Six Swing States

America's weird system for choosing Presidents keeps getting weirder.

Above is Taegan Goddard’s Electoral Vote Map, which is interactive at the link. Note that this interactivity is limited to only six states, as he considers the others non-competitive based on polling and past results.

In recent elections, there have been a dozen or more truly competitive battlegrounds which could result in many various paths to 270 electoral votes.

That’s changed in recent years as political polarization has increased, resulting in red and blue strongholds with bigger victory margins.

For instance, despite the narrow popular vote margin in 2016 — see the 2016 election map — more than two dozen states were decided by margins of 15 percentage points or more.

In 1988, when the popular vote margin was seven percentage points, there were just 17 states which were won by such big margins.

It’s noteworthy, too, that 1988 was the last election in which California, which had long been a “lock” for Republicans (including five times for native sons Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan), voted for the GOP.

I’ve played around with the map a bit and started by giving the GOP (presumably Trump) Arizona and Georgia and giving the Dems (presumably Biden) Nevada, assuming a reversion to the norm. That puts it a Republican 262, Democrat 231, Toss Up 45. Which means that Biden would need to run the table in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. If Trump wins any of them, he’s President.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Our all-or-nothing approach to allocating electoral votes magnifies the ongoing disaster of the Electoral College. If all states could be persuaded to award electoral votes to whichever party took each congressional district, more states might become “swing.” Senatorial votes would still go to the party which carried the state. It seems to work in Maine and Nebraska, neither of which is a high-value prize.

  2. charontwo says:

    Maybe NC within reach in a good year for D?

    AZ has a D gov and secy of state now, based on last midterm not really a GOP gimme, I read it as D favored.

  3. charontwo says:


    In AZ, out of four major statewide offices (not counting the two D Senators) the D hold three. The 4th was the only one where the R ran a “normal” traditional (non-crazy) Republican in 2022, but the R lady squeaked in with a very narrow *win. Given demographic trends, I don’t see conceding either AZ or NC to the R.

    ETA: *Also, the D ran a weak candidate who ran a widely criticized poor campaign.

  4. Franklin says:

    I live in Michigan, so you better be nice to me 🙂

    Seriously, it could be somewhat fringe issues that decide the election. The traditional automotive industry based here has been generally slow to warm up to electric cars and Biden’s push for them, counterbalanced by his support for unions.

  5. James Joyner says:


    If all states could be persuaded to award electoral votes to whichever party took each congressional district, more states might become “swing.”

    While this is my instinct as well, the reality is that doing so would actually compound the Republican advantage. Red states are more heavily gerrymandered than blue ones.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: Expanding on that, the National Popular Vote people report,

    *In three of the six presidential elections between 2000 and 2020, the winner of the most votes nationwide would not have won the Presidency if the congressional-district method had been applied to election returns.

    *It would worsen the current situation in which three out of four states and most voters in the United States are ignored in the general-election campaign for President. Under the congressional-district method, campaigns would be focused only on the small number of congressional districts that are closely divided in the presidential race. The major-party presidential candidates were within eight percentage points of each other in only 17% of the nation’s congressional districts (72 of 435) in 2020. In contrast, 31% of the U.S. population lived in the dozen closely divided battleground states where the candidates were within eight percentage points of each other in 2020.

    Goddard’s Map notes that 2012 would have flipped from Obama to Romney under this system.

  7. Tony W says:

    @James Joyner: Hillary and Mitt would have won with those rules, but of course, if the rules were different, then the campaigns would have been run differently as well.

    It is difficult to know the impact of a change, but I would state without hestitation that more engagement and accountability with more people is going to be beneficial to the country.

  8. Kathy says:

    I agree with the last paragraph it’s three swing states: PA, MI, and WI.

    What really worries me is the tendency of the electorate to vote its pocketbook, or whom they think will be better for its pocketbook.

    I posted in another thread that things are most often perceived to be at their worst when they are beginning to improve. This is essentially what won Clinton the 1992 election.

  9. charontwo says:

    @James Joyner:

    Or maybe just ratio by vote proportion. The problem with either that or by congressional district is if some states are still winner-take-all while others are not, the candidates would mostly campaign in the winner-take-all states – winner-take-all is how local issues get pandered to.

    So the incentives are against individual states abandoning winner-take-all if others do not.

  10. Andy says:

    Apportionment of EC votes by Congressional district would only work if the House were expanded. And if the House were expanded, then almost all the EC – PV disparities disappear.

    But all of this is more useless fantasy, especially for 2024.

  11. Paine says:

    I’m imagining a time in the not-so-distant future when America has been reduced to a single swing state that on is own determines the outcome of the presidential election. ANd EC supporters would still defend it on the grounds that it forces candidates to broaden their geographic support.
    Just a ridiculous system.

  12. @SC_Birdflyte:

    If all states could be persuaded to award electoral votes to whichever party took each congressional district, more states might become “swing.”

    No, no, no. A THOUSAND times no. Then the EC would be gerrymandered the same way congressional districts in many states because they would be the same districts.

    We do NOT want this. Look at WI and NC as examples.

    If the votes were allocated proportionally the state’s vote would be significant, but even there are distortions due to the 2 votes per state portion of the EV allocation.

    We just need to go to a national vote.

