There Are 538 Electoral Votes in the U.S.'s Electoral College, FYI

What does the number 538 mean in politics? It refers to the number of total electoral votes in the U.S. electoral college.

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Nov. 11 2020, Published 7:20 p.m. ET

what does  mean in politics
Source: Getty

The majority of mainstream media outlets have already called the presidential election for Joe Biden, but the 2020 race hasn't been without its fair share of controversy. Just like the presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush, the contest between Trump and Biden has appeared close to some, and the former hasn't conceded that he's lost the election.

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This has led to many looking into the particulars of the election process in U.S. politics and one question many people have is: What does 538 mean, politically speaking?

What does 538 mean in politics?

Many are familiar with popular poll-tracking site FiveThirtyEight, but unfortunately not everyone is familiar with why the site is called that in the first place.

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In reference to the claims that the current presidential race is "still too close to call," MSNBC's Joy Reid tweeted out, "Here's the thing: the reason there's a thing called @FiveThirtyEight is because 538 was the margin in FL when the Republican SCOTUS reversed the 2000 election during a recount, making Dubya the president. That's the kind of margin where races can flip. That's not what's up now."

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She's so close, but, unfortunately, she's slightly off. George W. Bush beat Al Gore by 537 votes in Florida. So, where does the number 538 actually come from?

Simply put: It's the total number of electoral votes in the U.S. electoral college. In order for a presidential candidate to take an election and make the White House their residence for the next four years, they need to secure 270 of these electoral votes. Currently, the Associated Press and many other popular news outlets have put Joe Biden way ahead of Donald Trump. AP has called 290 votes to 217, with North Carolina and Georgia still left uncalled.

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There's been a lot of political commotion online caused by Pennsylvania "rescinding" its votes for Donald Trump, with many conservative public figures and talking heads pointing to Real Clear Politics' projection of the election that places Joe Biden at 259 electoral votes and Donald Trump with 214. Fact-checking sites have denied that the Keystone state has officially "rescinded" the win for Biden.

what does  mean in politics
Source: Getty
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This is most likely due to the fact that an official call for Biden hasn't been made in the first place in Pennsylvania. But there has been a lot of conversation around other states that will perform recounts: Georgia will officially recount all of the votes by hand. The state has projected Joe Biden as the winner according to many media outlets, who also indicate that the DNC candidate will more than likely be re-established as the winner.

What's the significance behind the "To err is Truman" quote?

The Republican party had come up with the catchphrase to bash Harry Truman after he assumed the office of the presidency after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945. Unlike the 2020 presidential race, Truman ultimately ended up winning the run for his second term with an overwhelming 303 electoral votes to Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey's 189. 

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The reason why the quote is trending now is because the Chicago Daily Tribune had plastered the now-infamous headline "Dewey Defeats Truman." Truman, after handily winning the election, held up the newspaper with a wide grin, and it is one of the more iconic U.S. election photographs in the nation's history.

Seriously, just look at this smile below.

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to err is truman
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A lot of Trump supporters and individuals concerned with the potential for voter fraud are pointing to the media outlet incorrectly calling the election for Dewey, who lost by what is considered a landslide, as a potential outcome after recounts occur in closely contested states between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

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The closest states in the 2020 presidential race are:

  1. Georgia
  2. Arizona
  3. Wisconsin
  4. North Carolina
  5. Pennsylvania

According to the Associated Press, of this list, North Carolina is the only state that is expected to go for Trump.

Trump's victory in Pennsylvania in the 2016 election came as a shock to the DNC, despite the fact that it's long been considered a battleground state.

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