This article discusses the original release, v1. For v2, go here.
On Tuesday 3rd November, the winner of the 2020 United States presidential election will be announced. Unless you’ve been hiding in a basement, you will already know that the race to the White House is between incumbent Republican president, Donald Trump, and Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
As a Brit watching from across the Atlantic (the pond), I can’t wait to stay up in the early hours of the morning watching the results unravel state by state.
It has already been a fascinating tussle, with Biden comfortably ahead amongst the pollsters, but only narrowly in front with the bookmakers. Given the events of 2016 though, trust in any of these figures should be met with extreme caution.
Here’s what you need to know
If you’re American and reading this, you’re probably pretty clued-up on the basics of your electoral system. I’m not going to waffle on at length — however, this article is going out to a worldwide audience who may not be so familiar with it.
There are 50 states plus Washington D.C (which I’ll refer to as a state), but 56 individual results to be decided. As part of the Electoral College system, each state has a set number of electors assigned to it, and the winner of the state gets awarded all of these as part of the nationwide total of 538.
The two exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, who don’t opt for the winner-takes-all system—instead, splitting their electoral votes between the winner of the state-wide popular vote and congressional districts. For both, two votes are given to the overall winner, whilst an additional two and three district votes are allocated respectively.
The magic number to accumulate is 270. Shall either candidate do so, they will have picked up enough votes to be declared the winner.
It may surprise you, but technically speaking the public does not vote for a candidate; they vote for electors who make up the Electoral College. Each state is worth at least three electoral votes, because there are two Senators and at least one member of the House of Representatives. These form the state’s Congress representation.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict which way some states will swing. I can dogmatically tell you that California, New York and Washington D.C will go blue, whereas Oklahoma, Wyoming and West Virginia are nailed-on reds. However, I would struggle to tell you which way the likes of Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will go.
There are around 23 states that are less obvious, and about 11 of these are neck and neck.
Discussion about this workbook can also be found at Reddit.
⚠️ Microsoft 365/Excel 2019 for Windows/macOS Required
Download file: 2020-US-Election-Simulator.xlsm
The Excel workbook contains an election simulator that allows you to predict who will win each state, whilst keeping count of the Electoral College votes. This is also visualised in the form of maps and bar charts.
The table features every state along with several other columns.
- State: name of state
- Abb: abbreviation of state
- EC: number of Electoral College votes state is worth
- Strength: favoured party of state according to the Financial Times’s tracker
- 2020: state winner prediction for 2020 election
- 2016: state winner of 2016 election
- HOLD/GAIN: displays whether 2020 state winner is the same as 2016 (HOLD), or whether other party has won it (GAIN)
Click on the cell in the 2020 column that corresponds to the state you want to change your prediction for. Your options are: TBD (to be determined), DEM (Democratic Party) and REP (Republican Party).
In the Strength column, I have used the Financial Times’s election tracker for the voting strength of the states. Each has been placed into one of five categories to show whether they are considered solid (>10pp), leaning (5–10pp) or a toss-up (<5pp) based on the poll averages.
It is worth pointing out that this webpage is being updated several times a day to reflect the differences seen in the polls. Most frequently you’ll find that some of the leaning states jump into the toss-up category, and vice-versa. What is featured in the Excel workbook is only accurate at the time of release, so do check the site for any changes.
Next to the table there are five buttons.
- Optimise View: alters the zoom to a level that ensures the best fit for the screen you are viewing the worksheet on.
- Freeze Table: on/off button that keeps the table fixed, so if you horizontally scroll to the right, it will still be in sight.
- Use 2016 Data: copies the winning parties from the 2016 column and pastes them in the adjacent 2020 field.
- State Strength Results: populates the 2020 column with results based on the contents of the Strength field.
- Clear 2020 Results: deletes the contents of the 2020 column.
The images of the two candidates appear along with their campaign logos. When either has accumulated a minimum of 270 Electoral College votes, a tick appears next to them and a status box appears announcing them as the winner.
There are two maps: the main one shows which party has won each state, whereas the one on the right shows a visual representation of the Strength column in the table.
Several bar charts are also present to give you finer level of insight:
270 TO WIN: shows how many Electoral College votes have been accumulated by each candidate. The dotted line is placed at the 270 mark to indicate the threshold either candidate needs to reach.
GAINS/LOSSES: gross number of states gained and lost.
NET GAINS/LOSSES: total number of states gained minus those lost.
STATES WON: total number of states won.
STATE TYPE WON: number of states won according to their Strength category.
The tables you see on the furthest right do the background calculations, and these are imperative for the maps and charts to function.
Putting this workbook together has allowed me to do brush up on various aspects of the election that I wasn’t already aware of. My geography skills have also improved immensely! Continually exposing myself to the map has meant I have memorised where most states are now and their political allegiances.
For yourself, hopefully you’ll find it useful. Do your research, cast your state predictions and maybe you’ll turn out to be right come election day.
We shall see.