While the entire United States of America is being canvassed, from Maine in the east to Hawaii in the west, many states are foregone conclusions for both the Democratic and Republican candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in this presidential election.
But there are eleven 'swing' or 'bellwether' states where the outcome is too close to call, and it is these states that will ultimately serve to decide who enters (or re-enters) the White House in January 2013.
A candidate needs to win 270 of 538 Electoral College votes to enter the White House. And with around 180 votes each almost guaranteed, the importance of these final eleven states (and their Electoral College votes) cannot be overplayed.
So, before you settle in for tonight’s live election coverage, here’s the low-down on 2012’s key battleground states:
Colorado (9 Electoral College votes)
The Rocky Mountains’ home state boasts a growing Hispanic population and has been leaning towards the Democrats in recent years after decades spent as a solid Republican state. Barack Obama triumphed here in 2008, but the Republicans managed to win two House seats in 2010 and the party was only prevented from winning both a Senate seat and state governership by strong challenges from third-party candidates.
Democrat voters are concentrated in the cities Denver and Boulder, while the religious and socially conservative rural areas of the state are largely Republican but the real battleground will be in Colorado’s fast-growing suburbs.
Florida (29 Electoral College votes)
Home to both Disney World and death metal, Florida has voted for the winner of every presidential election since 1996 despite the state housing a whole raft of different demographic groups. Protestant voters in the north and Cuban-Americans in the south are expected to vote Republican, while city-dwellers in Tampa and Miami along with Jewish retirees in Palm Beach and non-Cuban Hispanics will likely plump for the Democrats. Having been hit hard by the housing crash, the economy is a key electoral issue for Floridian voters.
Iowa (6 Electoral College votes)
The state which provided the title for Slipknot’s second album flipped back and forth between the Democrats and Republicans in 2000 and 2004, but gave Barack Obama more solid support during 2008’s election.
Rural western parts of the state tend to vote Republican, while eastern and central cities including Des Moines are normally hotbeds of Democrat voters. Because of the importance of agriculture to the state, farming subsidies are likely to be a key issue here.
Nevada (6 Electoral College votes)
Nevada, the home of Las Vegas, has voted for every winning president since 1980, meaning that the state’s political allegiance changes fairly regularly. Barack Obama won by a considerable margin here in 2008, but the Democrats saw their lead eroded in 2010’s midterm elections.
Key issues in Nevada are immigration and the economy, the state having been badly hit by the recent economic downturn and suffering a 15% unemployment rate as a result. Obama is expected to win in Las Vegas, while it is likely Romney will take the suburbs, but the rest of the state could go either way.
New Hampshire (4 Electoral College votes)
Despite its reputation as a liberal state, New Hampshire has voted Republican during numerous elections. It plumped for George W Bush in 2000 and awarded the Republican Party a Senate seat during 2010’s midterms.
Mitt Romney’s background as the governor of nearby Massachusetts is expected influence voting in this state, whose inhabitants like to assess candidates in person at local events. New Hampshire will also be the first state to close its polls during tonight’s election.
New Mexico (5 Electoral College votes)
The home of Native Americans for centuries gave Barack Obama huge support during 2008’s election but awarded George W Bush a narrow win in 2004. While the Republicans did well in New Mexico during the 2010 elections, opinion polls suggest that New Mexico will likely plump for Obama again in 2012.
Support for the Democrats tends to be strongest in the north of the state, while its more rural areas in the south are expected to vote Republican. The State’s huge Latino population (46% of its citizens are Hispanic) are also predicted to back Obama, as the Republican position on immigration is at odds with the views of most Latino voters.
North Carolina (15 Electoral College votes)
The USA’s tenth most populous state was a hotbed of Republican support for many years, but voters there got behind Obama in 2008. It has been suggested that this change of fortunes is largely the result of a huge influx of college-educated workers drawn in by the state’s “Research Triangle.”
While the state remains overwhelmingly white (65% of its total citizenry is Caucasian), an influx of Hispanic people adding to the state’s already large black population (21%) mean that support for the Democrats has been growing here in recent years.
Ohio (18 Electoral College votes)
Generally considered the most hotly-contested battleground in this election, Ohio has not backed a losing presidential candidate since 1960. Ohio residents also awarded the Republican party a Senate seat in 2010, so Romney’s supporters will be hoping that the Party can repeat that success again tonight.
While Ohio is still home to the likes of Procter & Gamble and Firestone Tires, the former industrial powerhouse suffered badly during the 2007-09 recession and the economy is expected to be the key issue for voters living in the state.
Pennsylvania (20 Electoral College votes)
Home of America’s Liberty Bell, Pennsylvania has backed the Democrats every year since 1992. Results in 2000 and 2004 were close, however, and the Republicans clawed back some ground in the state’s governorship and Senate elections in 2010.
Democratic support in Pennsylvania comes from cities in the east and west, with Republican voters dominating the state’s heartland. However, the economic crisis has hit the whole state hard, and financial concerns are likely to be at the forefront of the state’s voters’ minds.
Virginia (13 Electoral College votes)
Famously branded on an iconic t-shirt as a state for lovers, Virginia was in favour of the Democrats from the end of the Civil War until the 1960s, when it became a Republican stronghold in the face of then-unwelcome Democratic civil rights reforms.
However, the influx of a new and growing Hispanic population combined with Virginia’s already-large black population has given the Democrats new support and made Virginia a fully-fledged swing state. Obama won here with a slim majority in 2008 and both of the state’s senators are Democrats, though the Republicans won governorship here at the end of 2009 and will be hoping for similar success this evening.
Wisconsin (10 Electoral College votes)
The Democrats have triumphed in the “Badger state” since 1988 but the Republicans bagged the governorship and a Senate seat here in 2010, and they’ll be hoping for similar success again tonight.
Barack Obama won by a sizeable majority in Virginia in 2008, thanks in no small part by the state’s strong union movement. But the fact that the state’s governor survived a recall election in June of 2008 even after he proposed measures to restrict the collective bargaining rights of unions, coupled with Romney’s decision to appoint one of the state’s sons, Paul Ryan, as his running mate, could see Wisconsin voting against Obama tonight.
Now that you know which states are likely to be the most holtly-contested, find out where and when you can see coverage of tonight's election here.