as well.