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The election is close, but Biden’s prospects look better than Trump’s

Trump still could win, but Biden appears to have the edge.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at a drive-in election night event at the Chase Center on November 4 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Votes in the presidential election are still being counted, and it’s still possible for the race to go either way. However, there are encouraging signs for former Vice President Joe Biden in the states that have not yet been called.

It’s pretty simple: As of Wednesday afternoon, Biden has been called the winner in Wisconsin and Michigan. He is expected to take the lead in Pennsylvania as well, as more mail ballots are counted. Those three states would be enough for Biden to top the 270 electoral votes needed to win, even if he loses every other state that has not yet been called.

But if Biden ends up losing Pennsylvania, he has other options. He could also reach 270 electoral votes by winning both Nevada and Arizona, two states where he’s currently leading in the count. And Georgia and North Carolina haven’t been called yet either.

As far as Trump’s path to victory, it’s now unmistakable that Pennsylvania is crucial: Trump really has no other option than to win the state. And even if Trump wins Pennsylvania, it may not be enough — he’d have to pry either Arizona or Nevada away from Biden too.

Now, just winning Pennsylvania would be enough for Biden

The current Electoral College count, as of Wednesday afternoon.
Andrew Prokop/Vox

Trump won the presidential election in 2016 because he managed to win the traditionally Democratic states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, each by less than 1 percentage point.

And he will lose this presidential election if he doesn’t manage to win at least one of those states again — the most important of which, due to its large number of electoral votes, is Pennsylvania.

It’s been known for weeks, though, that all three of these states would be rather slow to count an unprecedented number of mail ballots due to the Covid-19 pandemic — and that those ballots will favor Biden, since Democrats were more likely to vote by mail than in-person on Election Day.

Wisconsin was the first to finish its count — the state elections administrator said around midday that there there were essentially no remaining ballots to be counted. Biden currently leads by 0.7 percentage points — about a 20,000-vote margin. Decision Desk called the state for Biden Wednesday afternoon. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said he will request a recount, but it’s difficult to surmount that kind of deficit in a recount.

In the late afternoon, Decision Desk and other election calling outfits called Michigan for Biden as well. His lead there now tops 1 percentage point and is expected to grow further as the remaining votes in Democratic strongholds are counted.

That leaves Pennsylvania, which has been the slowest to count votes among the three states — it’s only about 84 percent done, per the Times. Trump has not yet lost his lead, due to his strength in in-person Election Day voting, in the state. But the Times’s Nate Cohn writes that “the remaining vote in Pennsylvania appears to be overwhelmingly for Biden.” That includes both the remaining mail ballots, and some in-person ballots in Philadelphia. And Trump’s lead has shrunk throughout the day Wednesday.

Pennsylvania hasn’t yet been called for a reason — the race there is close. But Biden currently looks like he has a good shot of winning it, which would give him the presidency.

Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Nevada also haven’t yet been called

If Biden holds on to Pennsylvania, he technically doesn’t need any more uncalled states. But winning elsewhere, rather than depending on one close state, could help limit Trump’s prospects of trying to flip the outcome in a knock-down, drag-out legal brawl.

And if Biden ends up losing Pennsylvania, he’ll have to make up that ground elsewhere.

One possible path to 270 electoral votes for Biden without Pennsylvania is through winning both Arizona and Nevada. Biden currently leads in the two states, but by a very small margin in Nevada. Meanwhile, some networks have already called Arizona for Biden, but Vox’s partner Decision Desk is being more cautious here. It’s fair to say though that Biden seems favored in Arizona at this point, which is bad news for Trump.

Beyond that, there are two more key uncalled swing states in the Southeast — Georgia and North Carolina. Trump is currently leading in both states by about 2 percentage points, but those margins will shift as more votes are counted. In Georgia, in particular, there are many votes yet to be counted in the Atlanta area, which is expected to heavily favor Biden. Either of these states, when paired with either Arizona or Nevada, would get Biden over the top.

Overall, a range of outcomes is plausible — from an Electoral College win of 300+ electoral votes for Biden, to a much closer win for Biden, to a win for Trump. But given what we think we know about the remaining votes to be counted in each state, Biden’s chances look better than Trump’s at this point.