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Renan Levine on why all eyes will be on North Carolina on election night

Renan Levine is a political science lecturer at U of T Scarborough who specializes in American politics.

When it comes to the U.S. presidential election, most states are predictably Republican “red” or Democrat “blue.”

What this means is there are just a few states that will likely determine who will win the election. North Carolina is at the top of that list and Nevada is not far behind.

Renan Levine is an assistant professor of political science at U of T Scarborough who specializes in American politics. He spoke to Don Campbell about why North Carolina and Nevada may be the key battle grounds on election night.

If Hillary Clinton wins North Carolina will that pretty much tell us who will win the election?

Let’s put it this way: If Hillary Clinton wins North Carolina, and especially if she wins big there, you can spend the rest of the night binge watching Netflix because the outcome will not be in doubt. If the race is too close to call, or if Donald Trump wins North Carolina, nervous Democrats and excited Republicans will have to wait for the returns from Nevada. 

Why is North Carolina so important to presidential elections?

North Carolina is what’s called a purple state—it’s not clearly Democrat or Republican.  That’s because of its demography, size and voting history. North Carolina was one of two states that Barack Obama won in 2008, but lost in his bid for re-election in 2012. Republican Mitt Romney beat Obama in North Carolina by only about two per cent. The only state with a narrower margin of victory was Florida.

The size of North Carolina’s population is key, because it’s population size that determines how many votes the state gets in the Electoral College. Every state gets a minimum of three votes  and then more votes are allocated based on population. The most populous state, California, has 55 votes. Traditional battlegrounds Florida and Ohio have 29 and 18 votes respectively. North Carolina, with 15 votes is a much bigger prize than other battleground states this year: New Hampshire has four, while Iowa and Nevada both have six. 

Why is North Carolina usually such a close call?

The population there is a mix of African-Americans and educated whites in large urban areas—these are traditionally Democratic voters. North Carolina’s small towns tend to have conservative white constituents, who tend to vote Republican. And there is a growing Latino population in the state, an important voice in this election. North Carolina will be kind of a bellweather: if Clinton does well there, she can expect to do well in other states with even larger urban areas populated by minorities and well-educated whites like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

So if Trump wins North Carolina, why does Nevada become important?

Nevada is another battleground this year.  Democrats usually win Nevada when they win enough votes in Las Vegas and its surrounding suburbs to overcome Republican majorities in the rest of the state. While Las Vegas has a large Latino population, it also has an unusually large population of whites without university degrees, a demographic that is among the most receptive to Trump. So while Democrats are well-positioned, Republicans also have hope that they can do well enough in Las Vegas to win the state’s six electoral college votes.

But Nevada, as well as small states like New Hampshire and Iowa, will not matter much if North Carolina goes to the Democrats. North Carolina’s 15 Electoral College votes almost entirely makes up for the loss of all three of those states. 

Is there a scenario where both candidates won’t get the necessary 270 seats to win the election?

Yes. It’s possible that the election won’t be decided even if Trump wins North Carolina because there is one scenario that could still keep him from getting the 270 Electoral votes he’ll need to win.  Evan McMullin is an independent Republican running as a third-party candidate in Utah. McMullin has strong support from fellow Mormons who distrust Trump. If McMullin ekes out a victory in Utah, he can stop Trump.  So even if Trump wins everywhere else Romney won (including North Carolina) in 2012, and he gets the five “blue” states considered battlegrounds: Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and Ohio, there won’t be a decision.  In that scenario, Clinton will have 269 Electoral College votes and Trump 262. If that happens, the election will be determined by the House of Representatives. That’s only happened once before, almost two hundred years ago in 1824! 


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