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US election latest: presidency in the balance

People standing looking upwards with an illuminated American flag behind.
Watching the election results in Times Square. Justin Lane/EPA

As US election night turned into morning, the result of the 2020 US election remained unclear, with some of the key battleground states yet to be called and full results not expected for hours, if not days. However, the race is tighter than many pollsters predicted.

As America counted, the Trump White House was bombastic and Democrats anxious. Yet the actual polls showed a complex story. Prior to election day itself, over 100 million had cast their ballot, amounting to over 70% of the total vote from 2016.

The respected fivethirtyeight website’s final forecast before the election had given former vice president, Joe Biden, an 89% chance of winning. But counting of actual votes points to a very tight contest. Democrats’ nerves were also a product of the memory of 2016 when Hillary Clinton was also assumed to be on course to victory.

Paths to victory

On the morning of election day, Biden appeared to have several routes to the 270 electoral college votes needed to win. First, most straightforwardly, he could win the states that Clinton had won in 2016 and rebuild the so-called blue wall in the mid-west by reclaiming Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These states had voted for every Democratic candidate since Bill Clinton won them in 1992 prior to Hillary Clinton’s losses there in 2016.

The polls suggested Michigan and Wisconsin were reasonably firmly cemented back in place in 2020, but Pennsylvania was perhaps a little looser.

In 2020, both North Carolina and Arizona – usually reliable Republican party bastions in presidential politics – were ranked as toss-ups. Other typically Republican states potentially in play included Georgia and even Texas.

Read more: US election: six swing states likely to decide who is the next president

As the count progressed through election night, it became increasingly clear that Trump’s supporters had turned out in force on election day and it was evident relatively early that the scenarios giving Biden a smooth path to the White House were not to materialise.

The Associated Press called Florida and Texas for Trump while Georgia and North Carolina remained too close to call for either candidate by the time of writing. The key, however, seemed likely to be whether Trump could maintain his 2016 standing in what had been the mid-west blue wall.

In turn this brought the focus on to Pennsylvania, but to add to the emotional torture of onlookers, the state was some way from counting its final votes, not least because it did not begin to count absentee ballots until election morning. It may be as late as Friday before a full tally is available.

Man in mask holding 'Miami for Trump' flag with a US flag behind.
Trump supporters in Miami celebrating on November 3. Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA

Patience needed

Whatever the final outcome, the election has been a contradictory exercise in democracy. Turn out, in the middle of a pandemic, was likely to be at its highest in the modern era. The fears of voting disruption appear unfounded, and the television networks mostly resisted the urge to make premature calls on outcomes so laden with consequence.

For his part, Biden told to his supporters in Delaware in the early hours of the morning to be patient, and that the race isn’t over “until every vote, every ballot is counted.”

Yet, the president continued to cast doubt on the very legitimacy of the process. With votes still being counted Trump tweeted that his opponents were trying to “STEAL” the election and lawyers still waited in the wings ready to challenge the results in a number of states. Trump subsequently gave a press conference, declaring that he was on course for victory and indicating he would ask the Supreme Court to stop vote counting.

Still, as the night wore on both the result of the election and the health of the country’s polity remained uncertain.

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