US election: Battleground states

Most states have a history of voting for a particular party and the presidential candidates will count on their votes again. This leaves a handful of states where the election will be decided. These are the election battlegrounds.

Presidential elections are run using an electoral college. Each state is given a number of votes based on its population. This means some states are worth much more than others.

For example, California (population 37.7 million) has 55 votes, while a more rural state like Montana (population one million) has only three votes. The presidential candidate who wins in a state wins all that state's college votes.*

You need 270 votes to become president.

Click to see party strongholds

Battlegrounds (151 votes) - In these states the race is close enough that either candidate could win. These "purple states" are where the campaigns will focus their time and money.

Republican strongholds (191 votes) - The "red states" belonging to the Republicans dominate the south and the mid-west but many of these are rural states with few electoral votes.

Democratic strongholds (196 votes) - The "blue states" held by the Democrats in the north-east and on the west coast are strongly urban with larger populations and more electoral votes.

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Colorado, 9 votes

Colorado is, on average, the highest state above sea level, with more than 1,000 Rocky Mountain peaks over 10,000ft high

Colorado, like other western states with growing Hispanic populations, has been trending towards the Democrats in recent years, having previously been regarded as a solidly Republican state. After three presidential elections in a row where Republican candidates won here, in 2008 Barack Obama took the state for the Democrats.

But the state is by no means safe for Democrats, as the Republicans demonstrated in 2010 by picking up two House seats. Only strong challenges that year from third-party candidates prevented them form also winning a Senate seat and the state governorship. Democratic voters are concentrated in the cities of Denver and Boulder, while Republicans dominate rural counties and the Colorado Springs area, which is a bastion of religious and social conservatism. The fast-growing Denver suburbs are a key battleground.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 70.00%White
  • 3.80%Black
  • 20.70%Hispanic
  • 5.40%Other

ECONOMY

$56,334 median annual income 11.20% poverty rate 8.00% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 8.40%
    2000republican win
  • 4.70%
    2004republican win
  • 8.90%
    2008democrat win
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Battlegrounds

In these states the race is close enough that either candidate could win. These are the states where the election will be decided

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Colorado, 9 votes

Colorado is, on average, the highest state above sea level, with more than 1,000 Rocky Mountain peaks over 10,000ft high

Colorado, like other western states with growing Hispanic populations, has been trending towards the Democrats in recent years, having previously been regarded as a solidly Republican state. After three presidential elections in a row where Republican candidates won here, in 2008 Barack Obama took the state for the Democrats.

But the state is by no means safe for Democrats, as the Republicans demonstrated in 2010 by picking up two House seats. Only strong challenges that year from third-party candidates prevented them form also winning a Senate seat and the state governorship. Democratic voters are concentrated in the cities of Denver and Boulder, while Republicans dominate rural counties and the Colorado Springs area, which is a bastion of religious and social conservatism. The fast-growing Denver suburbs are a key battleground.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 70.00%White
  • 3.80%Black
  • 20.70%Hispanic
  • 5.40%Other

ECONOMY

$56,334 median annual income 11.20% poverty rate 8.00% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 8.40%
    2000republican win
  • 4.70%
    2004republican win
  • 8.90%
    2008democrat win

Florida, 29 votes

Nicknamed the Sunshine State, Florida is famous for its beaches and as the home of tourist attractions such as Disney World

Florida, the archetypal swing state, has voted for the winner of the presidential election in every contest since 1996. In 2000, the race between George W Bush and Al Gore was so close it led to calls for a recount that ended only when the Supreme Court controversially ordered a halt to it.

