Trump vs. Biden: how to spot the early signs of the winner on US election night
Your guide to interpreting the results from the country’s 50 states
Voters are heading to polling stations across the US today to pick their next president in a once-in-a-lifetime election.
In the red corner, Donald Trump is hoping to repeat his victories in the states that he took from Hilary Clinton in 2016. In the blue corner, Joe Biden has gone all out to woo back the voters that left the party four years ago.
The final result is expected to come down to a few key swing states that the victor will need to build a winning coalition. So what potential early indicators of who is going to win should you be looking out for as the results come in?
Ones to watch
Owing to the electoral college system, the results in a total of just eight of the 50 US states are likely to determine who takes the keys to the White House.
And of these eight battlegrounds - Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina - the first four are the key ones to watch as results start to roll in, after having swing the presidency for Trump in 2016.
Polls close in Georgia at what will be midnight in the UK, followed by North Carolina at 12.30am GMT, Ohio and Florida at 1am, and then Texas and Arizona at 2am.
But as Politico’s Ryan Heath says, “with so many Democrats voting by mail, it’s quite possible that a ‘blue wave’ of votes will roll in days after the election. Trump is therefore counting on being ahead on election night - to claim victory or at least strong momentum before a potential late surge for Biden, which he can then call fraudulent.”
Conversely, with Biden’s vote expected to jump by up to 60% in some states as mail ballots are counted, according to Heath, a strong result for the Democrat on election night would suggest that he is well on the way to winning.
As to when results will start coming in, Arizona has “improved its election machinery since the 2018 midterms”, when the final count was not announced until six days after the election, Slate reports. This time round, the results from Arizona are expected to come out early tomorrow morning.
Florida started counting mail-in ballots three weeks ago, so the Sunshine State should announce early tomorrow too. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin should announce “within one week of election day”, Slate adds - meaning a nervous wait if the vote elsewhere is tight.
As voters head out to polling stations, the polling data looks good for Biden, especially in those four swing states. However, according to a RealClearPolitics polling round-up, half of the eight battleground states are within the margin of error.
“By almost every traditional yardstick for measuring elections, Trump seems on the verge of being denied a second term,” Politico says. But “even so, he can’t be counted out”.
In Arizona, the polling shows a dead heat in an NBC News/Marist survey but a three-point lead for Biden in a CNBC/Change Research poll. Florida polls range from a two-point lead for Trump forecast by the Trafalgar Group to a five-point advantage for his rival in Quinnipiac University polling.
Wisconsin appears to be the safest ground for Biden, with CNBC/Change Research calling an eight-point lead in his favour.
Trump’s route to victory
By Saturday night, 91 million Americans had already cast their ballots, with several states already approaching or exceeding the total turnout in the 2016 election.
“As early voting kicked off, it looked like more Democrats were turning out than Republicans,” The Washington Post says. “But in most key battleground states, that trend has now shifted to favour Republicans, even as a newly mobilised, more diverse electorate is making an impact.”
The earliest possible indication that Trump has again defied the polls and pulled off a victory will be if he wins Florida tonight, followed by Pennsylvania when those results are finally announced.
If he wins these two states, the Republican could afford to lose Michigan and Wisconsin - which look good for Biden - provided he then “sweeps the Sun Belt battlegrounds” including Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona, Forbes says.
If Trump pulls that off, “there is little margin for error”, although if he were to lose in Arizona, the two presidential candidates could end up tied on 269 electoral college votes, the site adds.
And should that happen, a drawn-out court battle over recounts could be on the cards.