How the Swing States Work

By: Ed Grabianowski & Patty Rasmussen  | 

States and How They Lean in 2020

swing states
This 2020 swing states map (which was last updated on Aug. 31, 2020) from 270toWin shows just how critical certain states will be for either candidate to win. 270toWin

The winner-take-all system is what led to the creation of swing states. Again, these are the states where campaigns believe there are large blocks of persuadable voters. This contrasts with states that are considered safe or solidly in the camp of a political party.

There are several reasons state might be considered a swing state or safe state and they're essentially the same:


  • History: The voters' behavior is predictable. For example, they've voted for the same candidate or party for a long time.
  • Demographics: The voting population is one that typically supports a particular party or individual.
  • Geography: Voters in every region of the country have wildly differing opinions often based on the experience of the physical place where they live.

Swing states aren't just those that are closely divided politically, but those whose citizens can be persuaded to change who they vote for. For example, in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama defeated the late Senator John McCain in North Carolina to win the presidency. But four years later, President Obama lost the state to Mitt Romney.

This year, North Carolina is expected to once again be in the list of swing states along with Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. There are reasons why certain states continually fall into the swing state category.

In the case of Florida, it has a large, diverse population that is difficult to categorize politically. While there are many retirees in Florida (a demographic that often votes conservatively) the state also has large Hispanic and Black populations that typically lean Democratic. In North Carolina, the white, college educated population living in some of the state's more progressive cities are evenly matched by the state's rural white voters.

Some states, like Georgia, Arizona and Texas — all solidly red for years — have seen a slight shift in their electorate. Since 2016, each has moved at least four points to the left and there are election-watchers who predict they could move even further in 2020.

Two reasons have been cited for the change: a more diverse electorate — all three states have had increases in voter registrations by Hispanic and Black voters — and the fact that their major metropolitan areas attract better-educated voters. Simply put, a lot of college-educated voters vote blue (and now they're doing it in red states).