In the US presidential elections, most states are reliably Republican or Democratic. However, there are a few states that are unpredictable and can swing either way. These are known as “battleground” states, also known as “swing” states or “toss-up” states. They hold disproportionate sway in the US presidential elections which are decided not by the national popular vote but by the Electoral college.
The nitty-gritties of the US Presidential election-
Unlike most democracies around the world who elect their head of state by the national popular vote, implying whoever gets most vote wins the election, in the US its done little different. The US is the only country that picks its president through something called the Electoral College.
The Electoral college is based on how people are represented in Congress, where each state has a number of representatives roughly proportional to its population. These are called Electors.
Under the system there are 538 electoral college votes up for grabs in the US presidential election and a candidate must clear 270 votes to win.
Let's say a majority of Californians vote for Biden and he wins the popular vote there, in that case all of California’s 55 electors are going to be Democrats. It's winner takes all no matter how small the margin. Those 55 electors are now obliged to vote for Biden.
So, it’s the electoral college that matters and not winning the national popular vote.
This why every so often someone wins the presidency without winning the national popular vote. That has happened twice in just the past two decades (2000 – George W. Bush, 2016 – Donald Trump, both were Republican).
Swing States in 2020 and how do they matter?
The seven swing states that may play a critical role in delivering the US 2020 presidential elections are -
Florida – 29 electoral votes
Pennsylvania – 20 electoral votes
Ohio – 18 electoral votes
Michigan – 16 electoral votes
North Carolina – 15 electoral votes
Arizona – 11 electoral votes
Wisconsin – 10 electoral votes
Swing States have changed over time, thanks to the shifting demographics and political views. It's states like these where presidential candidates spend most of their time and pour in millions of dollars in advertising and campaigning. More technically, election analysts consider states battlegrounds where the margin of victory is expected to be less than five percentage points.
The claim that “every vote counts” is especially true in the swing states. In 2000, the results of the election came down to who won in Florida, which George W. Bush claimed by a meagre 537 votes. And in 2016 Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (a.k.a the Rust Belt states) by a total of just under 80,000 votes but he ended up getting all 46 electoral votes in those states. This helped him cross the 270 mark to win even though Hillary Clinton got more votes overall (nearly 3 million more).
Having said, all these seems a bit unfair where the system has favoured one party over the other for more than two decades now. The trends show how the Democrats have been adversely affected and have now led the movement to scrap the existing Electoral college system.