July 27, 2021

The Electoral College, explained

Donald Trump has a very small chance of actually winning more votes than Joe Biden in the presidential election — just 3 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s forecast model.

But he still has a somewhat better shot of winning anyway, the same way he did last time: through the magic of the Electoral College.

The presidential election isn’t decided by the number of votes you get overall. It’s decided by whether you get more votes in the right states. Whichever candidate ends up winning contests that add up to 270 electoral votes is the winner.

In other words, it doesn’t necessarily matter that polls show Biden ahead by nearly 9 percentage points nationally. What matters is the exact breakdown of the votes in key politically divided states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

It gets weirder. In the election itself, the states aren’t technically choosing a presidential candidate. They’re choosing representatives in the Electoral College — the electors — who are actual people who will cast the electoral votes determining the president in December.

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