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EDI Insights: Who determines the winner in a US Presidential election?

Disclaimer:This article was developed as a data analysis, focused on a timely topic and is not in any way a political statement. EDI does not forecast the current election, only analyzing the data from previous elections. Our partner, Woobler has gathered publicly available data and is presenting it to provide statistical insight. Neither Woobler nor EDI are stating a political affiliation.



With less than a week to go, the 2020 US presidential elections are coming to a climax and Biden is generally leading Trump in the national polls. According to Forbes, more than 50 million have already cast their votes early from an estimated pool of 245 million eligible voters – 20.41% – leading some experts to predict a record-setting voter turnout this year, over 150 million-plus.

However, as we saw from the 2016 elections, the popular vote means little without sufficient turnout in the right place. Utilizing Woobler’s US demographic database, the EDI team investigated who decides the winner of a US presidential election.

The US Presidential Election – how it works

270 out of 538 electorate votes are required to win the presidency infographic
To become the US president, candidates compete to secure at least 270 out of 538 (50.18%) possible electorate votes. States in the US are allocated electorate college votes based in part on its population, and candidates are awarded all of the allocated electorate college votes if they can secure the popular vote on a state-level.

This means voters decide the contest on a state-level instead of a national, popular vote.

Out of the 50 states in America, most lean strongly towards either Republican or Democrats. Candidates will, therefore, usually focus on appealing to voters in a handful of states that are likely to vote in either direction to secure victory – known as battleground states or swing states.

Battleground States – Republican or Democrat?

Battleground states accounted for 26.61% of the total electorate in 2016 infographic
In the 2016 presidential elections, 26.61% of votes originated from battleground states according to Woobler. Low voter turnout in these key battleground states for the Clinton campaign proved to be fatal, despite winning the overall popular vote, demonstrating their strategic importance:

Exhibit 1: 2008 – 2016 US election battleground states

State
2016 Total Votes Cast
Voter Part %
2016 Vote Diff
2016 Result
2012 Vote Diff
2012 Result
2008 Vote Diff
2008 Result
Arizona 2,062,810 39.8 84,904

Republican

208,422

Republican

195,404

Republican

Florida 9,386,750 58.1 119,770

Republican

74,309

Democrat

236,148

Democrat

Georgia 4,029,564 52.3 231,323

Republican

304,861

Republican

204,636

Republican

Michigan 4,790,917 62.1 11,612

Republican

449,313

Democrat

823,940

Democrat

Minnesota 2,916,404 69.4 43,785

Democrat

225,942

Democrat

297,945

Democrat

North Carolina 4,629,471 59.6 177,529

Republican

92,004

Republican

14,177

Democrat

Pennsylvania 5,970,107 59.1 68,236

Republican

309,840

Democrat

620,478

Democrat

Wisconsin 2,937,326 65.7 22,871

Republican

213,019

Democrat

414,818

Democrat

Source: Woobler

A closer look at battleground states

The total 2016 electorate was estimated to be approximately 138 million votes, of which, 36,723,349 (26.61%) originated from battleground states according to Woobler.

Voter turnout in these states ranged between 39.8-69.4%, with Minnesota possessing the highest participation rate. Although Minnesota voted Democrat in all 3 previous elections, their majority have fallen remarkably by roughly 85.3% from 297,945 to 43,785. Interestingly the Republican majority in Arizona also fell, approximately 56.5% between 2012-2016, indicating widerspread low turnout rates.

Low voter turnout – is this an issue?

2016 US election quote by Omri Ben-Shahar, ForbesIncreasingly lower turnout rates have been an ongoing trend since 1964. The 2016 election saw a national turnout rate of 56%, a 20-year low according to CNN – the last 3 elections averaged at 56.9%. This has been argued as a major factor to Trump’s 2016 victory.

Exhibit 2: 2016 Voter participation
Exhibit 2 2016 Voter participation

Source: Woobler

Conclusion –The US election decisionmaker

Just 0.52% of the total electorate decided the 45th President of the United States infographic
If the 2016 US presidential election can provide any indication of the upcoming 2020 election results, the last presidential election centered on appealing to 26.61% of the total electorate in battleground states. The difference between Republican and Democrat votes (exhibit 1) works out to be merely 716,245, meaning Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 came down to only 1.95% of total votes cast in battleground states and the 45th President of the United States was decided by merely 0.52% of the total electorate in 2016.

About Woobler

Woobler logoWoobler is a data connectivity company focused on mobility and location intelligence. Knowledge Graphs are emerging as an evolutionary step in the AI/Data Science race. Highly precise and connected data are emerging as critical factors in expanding and improving Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Visualization. Ken previously spent 19 years at FactSet focused ‘Smart Data’ and data connectivity. Before joining FactSet, Ken founded Lionshares.com which was acquired by FactSet in 2001.

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