The state is a demographic melting pot: white Protestants in the north and Cuban-Americans in the south lean Republican, while urban voters in Miami and Tampa, Jewish retirees in Palm Beach and non-Cuban Hispanics lean Democrat. While immigration is a key issue for the Hispanic voters, and Israel and healthcare for the retirees, the economy will still be the most important issue for most voters, in a state that was hit hard by the housing crash.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 57.90%White
  • 15.20%Black
  • 22.50%Hispanic
  • 4.30%Other

ECONOMY

$47,051 median annual income 13.10% poverty rate 8.70% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 0.00%
    2000republican win
  • 5.00%
    2004republican win
  • 2.80%
    2008democrat win

Iowa, 6 votes

Iowa is named after the Ioway people but is nicknamed the Hawkeye State as a tribute to Chief Black Hawk, the leader of another American Indian tribe, the Sauk.

Iowa, famous for holding the first caucus in the presidential selection process, swung narrowly between the Democrats and Republicans in 2000 and 2004, but gave Barack Obama a more solid majority in 2008.

The open farmland in the west of the state, home to many of Iowa's famous rolling corn fields, tends to favour Republicans, while the cities in the centre and east - including state capital Des Moines and college town Iowa City - are friendlier territory for Democrats. The importance of agriculture to Iowa, with its many pig farmers, as well as its corn lobby, means that subsidies for farmers are usually popular here.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 88.70%White
  • 2.90%Black
  • 5.00%Hispanic
  • 3.50%Other

ECONOMY

$48,457 median annual income 12.40% poverty rate 5.20% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 0.30%
    2000democrat win
  • 0.70%
    2004republican win
  • 9.50%
    2008democrat win

Michigan, 16 votes

Nicknamed the Great Lake State, Michigan is the home of the American automobile industry focused around the city of Detroit

Although Michigan has stayed in the Democrats' column in every presidential election since 1992, George W Bush lost here only narrowly in 2000 and 2004, and the Republicans have a history of success in state-wide elections.

Michigan is in the so-called Rust Belt, once the country's manufacturing heartland, but suffering from serious unemployment since heavy industry began to decline in the 1980s. The big issue in Michigan will be the economy, and specifically President Obama's decision to provide government loans to two of the Big Three car manufacturers in 2009 when they were facing liquidation, a move opposed by many Republicans as an example of government interference. Democrats say that the loans helped to save the companies, and safeguard thousands of jobs.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 76.60%White
  • 14.00%Black
  • 4.40%Hispanic
  • 4.90%Other

ECONOMY

$47,461 median annual income 14.10% poverty rate 9.30% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 5.10%
    2000democrat win
  • 3.40%
    2004democrat win
  • 16.50%
    2008democrat win

Minnesota, 10 votes

Star of the North is the state motto of Minnesota, a centre of Scandinavian American culture with its strong Swedish and Norwegian heritage

Minnesota has consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates since 1972, even in 1984, when every other state in the US voted for Ronald Reagan. But George W Bush only narrowly lost the state in both 2000 and 2004, and Republicans have been very competitive in state-wide elections taking the governor's mansion in 2006, and coming within 10,000 votes of repeating the trick in 2010.

As in the rest of the country, jobs and the economy are likely to be the main political issue in Minnesota, especially in the industrial cities of Minneapolis, St Paul and Duluth. But Minnesota has often taken a distinctive political course from the rest of the US and third-party candidates have regularly been successful here.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 83.10%White
  • 5.10%Black
  • 4.70%Hispanic
  • 6.90%Other

ECONOMY

$56,704 median annual income 10.60% poverty rate 5.80% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 2.40%
    2000democrat win
  • 3.50%
    2004democrat win
  • 10.20%
    2008democrat win

Nevada, 6 votes

Called the Silver State because of its large silver mine industries, Nevada's most famous landmark is Las Vegas

Nevada is something of a bellwether state, having voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election from 1980 onwards. Barack Obama won by a comfortable margin here in 2008, however, and the Democrats will be hoping that he can repeat his success in 2012. The state has a large and growing Hispanic population, so immigration is a crucial issue for many here.

