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A guide to the 2024 swing states – and why they could be a problem for Biden

Battleground states
Battleground states

When Americans go to the polls in November 2024, all eyes will be on the swing states – a collection of bellwether areas that have the power to determine the overall result.

While most states vote consistently either for the Republicans or Democrats in each election, a select few are close enough that candidates must campaign hard in the hope of holding onto it, or “flipping” it to their party.

Several key battlegrounds have already emerged in the 2024 election, and with national polls showing a likely close race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, if he becomes the Republican nominee, the swing states will be more important than ever.

What are swing states?

The classification of “swing state” is not official, and pollsters disagree over which states are most important for candidates going into each race.

Broadly speaking, a swing state is where both major parties enjoy similar levels of support among the voting population – with the Democrats and Republicans within a few percentage points of each other in polls.

In this presidential race, the critical states are likely to be Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

In six of the seven – all but Florida – Mr Biden beat Mr Trump in 2020, giving him a lead that allowed him to win the White House.

Mr Biden beat Trump in six of seven battleground states in 2020
Mr Biden beat Trump in six of seven battleground states in 2020 but appears to be losing his grip - ANGELA WEISS

Why are swing states important?

Swing states matter because almost all states use a “winner takes all” system for allocating the votes of the state in a presidential race.

Even if one candidate wins by a very narrow margin – as Mr Biden did in Georgia in 2020 – 48 of the 50 states will allocate all of their delegates to that candidate to vote in the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is the body that ultimately determines the winner of a presidential election, by representing each of the states in a vote.

Only in Maine and Nebraska are votes allocated on a more proportional basis, with two delegates instructed to vote for the overall winner in the state, and the remainder asked to represent the result in each congressional district.

The weighting of these votes means that winning a narrow swing state can have a disproportionate impact on the result – making them vital in securing the presidency.

As Hillary Clinton found out in 2016, winning more votes than the other candidate does not mean winning the election. In some states, the location of voters matters as much as their choice of candidate.

Which states have become Democrat?

Mr Biden’s 2020 election victory in Arizona was surprising to some observers, as the state had only voted once for the Democrats since 1976.

The state had voted for Mr Trump in the 2016 election, and consistently voted for the Republican candidate even in elections they did not win at a national level, including in 2008 and 2012.

Georgia, a stalwart Republican state between 1996 and 2016, chose to take a chance on Mr Biden in 2020 and hand him a knife-edge victory that Mr Trump sought to overturn. That incident is now the subject of state legal proceedings against Mr Trump and his team.

In both of those states, Mr Biden’s support now looks shaky – and could spell trouble for him in 2024.

Which states do Republicans need?

The Republicans must win back their former heartlands from Mr Biden, and attempt to win over traditionally Democratic states if their candidate has a chance of winning the 2024 election.

There are already positive signs for the party in Florida – a state once considered one of the closest races, but that has since become more strongly Republican. Ron DeSantis, the second-placed GOP primary candidate, is the state’s governor. In North Carolina, Mr Trump won narrowly in 2020 and his campaign is looking to extend that lead in 2024, if he is chosen as the Republican nominee.

Winning Pennsylvania, which has voted Democrat in every presidential race but one since 1992, would be a major coup for the Republicans in 2024. Not only has the state been a focus for the Biden administration’s “Bidenomics” policies, it also contains the city of Scranton, the president’s birthplace.

Pennsylvania’s voting history is mirrored in Michigan, which also chose the Republicans in only one election since 1992. The state is the heart of the American automobile industry, and contains hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers whom both Mr Biden and Mr Trump have targeted in their early campaigns.

Why early polls show trouble for Biden

The early national polls show that Mr Biden has the least support of a returning president at this point in the electoral cycle in history.

His re-election is also at risk in the major swing states – raising alarm in his campaign headquarters.

The Telegraph’s swing state tracker shows that Mr Trump currently leads Mr Biden in a hypothetical head-to-head vote in the six states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

Two of the states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have “flipped” to Mr Trump in the last three months, the research shows.

The polling results also show that Mr Trump is ahead in all six states on the key issue of the economy, which has been a major focus of Mr Biden’s domestic agenda and looks set to dominate the 2024 race.

The swing away from Mr Trump in 2020 was widely interpreted as a rejection of his chaotic governing style and populist policy agenda, plus concerns about his truthfulness and a feeling that US democracy itself had suffered under his leadership.

That analysis was only strengthened by the events of Jan 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building, taking inspiration from his refusal to accept the election result. Those events are now the subject of multiple criminal lawsuits.

Rioters storm the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021
Rioters storm the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021

Mr Biden’s antidote was to launch a mass spending programme based on the idea of “fighting back” – both against “Make America Great Again” Republicanism and the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, numbers suggest that this message is failing to resonate with swing voters, and may also be turning off the core Democrat demographics of ethnic minorities and young liberals.

Polling in October also reflected national concerns about inflation and Mr Biden’s age.

A majority of voters in six swing states, including Pennsylvania where he leads Mr Trump, said that the 80-year-old is too old to seek a second term. They also recorded separate qualms about Kamala Harris, who would replace him if he was forced to stand down.

Despite more than 90 criminal charges against Mr Trump, many of his supporters who voted Republican for the first time in 2020 have stuck by him. On Mr Biden’s side of the ledger, it is hard to find a group of disenfranchised voters he has managed to energise in the last three years.