  13. Joe says:

    I am again content to live in an uncontested state where almost no one runs campaign ads. I was watching a college football game involving Iowa and was confronted with a small handful of campaign ads for the Republican primary. Putting aside who they were for, it was just very jarring to see a campaign commercial.

  14. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Actually, you and James make good points. My preferred short-run solution would be to expand the House of Representatives. Of course, I’d much rather see the Supremes slap down gerrymandering, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  15. Kylopod says:

    Election maps are almost never predictable this far out–even with the reality that the range of competitive states is narrower than it used to be.

    In Nov. 2015, how many people were predicting the election would come down to WI, MI, and PA–and that the Republican would win all three, while losing NV, CO, and VA? In Nov. 2019, how many people thought the Dem would win GA and AZ and lose FL and NC?

    The shifts may be small, but they don’t all happen in the same direction everywhere. It’s possible for one state to lurch unexpectedly leftward at the same time a different state takes the opposite path.

    I’m not saying the above analysis is necessarily wrong. For one thing, unlike in 2015 or 2019, we know (or think we know) who both of the nominees will be. It’s also a rematch, which is historically rare, and a rematch between a sitting president and former president, which has literally only happened once before (in 1892) under very different circumstances.

    Still, there are a lot of unknowns, including the Dobbs Effect which was not a factor in 2020.

  16. Michael Cain says:

    @charontwo: Agreed on AZ. I regularly complain that eastern media and pundits fail to realize that in all of the large-population western states the mean in “reversion to the mean” is not a constant. It’s a slow but steady R-to-D drift. My guess is that in 2024 the Dems will have gained a half-percentage point, and the Republicans lost the same amount, compared to 2022. The hill the Republicans have to climb will be that much more difficult.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: Goddard acknowledges that this is a starting position and could shift between now and Election Day. But the larger point that almost all of the Electors are essentially already decided for 2024 (and, indeed, 2028 and 2032) rather belies the notion of a competitive national campaign.

  18. @SC_Birdflyte:

    I’d much rather see the Supremes slap down gerrymandering,

    Let me note that the problem is not just gerrymandering. As I try to frequently note: single-seat districts are inherently problematic from a representational POV. There is just no good reason to use districts (even with an expanded House) for this purpose.

    Just remember: populations are not regularly distributed across a territory and, moreover, where you live (e.g., urban v. rural v. suburban) has a huge effect on how you vote.

  19. @James Joyner: 100%

  20. @Michael Cain: This strikes me as likely true for AZ. But that doesn’t obviate the absurdity that the presidency could come down to those numbers.

  21. Mikey says:

    I’m calling it now: Biden will take Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. That gets him 270 and Trump can fuck off with the rest. Maybe Biden takes Nevada, too, but it won’t matter.

  22. Kathy says:


    I know I spent a lot of time in Nov. 2016 looking at the map, and wondering how Mi, WI, and especially PA had gone wrong.


    I’d prefer, and hope for, a larger count in Biden’s favor. One major concern this cycle, is that many on the GQP are surely working out ways to screw with the electoral results. They failed in 2020, really didn’t even try had, because it was a sudden thing and they’d have to change them ex post facto.

    Given time to prepare and better legal advice, if any such exists for this kind of thing, they may manage to ruin one or two states. I worry about Wisconsin, deep under GQP minority rule even with a Democratic governor.

  23. gVOR10 says:

    @Kathy: Indeed. Trump’s coup failed because it was stupid. It was a stupid plan because he waited too late to start. What else would you expect from Trump? In 2024 they’ll have had four years to work on it. Under the new rules the VP has no power to change certification. But that also means Harris can’t challenge, say, an obviously fraudulent certification in Trump’s favor from WI.

  24. Gustopher says:


    Under the new rules the VP has no power to change certification. But that also means Harris can’t challenge, say, an obviously fraudulent certification in Trump’s favor from WI.

    If Harris threw it to to the House, the weird voting rules there (state delegations voting as a block, one vote per state) would ensure a Republican President. So, I’m not sure the new rules are a bad thing for Democrats as they only meaningfully constrain a future Republican VP.

  25. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR10: To my mind, Trump’s biggest disadvantage in attempting a coup again is that unlike last time he won’t be in charge of the government when voting takes place and gets counted and certified. There are chances for Republican skullduggery in certain parts of the process, but most of their biggest attempts have already failed (getting election-deniers elected as governors or Secs. of State in the swing states, the “independent legislature” SCOTUS case). You can devise scenarios if you want your daily anxiety-fix, but the fact is that it’s much less likely than it was in 2020, as the range of things they could do to fuck up the process is much narrower.

    The greatest risk to democracy at this point is that Trump wins “legitimately” and then dismantles everything once he gets into power again.

  26. Kathy says:


    You can devise scenarios if you want your daily anxiety-fix

    I try not to devise scenarios for that reason.

    I just worry. It’s clear Adolph trump and his deplorables have no means of influencing things at the federal level. At the state level, though, they might. It helps that PA, MI, and WI have Democratic governors. Who controls troops always has the advantage in a coup. That’s why so many are carried out by the military in the first place.

  27. Chris says:


    I’d much rather see the Supremes slap down gerrymandering, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    Diana Ross is very strong on the notion that it should be one person, one vote, and she hates re-districting for political reasons, so it could happen.