Nevada has been badly affected by the economic crisis, with unemployment soaring to 15% in 2010. As a result, Democrats saw their margins eroded in Reno and Las Vegas in the midterms. Obama should win in the city of Las Vegas and Romney in the suburbs, but Reno and the rest of the state, which is dotted with ranches and military bases, could go either way.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 54.10%White
  • 7.70%Black
  • 26.50%Hispanic
  • 11.50%Other

ECONOMY

$55,322 median annual income 9.40% poverty rate 11.80% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 3.50%
    2000republican win
  • 2.60%
    2004republican win
  • 12.50%
    2008democrat win

New Hampshire, 4 votes

Nicknamed the Granite State for its many quarries, the famous Old Man of the Mountain rock formation is still considered the state symbol, despite having collapsed in 2003

New Hampshire is a liberal state that has had a surprising tendency to vote for Republicans over the years. Although Barack Obama won in New Hampshire with a solid majority, George W Bush won here in 2000, and in the 2010 midterms the Republicans took a Senate seat and both congressional districts. Mitt Romney's background as governor of neighbouring Massachusetts could help him win the state back for the Republicans.

The state is proud of its "first in the nation" primary, and voters here like to vet the presidential candidates in person at local events. It has always had an independent, anti-government ethos, and its low state taxes have attracted plenty of successful businesses

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 92.30%White
  • 1.00%Black
  • 2.80%Hispanic
  • 3.70%Other

ECONOMY

$62,629 median annual income 8.70% poverty rate 5.70% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 1.30%
    2000republican win
  • 1.40%
    2004democrat win
  • 9.60%
    2008democrat win

New Mexico, 5 votes

The Zia, a Native American symbol for the Sun, features on the state flag and New Mexico has the second-highest percentage of Native American inhabitants in the US

New Mexico saw knife-edge results in 2000 and 2004 - Al Gore won the state by a margin of just 366 votes in 2000, while in 2004, President Bush took it with a majority of fewer than 6,000. But Barack Obama had a thumping 15% majority in 2008, and although Republicans took the governorship in 2010, polls suggest that the Democrats will perform well again here in 2012.

The state divides politically along geographical lines, with Democrats strong in the more urbanised north and Republicans dominant in the south-east, which borders Texas. New Mexico's large Latino population swung behind Barack Obama in 2008, and may well do so again after he enacted legislation to protect the children of illegal immigrants last June. The Republican position on immigration remains at odds with the Latino mainstream.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 40.50%White
  • 1.70%Black
  • 46.30%Hispanic
  • 11.30%Other

ECONOMY

$42,737 median annual income 16.20% poverty rate 6.40% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 0.10%
    2000democrat win
  • 0.80%
    2004republican win
  • 15.10%
    2008democrat win

North Carolina, 15 votes

North Carolina was the location of the Wright Brothers' famous first powered flight, near Kitty Hawk in 1903

North Carolina was for many years a Republican stronghold, but Barack Obama won a slim majority here for the Democrats in 2008. His success can partly be attributed to the demographic changes the state has seen in recent decades.

North Carolina is one the most prosperous and fastest-growing states in the South. In particular, there has been an influx of college-educated workers into the state's much-envied "research triangle" centred on Raleigh and Durham in the heart of North Carolina. Coupled with a massive increase in the state's Hispanic population, on top of the large existing black population, this has given the Democrats a large and growing electoral constituency here.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 65.30%White
  • 21.20%Black
  • 8.40%Hispanic
  • 5.00%Other

ECONOMY

$45,131 median annual income 15.10% poverty rate 9.60% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 12.80%
    2000republican win
  • 12.40%
    2004republican win
  • 0.30%
    2008democrat win

Ohio, 18 votes

The home to seven former presidents, Ohio is sometimes known as the Modern Mother of Presidents, though its most famous son is Thomas Edison, pioneer of the light bulb

The quintessential bellwether state, Ohio has not backed a losing presidential candidate since 1960, so all eyes will be on the state again in 2012 to see if Barack Obama can hold on to his relatively narrow lead. Republicans will be hoping to add the state's electoral college votes to the governorship and Senate seat they won in 2010.

