How Joe Biden won the key swing states and secured 2020 election victory

The nine key swing states have been crucial in the election, with Pennsylvania finally tipping the balance on Saturday afternoon to win an electoral college majority for the Democrats. Joe Biden has won six swing states and lost two, with ballot counting in some states: Florida – Trump wins Texas – Trump wins Arizona – Biden wins Michigan – Biden wins Minnesota – Biden wins Pennsylvania – Biden wins Nevada – Biden wins Wisconsin - Biden wins but by less than a one per cent margin, meaning Mr Trump can request a recount Georgia – 99 per cent reported, Biden slight lead (0.2 per cent). Final results could take several days, and there will be a recount in late November due to the small margin between candidates North Carolina – 99 per cent reported, Trump lead (1.4 per cent), mail-in ballots postmarked by November 3 are accepted until November 12 Follow live US election news following Biden's win What each state meant for the candidates' paths to victory Mr Trump failed to secure the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory (see an explanation of how the EC works here).  By securing Florida, Ohio and Iowa, Mr Trump's chances looked good the morning after Election Day, but Mr Biden went on to reverse the “Rust Belt” losses suffered by Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the end of the week. That meant flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin back to Democrat blue.  Pennsylvania, which offers the biggest number of electoral college votes and which took several days to report final results, was tight but in the end Mr Biden claimed the win to push past the 270 mark.  Mr Biden has a slight lead in Georgia but final results could take several days, and there will be a recount in late November due to the small margin between candidates. But if Mr Trump's legal threats are unsuccessful in other swing states, the recount will not affect the result of the election. A recount can be requested by a candidate if the margin is under 0.5 percent of votes cast according to Georgia state law.  Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said: “Right now Georgia remains too close to call. Out of approximately 5 million votes cast we’ll have a margin of a few thousand. With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia.” What determines a swing state? Swing states can shift between each election cycle, and they can be determined by looking at past results, opinion polls, political trends and any strengths or weaknesses of the candidates and their policies. Other areas that can influence gradual shifts of swing states are changes in population and demographics. What's the state of play in each one? Rust Belt States There are 10 states that everyone has had their eyes on in this election, most evident from the money spent on advertising and travel in Mr Trump and Mr Biden's campaigns. They include the three Rust Belt states that Mr Trump won in 2016: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. They were once considered the Blue Wall, but Mr Trump managed to turn them red in the last election.  Mr Biden has won Michigan in a positive turn for the Democratic campaign. Mr Biden was ahead in the polls for Michigan, a state which has large white suburbs, union members and black voters.  If it hadn't been for Covid-19, Mr Biden would have accepted the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin. He was keen to show the importance of the state and to learn from his predecessors' mistakes. Hillary Clinton didn't visit it once during her 2016 campaign, and despite polling well there, she lost the state to Mr Trump. Mr Biden was well ahead in the polls going into the election and ended up with a win here. Before 2016, Pennsylvania was a Democrat state with deep ties to the trade unions. Mr Trump campaigned hard there in 2016, promising to bring back mining and manufacturing jobs and he’s been doing the same again this year. Mr Biden was born in Pennsylvania, spending his early years in the city of Scranton . Despite President Trump’s large early lead, Mr Biden went on to win Pennsylvaniawith 49.7 per cent, to Mr Trump’s 49.1 per cent.  Sun Belt States Four other states to watch were the southern Sun Belt states of Florida, Arizona, Texas and North Carolina. Florida Florida is  almost always close in a presidential election and Mr Trump has now won that state. Since 1964, the candidate that has won Florida has always won the White House, apart from in 1992. Mr Trump surprised pollsters by winning Florida handily, despite predictions of a close race or a Biden victory. Arizona Democrats haven't won Arizona since 1996, so it's unusual for it to be a swing state. It was the home state of the godfather of modern US conservatism, Barry Goldwater, and for much of the Obama administration was seen as a lab for hardline anti-immigration policies.  The growing Latino population, migration from California and changing attitudes from white, college-educated voters, however, were are all important factors that turned this state blue and gave

How Joe Biden won the key swing states and secured 2020 election victory

The nine key swing states have been crucial in the election, with Pennsylvania finally tipping the balance on Saturday afternoon to win an electoral college majority for the Democrats.

Joe Biden has won six swing states and lost two, with ballot counting in some states:

  • Florida – Trump wins
  • Texas – Trump wins
  • Arizona – Biden wins
  • Michigan – Biden wins
  • Minnesota – Biden wins
  • Pennsylvania – Biden wins
  • Nevada – Biden wins
  • Wisconsin - Biden wins but by less than a one per cent margin, meaning Mr Trump can request a recount
  • Georgia – 99 per cent reported, Biden slight lead (0.2 per cent). Final results could take several days, and there will be a recount in late November due to the small margin between candidates
  • North Carolina – 99 per cent reported, Trump lead (1.4 per cent), mail-in ballots postmarked by November 3 are accepted until November 12

Follow live US election news following Biden's win

What each state meant for the candidates' paths to victory

Mr Trump failed to secure the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory (see an explanation of how the EC works here). 

By securing Florida, Ohio and Iowa, Mr Trump's chances looked good the morning after Election Day, but Mr Biden went on to reverse the “Rust Belt” losses suffered by Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the end of the week. That meant flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin back to Democrat blue. 

Pennsylvania, which offers the biggest number of electoral college votes and which took several days to report final results, was tight but in the end Mr Biden claimed the win to push past the 270 mark. 

Mr Biden has a slight lead in Georgia but final results could take several days, and there will be a recount in late November due to the small margin between candidates. But if Mr Trump's legal threats are unsuccessful in other swing states, the recount will not affect the result of the election.

