Long election nights are what make junkies go wild and partisans go crazy. It’s been 144 years since the Electoral College (how we decide our presidents) was last decided by a mere 1 electoral vote.
Chances are that whoever wins the presidency will have a more comfortable margin than winning by the skin of their teeth. Still, there are a number of different maps where either President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency with just 270 electoral votes, or where the two of them each get 269 electoral votes.
Below are just some of the realistic scenarios where Biden or Trump ends up at either 270 or 269 electoral votes. There are more, but this gives you insight into how it could happen.
1. Trump wins 270 to 268 by holding on to the states he won in 2016, except for Michigan and Pennsylvania
This is perhaps one of the easiest maps to imagine. All you need to do is shift each of the states by 0.75 point in Biden’s direction from where Hillary Clinton ended up, and you get this map. Now, things may have changed in the last four years. Keep in mind, though, that a similar breakdown of the states appeared in the 2018 midterms. If you shift each state’s 2018 House of Representatives vote (with uncontested seats reallocated) by 4 points to the right of how it voted in 2018, you would get this map.
2. Biden wins 270 to 268 by winning the Clinton states plus Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District and Wisconsin
Biden’s win here is dependent on how he does in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Nebraska, like Maine, gives an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. If Biden loses Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, this map turns into a 269-269 tie. The data from Nebraska is limited, but the district has the highest percentage of Whites with college degrees of any of the electoral votes Trump won in 2016 and are competitive now. That’s one of Biden’s best groups. Clinton lost the district by only 2 points in 2016.
3. Trump wins by 270 to 268 by winning New Hampshire and holding on to the states he won in 2016, except Arizona and Florida
This map relies upon looking at the larger trend driving our politics. We know Trump’s base is White voters without college degrees, and he’ll likely need to run up the score with them in 2020 to win a second term.
More than 50% of likely voters in the northern battlegrounds of Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will be Whites without college degrees. They’ll be considerably less than that in Arizona and Florida, which Clinton barely lost in 2016. And while Trump didn’t win New Hampshire in 2016, it was the closest state he lost.
You could also imagine this map if Trump gets penalized for the high number of coronavirus cases over the summer in Arizona and Florida.
4. Biden wins 270 to 268 by losing Minnesota but winning the Clinton states plus Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District and Pennsylvania
The Trump campaign is hoping that the President’s law and order message in the aftermath of protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin makes those states more hospitable to him. There is some polling to back up that belief, so in this scenario we give Trump those states. Additionally, Biden gets the two closest states Clinton lost in 2016, the highly educated 2nd District in Nebraska and Arizona.
5. The 269-269 tie
This can happen a lot of ways. Just imagine all the above scenarios, but flipping the winner of Nebraska’s 2nd District. Again, the data is limited from that district, so you could conceive of it going either way.
What happens if there is a tie? The president is chosen by the House. Each state delegation gets one vote, and the winner must get a majority of delegations.
Right now, that would likely mean Trump would win. Republicans hold 26 of the state House delegations out of 50. There are, however, a number of states where Democrats are competitive in enough seats that it is not a foregone conclusion that Republicans will have a majority of delegations come January, when the vote would be taken.