270 to win: A guide to election night & prediction

Alex Mitchell
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The US Presidential election is nearly over. Starting back in March 2015 when the candidates for the party nominations started to announce their intentions to run. Three on the Democrats side, Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Eight candidates for the Republicans, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Florina, Chris Christie and John Kasich. In August of this year, the nominations were secured and the two candidates started going head to head in what many have described as a choice between a rock and a hard place (to put it politely). Here is a guide to US Election night.


The magic number to keep in mind is 270. Whilst all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of Senate seats are up for grabs at the same time, the results have no effect on who becomes president, unlike our own parliamentary elections. Neither is it a straightforward popular vote across the country.

The American people don’t directly elect their president. Each of the 50 states will hold a popular vote, with the winner in each state being awarded Electoral College Votes (ECVs). 538 ECVs are up for grabs and are broken down by state according to population size. These reflect the number of Congressmen/women the state sends to the House of Representatives. The big states of California, Texas and Florida award 55, 38 and 29 respectively, whereas smaller states such as Vermont, Idaho, North and South Dakota award 3 ECV each. The District of Columbia is also awarded 3 ECVs, though it is not a state.

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The Electoral College is a group of electors who are party-nominated non-officials selected during the primaries or at conventions, or by the state legislatures. Though they are party-affiliated, all states bar Maine and Nebraska operate under a ‘winner takes all’ system. So all ECVs will go to the winner of the popular vote. Maine and Nebraska split their ECVs by the winner in each congressional district. Maine has 4 and Nebraska 5. This could prove important should there be a tie in the Electoral College.


With a large number of undecided voters and those who feel uninspired by either candidate heading into polling day, turnout (particularly in the battleground states) could be a significant factor. Pundits argue that low turnout will benefit Trump, as the die-hard Trump supporters and die-hard anti-Clinton group will turn out to cast their vote no matter what. If turnout is high, the pundits predict that the undecideds and apathetic will have turned out and voted against Trump.

Die-hard voters on both sides will turn out early, unlike the undecideds who are likely to vote towards the end of the day, if indeed they do vote. Another thing to note is due to the time zones in the US, counting will begin on the East Coast whilst the polls are still open in the West.

By the time you read this we will already have our first result. The village of Dixville Notch in New Hampshire with an electorate of nine. They gather at midnight to cast their votes and then close the polling station. In the Primaries, Dixville gave three votes to Governor John Kasich, two votes to Trump and the four Democratic votes all went to Senator Bernie Sanders. We will then wait till around midnight (GMT) for the first set of results.

States to watch

A number of states tend to vote the same way election after election (i.e., California is a safe Democrat state, giving Clinton 55 ECVs in the bank, where as Texas is a safe Republican state giving 38 ECVs to Trump’s bank). Essentially, the election comes down to a number of battleground states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Nevada and Arizona, to name a few.

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Of the key swing states,Florida has the largest number of ECVs up for grabs. Florida proved crucial in the 2000 election. Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush won Florida’s ECVs, and with it the election. Pennsylvania is the next biggest prize in the battleground category, with 20 ECVs up for grabs. Nevada has a good record of swinging to the eventual winner in nine out of the last ten generals.

The big one to watch out for is Ohio. No Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio. Furthermore, Ohio is a Bellwether state, having voted for the eventual winner in every election bar the ones in 1944 and 1960 since the end of the 19th Century. The polls coming out of Ohio don’t provide any clarity or reassurance for either candidate.

Georgia and Utah are not traditionally swing states, however they are in play this year. Georgia has voted Republican in every election since 1996 but that support has eroded over the years. Could we see Georgia’s 16 ECVs swing to the Democrats? The polls lean towards Trump but don’t give a convincing lead. Utah will be interesting because two third-party candidates, the Libertarian Gary Johnson and Independent Evan McMulin, have won over parts of the electorate here. The state and its Mormon population overwhelmingly backed Govoner Mitt Romney with nearly 73% of the vote in 2012, but they haven’t warmed to Trump as much. If the third party vote eats into the Republican electorate, could we see Clinton take Utah through the Republican division? The polls are showing a three-way split. The winner gets 6 ECVs.

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The Concession

Once the media outlets have declared enough states to give either candidate the magic 270, it’s custom that the losing candidate phones the winner to concede the election. A fairly straightforward thing, you would think, yet Trump has not yet stated whether he would accept the result should he not be the winner. He’s even admitted to considering legal options. One thing to note is whoever wins the election doesn’t become president there and then.

The presidential term doesn’t begin until the 20th January as the government goes into transition. This stems from the days when transportation was slow and gave the newly elected members of Congress time to travel from the West Coast to the capital. It now gives the president elect time to form their cabinet to hit the ground running on day one. President Obama will remain in charge until midday on 20th January.

The Prediction

Whilst the popular vote may be close with neither candidate polling at over 50%, I’ve looked at the polls in the swing-states and predict the following:


I admit, this is a bit on the optimistic side. Final polls from Ohio (OH) show a marginal Trump lead yet I’m placing it in the Democratic column. I also predict Virginia (VA),North Carolina (NC) and Pennsylvania (PA) will join Florida (FL) in the Democratic column. Whilst I may be optimistic, I don’t think Utah (UT) and Georgia (GA) will switch from the Republicans. If I’m wrong and Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia all vote for Trump, that leaves Clinton with 275 and Trump on 263. That is as close as I think it will get if I’m being pessimistic. That would mean the winner could be decided in Nevada if Florida remains Democrat.

You can have a play around with the electoral map by going to 270towin.com.

About Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. I observe - I analyse - I debate