A recount can be requested by a candidate if the margin is under 0.5 percent of votes cast according to Georgia state law. 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said: “Right now Georgia remains too close to call. Out of approximately 5 million votes cast we’ll have a margin of a few thousand. With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia.”

What determines a swing state?

Swing states can shift between each election cycle, and they can be determined by looking at past results, opinion polls, political trends and any strengths or weaknesses of the candidates and their policies. Other areas that can influence gradual shifts of swing states are changes in population and demographics.

What's the state of play in each one?

Rust Belt States

There are 10 states that everyone has had their eyes on in this election, most evident from the money spent on advertising and travel in Mr Trump and Mr Biden's campaigns. They include the three Rust Belt states that Mr Trump won in 2016: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. They were once considered the Blue Wall, but Mr Trump managed to turn them red in the last election. 

Mr Biden has won Michigan in a positive turn for the Democratic campaign. Mr Biden was ahead in the polls for Michigan, a state which has large white suburbs, union members and black voters. 

If it hadn't been for Covid-19, Mr Biden would have accepted the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin. He was keen to show the importance of the state and to learn from his predecessors' mistakes. Hillary Clinton didn't visit it once during her 2016 campaign, and despite polling well there, she lost the state to Mr Trump. Mr Biden was well ahead in the polls going into the election and ended up with a win here.

Before 2016, Pennsylvania was a Democrat state with deep ties to the trade unions. Mr Trump campaigned hard there in 2016, promising to bring back mining and manufacturing jobs and he’s been doing the same again this year. Mr Biden was born in Pennsylvania, spending his early years in the city of Scranton .

Despite President Trump’s large early lead, Mr Biden went on to win Pennsylvaniawith 49.7 per cent, to Mr Trump’s 49.1 per cent. 

Sun Belt States

Four other states to watch were the southern Sun Belt states of Florida, Arizona, Texas and North Carolina.

Florida

Florida is  almost always close in a presidential election and Mr Trump has now won that state. Since 1964, the candidate that has won Florida has always won the White House, apart from in 1992. Mr Trump surprised pollsters by winning Florida handily, despite predictions of a close race or a Biden victory.

Arizona

Democrats haven't won Arizona since 1996, so it's unusual for it to be a swing state. It was the home state of the godfather of modern US conservatism, Barry Goldwater, and for much of the Obama administration was seen as a lab for hardline anti-immigration policies. 

The growing Latino population, migration from California and changing attitudes from white, college-educated voters, however, were are all important factors that turned this state blue and gave Mr Biden the win. Although dozens of angry supporters of President Donald Trump converged on vote-counting centres in Phoenix as the returns went against him on Wednesday. The protests came as Mr Trump insisted without evidence that there were major problems with the voting and the ballot counting, especially with mail-in votes.

Texas

Texas was another new swing-state on the block. It is the second biggest state in the country. With 38 electoral votes, second only to California, the way Texas swings has a significant impact on the election result. In the end, Mr Trump claimed Texas with ease, with the Democrat surge failing to materialise despite heavy spending in the state.

North Carolina

North Carolina was once a red state through and through. They elected Republicans in the 1980s, 1990s and the early 2000s. Patterns changed when Mr Obama won there in 2008. North Carolina's demographics are changing. Many people from traditional blue states are moving to the tar heel state. The state's voting habits are divided between urban and rural areas. In 2016, suburban voters turned out for Mr Trump. While it may be some time before we get a final result, North Carolina is the one remaining uncalled state that Mr Trump is a favourite to win.

Georgia

Georgia has not voted for a Democrat since backing Bill Clinton, a southerner from Arkansas, in 1992. The state and its capital, Atlanta, are focal points of African-American culture, and it is growing increasingly diverse. That demographic change has pushed it towards swing status. With over 99 per cent of votes counted, Mr Biden currently holds an advantage of just 0.2 per cent. Due to the small margin, Georgia has announced a recount. 

Nevada

Nevada was not expected by most observers to be a swing state, but the Trump campaign still held out hopes of flipping it to the red column on election day. The two candidates were locked in a tight battle, but Mr Biden won Nevada with 50 per cent of the vote.

The history of swing states

The history of American elections have proved the importance of swing states. In 1948, Harry S. Truman defeated Thomas Dewey with a win of less than one per cent of the popular vote in then-swing states California, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and New York. The presidential race was so close that newspaper headlines mistakenly reported Mr Dewey as the winner.

'DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN' mistakenly made the headlines on election night in 1948 Credit:  Time Life Pictures

The 1960 presidential election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy saw 10 states won by less than two per cent of the vote.

In 2000, the election results came down to Florida's win, which George W. Bush claimed by a margin of just 537 votes. On election day itself, Al Gore was ahead by 202 votes. 

How does the Electoral College work?

All 50 US states and Washington DC have a set number of "electors" in the electoral college – roughly proportionate to the size of each state. 

Each state gets at least three electoral votes because the amount is equal to its total number of Senators and Representatives in the US Congress. Washington DC also gets three electoral college votes, meaning a total of 538 electors form the Electoral College.

California, the largest state, has 55 electoral votes, Texas, the next largest, gets 38. New York and Florida have 29 each.

All but two states – Maine and Nebraska – use a winner-takes-all system, so if you win the most votes in a state, you take its entire haul of electoral college votes

To become president either candidate needs to win a majority of the 538 electors; ie 270 electors.

While the Constitution does not dictate that electors follow the popular vote, many US states have laws requiring them to do so. These laws have been challenged by electors voting for someone else on occasion, but in July, the US Supreme Court ruled that electors must follow the popular vote in states that have passed such a law.

The electoral college system does usually reflect the popular vote – presidents have won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote just five times in US history. The most recent instance was in 2016, when Mr Trump won the electoral college but Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, won the popular vote.

2020 US election results map and analysis