Like its neighbours Michigan and Pennsylvania, Ohio is in America's once-great, but now somewhat faded, industrial heartland, and is still home to world-renowned firms like Procter & Gamble and Goodyear Tires. The recession of 2007-09 was not kind to Ohio, however, so the state of the economy will no doubt be at the forefront of voters' minds on election day.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 81.10%White
  • 12.00%Black
  • 3.10%Hispanic
  • 3.70%Other

ECONOMY

$46,838 median annual income 14.50% poverty rate 7.00% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 3.50%
    2000republican win
  • 2.10%
    2004republican win
  • 4.60%
    2008democrat win

Pennsylvania, 20 votes

Site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and home to the Liberty Bell, Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone State

Although Pennsylvania has backed the Democrats in every presidential election since 1992, the races were pretty close here in 2000 and 2004, and with victories in the state's governorship and Senate elections in 2010 under their belt, the Republicans have high hopes of making Pennsylvania competitive again.

Democratic political consultant James Carville famously described Pennsylvania as "Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between", which accurately sums up the state's political geography: Democrats dominate in the industrial cities in the east and west, while Republicans perform well in the rural heart of the state. But the economic crisis of the past few years has hit all parts of Pennsylvania, so financial concerns will no doubt dominate the race in November.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 79.50%White
  • 10.40%Black
  • 5.70%Hispanic
  • 4.20%Other

ECONOMY

$50,028 median annual income 13.20% poverty rate 8.20% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 4.20%
    2000democrat win
  • 2.50%
    2004democrat win
  • 10.30%
    2008democrat win

Virginia, 13 votes

Sometimes called Mother of Presidents as many early US presidents were native Virginians, including Thomas Jefferson, whose estate, Monticello, is a national landmark

Like much of the South, Virginia was solidly Democratic from the end of the Civil War until the 1960s, when - unhappy with the Democrats' civil rights reforms - it became a Republican stronghold.

But recent population growth in the leafier suburbs outside Washington DC and increased Hispanic immigration have given the Democrats a boost. Considered alongside the state's historically large black population, these changes make Virginia a bona fide swing state. Barack Obama won a moderate majority here in 2008 (the first Democrat to do so since 1964), and both of the state's senators are currently Democrats. But the Republicans won back the governor's mansion at the end of 2009, and will hope to stay competitive in November's presidential race.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 64.80%White
  • 19.00%Black
  • 7.90%Hispanic
  • 8.20%Other

ECONOMY

$60,539 median annual income 10.40% poverty rate 5.90% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 8.00%
    2000republican win
  • 8.20%
    2004republican win
  • 6.30%
    2008democrat win

Wisconsin, 10 votes

With a badger found on the state coat of arms, its seal, its flag and even in the official state song On, Wisconsin!, Wisconsin is known as the Badger State

The Democrats have won Wisconsin in every presidential election since 1988, but the Republicans lost out by a whisker in 2000 and 2004, and won the governorship and a Senate seat in 2010, so the state has often been competitive.

Barack Obama will be hoping to hold on to the sizeable majority he won in 2008, and will be helped by the state's strong union movement. In June, there was a recall election of the state's Republican Governor, Scott Walker, following mass protests against his proposed restriction to the collective bargaining rights of the unions. However, Walker survived the election and this, coupled with Romney's choice of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, may threaten Obama's lead.

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • 83.30%White
  • 6.20%Black
  • 5.90%Hispanic
  • 4.60%Other

ECONOMY

$51,257 median annual income 11.50% poverty rate 7.30% unemployment rate

HOW CLOSE WAS IT LAST TIME?

  • 0.20%
    2000democrat win
  • 0.40%
    2004democrat win
  • 13.90%
    2008democrat win

*Except for Nebraska and Maine, which divide their votes based on the winners in congressional districts as well as the statewide vote.

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